Saved in Dublin7/20/2016
To save a rabbit is why the man jumped off the bridge, according to the newspaper reports. Somebody threw the rabbit over the O’Connell Bridge into the current of the River Liffey. The homeless man apparently followed the same arc, up and over the bridge railing, flying through the air and splashing into the water, determined to save the rabbit. Barney was his name. The rabbit’s, that is.
The crowd in the Temple Bar area of Dublin swirls about us, unsure whether to surge upstream to the pub on the corner or downstream to the pub in the middle of the block. Stuck in an eddy of drinking options, everyone just mills about. It’s before noon, but those people sitting outside already have a beer in hand. Guinness seems the popular choice from the creamy dark look. On the street, shoulders brush, bodies jostle, folks surge one way or the other. Where are St. Patrick and his big crowd-clearing staff when you need him?
We just arrived, coming from months of rain in Holland, and feeling just a little dour from the lack of summer and warmth. We are not amused by the crowds and are tired of fighting our way forward on the narrow sidewalks where folks, two or three abreast, batter their way into our single-file politeness. “A little grumpy” might not be strong enough to capture our mood. Even for my wife and her much cherished Irish citizenship, things are not all shamrocks.
Then we hear a sound above the street noise . . .
A fiddle singing high, drums pacing the beat, guitars providing the riff. We are mesmerized. Strains of music from Portugal, Ukraine and Lithuania are laid on top of the traditional Irish fiddle. Is there really such a thing called “Irish fusion” as this band claims? The audience is cheering, clapping and kicking an Irish step dance. Faster and faster the fiddle plays. Quicker and quicker the drumsticks drop. The crowd gets more and more wild. It’s hard not to give a throat-full yell of excitement. Legs move. Hands clap. Shouts are heard. Hooray!
And the music stops… we all take a deep breath… and then we roar and stomp our approval.
What is going on here?
We travel another block to the south. With a church as the backdrop, the flaming red-haired fiddler and the smooth sun-glassed guitarist are playing a melancholy Irish song. The melody switches back and forth as the two performers intertwine their musical threads. Intimate. Hypnotizing. Entrancing. Slowly the woman begins to move. Swirling red hair captures our attention. Legs lift, head spins, arms go wide with the bow and fiddle. We are soon lost in her private reverie and our own teased-out sadness.
Ah, and then the singing starts. He sets the bottom with a buttery tenor. Strong. Powerful. She, on the other hand, is high in the heavens. Soaring with sparkling clearness, her voice flies above us all. Divine.
OK, this is too coincidental.
We walk two blocks to the east. The harp strings sound above the construction work. Surprisingly commanding amid the clash of trucks. A song that makes you straighten your posture just a little, breathe more deeply, move with a certain eloquence. A song of grace and beauty. An Irish song from another time. A better time perhaps. The woman bends over her instrument. Lost in the old days. Plucking her own heartstrings it seems. And ours.
OK, enough. What is going on? Around every corner in Dublin, in every pub, in every restaurant, down every back alley, there is live music of amazing quality. What gives?
“I’ve been out here for about 20 years now on the street. This is a neo-Irish harp I’m playing today.”
Brenda Malloy sounds like some misplaced Broadway musical with her strong brogue and brassy attitude.
“This is a very nice life actually. This isn’t the only thing I do. I play other places. I do concerts and things like that. You’re all over the board. One day you’re in a castle, and another day you’re out on the street.”
So, Brenda Malloy, what gives with all the music in Dublin?
“We have a traditions here of playing music on the streets. Two-hundred years ago, you would have seen harpers and pipers playing music on this street doing the same thing we are doing.”
And how long have you been doing this?
“I’ve been on this pitch for 20 years. I’m pretty much the grandmother. Everyone knows where to find me. I came here many years ago because I didn’t want to be on Grafton Street between an accordion player on one side and a saxophone player on another. The cacophony drove me mad. And where will I be in five years? I might be dead.”
Brenda Malloy gives a mellow laugh at the silliness of her own death. Can a leprechaun die? She then shouts out a goodbye to “Joe from Des Moines, Iowa,” and continues her playing.
We wander down the road, wide-eyed and thrilled. Who cares about the crowds now? Not us. Are you in a rush? Go ahead, cut in front. You need the whole sidewalk? Please, it’s yours. A beer before noon? Why not?
So, we are saved. Guinness is drunk, songs are sung, and everyone goes home happy.
Including Barney the rabbit, by the way. Saved by his owner, a Dublin homeless guy named John Patrick Byrne. Awards were given for the rescue. The bad guy was prosecuted. And Barney was last seen nestled in the hearts of Dubliners.
As were we all. CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is once again assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.