On a recent visit to Ireland I was locked in on a night out.
No, it doesn't mean I was arrested, rather the pub owner had decided closing time had come too soon in the little country pub and the craic was too great to stop.
So, extra time was needed, kind of like in a soccer game when extra time is played if the teams are level.
There is no public announcement, merely a nod and a wink from the owner, transmitted by osmosis to the lads and lassies in the bar, usually locals, who are in on the skullduggery.
The bar owner prefers it that way, so there are no strangers who might blab about it the following day.
The lock-in begins quietly and subtly. The strangers drift away thinking last call has been called. The blinds come down and the glasses are cleared. The musicians stop as if the night was over. The bartenders disappear.
Anyone not in the know has no clue. Indeed, if they ask the barman if there is a lock-in they would be met with a blank stare. There is no advance warning for those not in the know.
I was lucky to be with a friend who knew that in this pub, every second Thursday night or so, there was a lock-in and the locals continued with the craic.
Once the strangers had left, none the wiser, the toys, so to speak, come alive. The dead bolt lock was slid across the front door and slammed in place so that the folks present were essentially locked in and everyone else locked out.
The wild night outside with the rain coming down in sheets and a cold wind from the east made it far more palatable to stay and have a few while continuing the craic.
With drunk driving laws as strict as they are, there is an unofficial pact that requires some of those present stay sober so that they can drive their neighbors home. I had that task for my friend and his two sons this night.
The musicians gathered again, but it was mostly singing, not playing instruments in order not to alert a passing police car with the noise.
Beside me, out of the blue, a pretty young woman began singing “The Rocks of Bawn.” The crowd was as still as church mice at Sunday service. There was no applause and then a young man launched into a Jimmy McCarthy song "Bright Blue Rose," a song that haunts all who hear it.
The lights were lowered and the atmosphere becomes intimate. Folks you never spoke to in your life engage you in deep conversations. “Is Brexit f***ed?” a woman beside me asked to my complete surprise. I stammered an answer but another joined in.
The big fear of course is the knock on the door and the “Guard on Duty” command. It is rare but folks have been known to scatter, some even into the family house of the publican.
Local papers have long written of such incidents where two strangers are found in bed pretending they were visitors to the house of the publican, which is often attached to the pub.
The best lock-in is when the cop himself is present, as sometimes happens. When that happens, no one gets out of line and the night does not dwell too late. Everyone can relax.
How do you know where to find a lock-in? It's not easy. There are none advertised and many, if not most, are spontaneous. The rule is the more isolated the pub the better the chance.
Years ago, when I was a lot younger, I left some lock-ins with daylight outside heralding the dawn. On one occasion, I took a dare to take a sip from every whiskey bottle on the top shelf. I still remember that hangover.
After a mighty few hours of song and story, humor and craic at last it was time to go. The owner took us outside looked right and left, and beckoned us out.
Our adventure was over, but the memory will be held dear of a night for the hidden Ireland to assert itself.
The lesson? Being locked in can be great craic, but you won’t find mention of it in any tourist brochure.
Maybe it’s better that way.
Saorise Ronan was recently on Jimmy Fallon and explained the Irish lock-in:
*Originally published in January 2017.