An old pub, a cold day, a warm welcome - despite all the hard times, Irish spirits still up


There was sawdust on the floor when I stood in Ireland's oldest pub this past weekend.

It was four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, amid freezing temperatures and treacherous road conditions, to my disbelief the people of Athlone has left the comfort of their surroundings to join their friends in Sean's Bar.

The bar was packed with locals, and a turf fire burned in the grate that people stopped at on their way in from the cold air. A lively trad session was in full swing in the corner and the barman, greeted me with a smile when I arrived at the bar.

A Sunday afternoon in a pub in the heart of Ireland and the place was hopping.

As I examined the sign on the wall detailing the history of Ireland's oldest pub, in true irony I was reminded of our countries rich legacy, our resilience and our ability to endure.

Yesterday in Ireland the dogs on the street were talking about Ireland's draconian budget.

Commentators around the world wagged their fingers at the Irish Government who delivered the most anticipated budget in the history of that state.

The financial crisis has bruised Irish sensibilities as deeply as it has strained pocketbooks, according to the New York Times.

It seems everyone has an opinion on Ireland's recent downward spiral.

After over a year abroad, I have been at home now for two months and I do admit that for many the situation is bleak. Despite this, the majority of people I have come across are currently employed or finding work in some shape or form.

One friend freelances as a researcher one day a week and works part time in a department store.

One father takes odd jobs painting families houses in between his on and off weeks at work.

One chef whose hours have been cut is now considering going back to college to reinvent herself.

A couple are painting Christmas scenes on windows and selling Christmas trees for extra cash.

A pensioner is baking bread for a local restaurant to help buy Christmas presents.

A group of friends I met, are home from Australia just over a year. Living in the same house they are all are currently employed and each night one of them cooks dinner for everyone to save on food costs.

Excessiveness and over indulgence did sweep through Ireland and undeniably people around the country are suffering and will be greatly affected by yesterday's budget.

Irreversible damage has been done, people around Ireland are less well off because of the recklessness of others. For the most part everyone I have met in the last eight weeks is finding it hard and has tightened their belt by necessity not choice. But they are surviving.

John Burns of the New York Times said yesterday that Ireland was feeling the pain of the crisis in it's soul.

The people that I have met may be angry, may be financially worse off, but their Irish souls remain intact.

As the music of a fiddle, a tin whistle and a bodhran filled the corners of Ireland's oldest pub on Sunday afternoon, there wasn't talk of despair, there was no mention of the IMF, instead all I heard was the resonating sound of our Irish exuberance.


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