|RIP Friday (Pic: Caty Bartholomew)|
I hit another birthday on the Monday the snowdrops appear in the garden to girdle one of the apple trees, and the afternoon is bright and mild.
The clan invites the Dutch Nation and myself up to Galway for a celebration dinner on the previous Saturday. It is always a pleasure to go to Galway.
We arrive early and I throw the city around me again like a cozy old tweed overcoat as we walk Shop Street and Eyre Square and shop the windows, listen to the buskers, enjoy the buzz of the City of the Tribes and meet old friends on the pavements.
They greet me lightly and brightly as if we'd met each other the day before yesterday. There is no sense at all at having been living elsewhere for the last decade and more. It's great fun.
The clan are throwing the feast in a grand new restaurant close to the Jesuit Chapel, and we have an upstairs room and long table all to ourselves.
They seat me at the head of the table and spend the next hours slagging the life out of me with no respect at all for my age and station. It is mighty fun, the food and wine are top-class, and I feel younger and happier afterwards than I've felt in years.
There's nothing so heartwarming as dining well among your own blood and breed who, through their birthplace, are genuine Galwegians rather than blow-ins like their father.
Afterwards we only have to amble a few yards down the street to spend the rest of the evening in my favorite Galway pub, the Crane. This is where I was fortunate enough to first encounter the Dutch Nation all of 15 good years ago now.
Nothing about the Crane has changed except that it is even livelier now than it was back then. There are more musicians in the upstairs bar than there used be before, the music jigs along in lively waves, no hint of recession anywhere. There are even sessions nowadays in the downstairs bar as well.
We find a clan table in a corner there after enjoying the session for a while, and I wander upstairs again on my own to chat to a few friends from the past up there.
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Son Dara nowadays follows in my footsteps by regularly coming in with his instruments to join the sessions, and he says it is still the best music pub in Galway.
Supping a sip at the bar, I look across towards where the musicians are gathered. Sitting on a stool in the back row, facing away from the music, looking towards the door a bit anxiously, there is a sallow man in his early forties, compact and sturdy, black curls receding a bit, a fiddle on his knee.
He is sitting at exactly the same spot where I first spotted Annet, and probably upon the very same stool too! I am moved to go over to him at once -- I did not know him -- and when he looked up at me I said, “You are sitting in a lucky spot. I found a fine wife on that stool here about 15 years ago and I've been happy since.”
"You were luckier than me then because I was to meet a lady here the best part of an hour ago. No sign of her, and I'd swear she has given me the bullet. I'll probably never see her again.
“Fair play to you. I'd say you got all the luck that went with this stool."
He sounded broken and sad.
"Dammit," I said. "Not alone are you a fine strapping lump of a man, but you are a fiddler as well and the Lord looks after drunk men and fiddlers more than anyone else. She'll turn up yet, and if she does not sure the Crane is full of the finest of women, look around you man. You could meet a wife here too before the craic is over."
He brightened up at that. He looked at me sharpish. He said, "No offense now, but if a fairly agey lad like yourself could meet a wife here then there has to be a chance for me yet. I'll resin the bow and get stuck into the music and forget about women altogether, and Lord knows what might happen before the night is out!"
"That's the spirit,” is what I said, and he was already playing away by the time I went back downstairs to join the clan.
I told them the story, and it was only one of the scores of stories and memories that created the fabric of a lovely family evening. It was that good that not one of us had time to sing a single ballad between then and closing time.
In the small hours we hit the pillows in Aine and Dara's house out overlooking Galway Bay in Inverin, enjoyed the grandchildren's antics in Cuan and Niamh's the next day, said farewell to Ciara and Scobie in Galway again, and were home in Clare just as the last of the daylight leaked out of the horizon.
There is always a jarring note. I leave it until last.
I wrote here some months ago about our 16-year old black terrier Friday being struck by a car on the road outside the cottage but surviving. On the evening of Friday the 13th Friday joined us for the family dinner in Maisie’s, getting the juiciest scraps and pieces, being petted and spoiled the while.
Then, wagging her tail, she exited through the cat flap in the front door. Ten minutes later a young neighbor man came to the door with the news that he'd just found her dead on the road.
She obviously never heard the car coming. She went out on that road just that one time too many.
The tears were streaming down my face when I was burying her. She'd been a real part of the family too.