Columnist Bill Newman: Honour the Guinness — and other lessons learned in Dublin and Mauritius

  • An exhibit on censorship at the new Museum of Literature Ireland in Dublin. Bill Newman

  • Columnist Bill Newman at Kavanagh’s Pub in Dublin, which is also known as the Gravediggers because the diggers at the adjacent Glasnevin Cemetery were provided with a secret serving hatch so that they could drink on the job. Bill Newman

  • During his trip to Ireland, columnist Bill Newman was left almost speechless by Trinity College’s Long Hall with its 200,000 antique books that fill the shelves from the floor to its cathedral-height ceiling. Bill Newman

Published: 12/6/2019 6:00:42 PM

Late on a Sunday night in Dublin this November we were sitting in the Gravediggers.

Sometimes it’s called Kavanagh’s. It’s a pub that earned its moniker beginning in 1833 because the diggers at the adjacent Glasnevin Cemetery were provided with a secret serving hatch so that they could drink on the job.

Those workers well understood that they were relegated to the back of the pub. Poor and working people were prohibited then from entering many pubs through the front door.

On a brighter note: Not only is Kavanagh’s a neighborhood gathering place, it’s a family business. For eight generations the Kavanaghs have run that pub, where some of the rutted, never sanded tables, smoothed only by glasses, stout and beer, looked like they’d been there since the beginning.

My wife, Dale, and I were having a four-day stopover in Ireland, an island-nation long subjugated by the Brits, on our way to another island nation also long subjected to British rule — Mauritius, which is in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

On an even brighter note: That’s where our daughter, Leah, was getting married. That is where she lives. That was our reason for this trip.

The Gravediggers wasn’t our first pub that day. Earlier we had stopped by the Landmark where the bartender, Matilda, had admonished me, “It’s a sin to sip the Guinness before it’s fully settled.” I inspected my glass. It was true — my Guinness was still bubbling from the bottom. I had sinned. Matilda, laughing, added. “About the Guinness — I’ll let it go this once, but next time I’ll have to be firmer.”

Motivated in part by my transgression, the next day we took a tour of Guinness’ home, the St. James’s Gate Brewery, where in 1759 Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease for the site to produce his stout. Seriously, 9,000 years.

On this, our first trip to Dublin, we were mesmerized by the exquisite evensong service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; left almost speechless by Trinity College’s Long Hall with its 200,000 antique books that fill the shelves from the floor to its cathedral-height ceiling; and deeply disturbed by the exhibits on censorship at the new Museum of Literature Ireland.

The most intense hours were the ones spent at the Kilmainham Prison — with its exhibits on the 1916 Rising and the rebels who were imprisoned and executed there.

The English invasion of Ireland began in the 12th century. The Act of Union of 1801 formalized the occupation. Most of Ireland did not escape British tyranny until 1922. Tyrants always fall, but until they do, they often inflict incalculable pain and destruction.

In Dublin, we walked and walked — through St. Stephen’s Green, the Grafton Quarter and the not too filled with tourists this time of year Temple Bar area that is populated with pubs filled with happy patrons and Irish music. We fell in love with the city. There was only one downside.

Trump. The World News section of the papers were reporting on his felonies and authoritarianism and impeachment. Our taxi driver back to the airport shared his view that the Irish generally think the president “is a clown. And dangerous.”

Fifteen hours of flying later, we landed at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport — named in honor of Mauritius’ independence leader and first prime minister. We were 1,400 miles south of the equator and 10,000 miles from home.

Leah’s older sister, Jo, had traveled from Wyoming. Some Northampton family friends arrived via an amazing safari in Botswana. Others had traveled from Senegal, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, as well as Norway, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. Their countries of origin are even more diverse: their passports include Russia, Ethiopia, Poland and Hong Kong.

Leah met some of these now close friends during her year at the London School of Economics, where she earned a master’s in development management. Others were friends from her years, before and after LSE, in Kenya and Uganda.

These 30-somethings, who live all over the world, work for NGOs, B (for Beneficial) corps., development projects, philanthropies, tech companies, government agencies, educational institutions and startups. They are planners and doers and entrepreneurs. They can change the world. And one thing is clear from being with them — their time has come.

Leah and Kenny’s wedding was on the beach near Belle Mare. Kenny is from Mauritius, and the couple had chosen a beautiful time, near sunset, and a beautiful place for us to be together to witness their vows. Dale and I walked Leah down the aisle, which is to say, we followed footprints in the sand to the island-style chuppah near the water’s edge.

And then there was a grand party. There I met a recently retired Mauritian educator. We talked about the threat to his country that climate change poses — to its beaches and its coral reefs, its people and its economy and its future. That conversation led us to the environmental policies of Donald Trump, whom he characterized as “dangerous.” There was that word again.

He wondered aloud about what kind of world would be left for his new grandchild if Trump remained in power. And he wanted to know whether I thought Trump would be reelected. I confessed that I didn’t know the answer.

Then the band started to play — a lot of sega, the national dance and music of Mauritius. It was time to drink and eat and dance. The party went on all night. The work to stop the evil that is Trump could wait a few hours.

But only a few.

Bill Newman is a Northampton-based attorney and radio show host. At the party after the wedding he sang Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter” with its refrain “As long as one and one is two/ there could never be a father / loved a daughter more than I love you.”

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