Ongoing battle between excess and moderation

Country Living with Francis Farragher

There are a few of us working in this establishment who are caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea as regards the line to be drawn between guilt and pleasure when it comes to the consumption of a few pints of plain.

Last week, one of my colleagues in a spirited attempt to find solace after consuming one or two extra ones on the previous night, sent me a little YouTube link to a television interview done some years back with the late John B. Keane.

The Listowel publican and playwright, who departed this world in 2002, hadn’t one ounce of guilt about pronouncing his undying love of ‘the liquor’ espousing his delight at ‘the plop of whiskey’ into a glass, to be ‘chased down’ in rapid succession by a pint of Guinness.

John B. and his wife Mary ran a grand pub in William Street, Listowel, that I visited once, back in the late Summer of 1992, as myself and a few mates were making our way from Killarney to play Ballybunion Golf Course. Anyway, in preparation for such a stern test of our very limited golfing abilities, a breakaway group thought it a good idea to sample a few beers in John B.’s place – a most enjoyable treat during consumption, although the efforts to play Ballybunion later on in the afternoon, ended in abysmal failure.

There were a few hardy boys en situ at John B.’s exchanging tales of the Kerry countryside who seemed to have no worries over such mundane matters as the passing of time, work duties, or even ‘having the dinner’. Maybe consequences would ensue later on in the day for them, but at that point in time, this was a place of complete serenity for them.

A bit like Tim Finnegan in the Finnegan’s Wake song, John B. admitted in his interview to being born ‘with a love of the liquor’ – probably in these more politically correct times, he would be chastised from all quarters for having a good word to say about ‘the drink’.

John B. had a classic ‘take’ on the notion that we should all drink in moderation – he didn’t subscribe to that theory for one second. “Drink in moderation is one of the most ridiculous statements ever made. You must drink a little more than moderation. St. Paul said in his wisdom said we should take a little wine for our stomach’s sake and our frequent infirmities.”

The combination of drink, and yarns that were spun in his Listowel pub, as well of course as his natural gift for writing, made John B. into one of Ireland’s foremost playwrights, with works such as Sive, Big Maggie and The Field, performed not only in Ireland but also in places as far apart as Los Angeles and Moscow.

He met his wife Mary O’Connor at the Listowel Races back in the late 1940s and they seem to have been the perfect match for each other, even in terms of Mary ‘supporting’ her husband in his love of the glass of whiskey and the few pints.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.