Last night found the three of us in Athlone, roughly in the center of Ireland. Although we found ourselves about as far from an ocean as you can get on this island, it is still a place with a long maritime tradition. The river Shannon (let me say right now that for no reason whatsoever I find the phrase ‘River Shannon’ to be poetry of the deepest and most moving sort) passes through here, or perhaps more accurately this town is here because it was one of the places land travelers could get across the river.
They would not be crossing today. The river is running high and swiftly; there is flooding downstream. I imagine that the powers that be are trying to allow the runoff from the recent storms to reach the sea with the least overall damage, and things are right on the edge here. Just downstream from town things are looking lakelike, with trees poking up here and there.
Now, of course, there are bridges and all that sort of thing up and down the river, so the rushing waters, while not helpful, can no longer strand travelers for weeks while they wait for the waters to subside. Naturally, those stranded travelers would have wanted to have a nip in the local pub while they waited for the water to calm. Where we sit now, while not in the actual building, is documentably the same pub that travelers cooled their heels in starting around 900 A.D. Yeah, you read that right, and I didn’t leave any digits out.
I was talking to a regular there, Jeffrey (Geoffrey?), whose father was a regular there, and whose father’s father was a regular there, and who’s father’s father’s father… It is possible that some ancient ancestor of Jeffrey sat on the first barstool 1107 years ago, and had a pint of something that we would judge today to be truly awful, but at the time was just the thing.
Compared to that place, that institution, I’m nothing. I’m just a spark, a flash, here and gone. The bar has outlasted all its patrons, the people who lit up the place when they arrived, the people who were greeted gladly by name, the people who mattered to those around them. They are all gone now, and forgotten. You and I, in this noisy-fast world, we don’t stand a chance.