Pot, Kettle, Drunk After centuries of English oppression and their ultimate loss at the battle of Culloden (lesson learned: never follow a guy nicknamed "Bonnie." Also, never follow a guy nicknamed "The Fop," "Dandy," or "Pansy.") my ancestors fled from Scotland to Ireland. As far as escaping English oppression goes, this ranks slightly above moving to London or Birmingham, but rather far from, you know, actually escaping oppression. They'd repeat the same mistake a couple of generations later by moving to the American colonies just in time for the Boston Tea Party.
Ah well. At least they finally won one.
Three centuries later, I moved from Scotland to Eire under far better circumstances. The closest I'd come to English oppression was wandering around the castle my ancestors used to own, or putting up with a couple of wankers in a bar. So instead of trading the Battle of Culloden for the Battle of Boyne, I was trading scotch for Guinness and poteen.
But I get ahead of myself.
I moved to Ireland via France (showing the hereditary sense of navigation that guided my ancestors across the sea, right past the good warm territory of the United States, before ending up in Fargo--main crop: ice!). Although I had no plans, I had friends living in Dublin at the time who were willing to put me up on their couch until I get my feet on the ground: Ger and Shane, two Irish lads who'd stayed a couple of weeks at my hostel in Edinburgh. We'd bonded over our shared tastes in music, movies, and mood-altering substances.
We were drinking within minutes of leaving the airport. Ger worked nights in the ER, four nights on, four nights off, while Shane was a student who liked to blow off class. So all three of us were nighthawks--the only thing that could stop us was our ever-dwindling supply of booze or the eventual rise of the sun. Ireland is a great country to be hungover in: the weather is suitably crappy so you never see the sun, and the food is greasy and carb laden.
On my first full night in Dublin, Ger and Shane showed me around the pubs of the city with their friends, and told me what places to avoid (especially Abra-kebab-ra, a fast food kebab house so infamous for drunken assaults that it's known as Abra-ke-stab-ra). We went for an obligatory drink in the Temple Bar area--which is so rife with drunken American tourists that it's known as Temple Barf--and that's when I started to realize just what type of place Ireland is. We were standing outside a bar about to step in, when three punks came up and started to harass Ger's friend Nigel, and his girlfriend Anna. When Nigel tried to defend Anna, one of the thugs smashed a bottle of Budweiser over his head (which, admittedly, is the best use of Budweiser I've seen yet), cutting Nigel and Ger with the glass fragments. Neither of them were hurt seriously, but that's when I started to realize Dublin might not be the most convivial place on Earth.
My drink in Ireland, aside from Murphy's Stout (vastly superior to Guinness if you can get anywhere near Cork, where it's brewed. The stuff we get over here is shite compared to the fresh stuff), soon became poteen. Poteen, pronounced "po'-sheen," is Irish moonshine that just recently became legal again to distill. If vodka and absinthe had an illegitimate child (if any alcohol was to have children out of wedlock, it'd be absinthe), it'd be poteen. Distilled from grain, and typically 120-180 proof, poteen was cheaply made moonshine for so long; it has not forgotten it's roots. Being Irish, it is of course green, and it has a taste somewhere between vodka and gin. Evil vodka and gin, of course. You should drink it straight, or maybe with a little ice.
It'll mess you up. It's quintessentially Irish in that sense, as well. It looks sweet and innocent, and has a lovely little accent, and just when you least expect it, BAM, it'll knock you on your ass and laugh at you.
I finally decided to leave Dublin after that national character became clear to me. I had gone with Ger and Shane and some of their friends to a "Take Back the Streets" celebration for May Day--which, in pretty much every country but the US, is a socialist holiday (ironically celebrating when the 8-hour work day was instituted in the United States). A critical mass of people took over one of the riverside streets for a couple of hours one weekday afternoon. There was dancing in the streets, people hanging out, chatting, and generally experimenting with what it felt like to use the streets as a communal space rather than for transportation.
But suddenly the mood turned very sour. The cops, which had been standing at the periphery for awhile, decided to break up the party. The Irish students who had claimed the streets started to push back. People started yelling. The chant started "Pigs leave!" while others yelled, "Fuck the Republic, and have some fun!" and one confused guy starts shouting, "Kill Americans!" (making me slightly nervous, though I think it he was just taking the piss out of one of his friends), the prevalent shout was, "This street is ours! This street is ours!"
The batons came out.
This was where I start to get very nervous, but the ones who started bleeding were the ones who were aggressively challenging gardai and throwing punches themselves. It didn't yet feel like it's going to spill over into the hoi polloi.
At one point in this, I saw a Garda (Irish for cop) go up to a guy on crutches, kick the crutches out from him, and drag him off, tossing him into a van and arresting him. It was at this point I started to move away from the frontline, and stopped taking pictures. I probably should have left at this point, but I still was in a state of mind where nothing bad could happen to me; if nothing else, I could just play the American tourist card and say I just walked into this while making my way to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College.
Enough people moved away from the riotline that it didn't come to a head quite yet. More people moved around the bongos and street dancing, and gardai didn't push it yet. It was calm for awhile. People started to leave, either from feeling that it could turn very ugly or that it already had gotten as ugly as it could get and they could leave without missing anything. The crowd dwindled to a couple hundred people, about half its original size.
Eventually, those left started to move. An announcement was made by someone that they would move to the Garda station to protest the arrest of our comrades. Not everyone on the street heard this announcement, but Reclaim the Streets was abandoning the quay and heading to another street. There were probably about 200 people moving to the Dame Street station. At the time, I was unaware that this was a decision of the Reclaim the Streets crew; I believed it to be pressure by the gardai.
For if it had been an intentional move by the gardai, it was done so they could justify their actions against the protesters by making them a threat to the commercial traffic of the city. Most of the protest were just kids born too late to be hippies, playing bongos, dancing around with fire bolos, and drinking furtively from paper bags. They were never a threat to gardai, and were causing as minimal harm to traffic as they could. Still, when we were moved onto Dame Street at rush hour, gardai charged the crowd. The batons came out, and people were dragged into riot vans. 24 arrests were made, and over a dozen people were hospitalized, in the Garda assault.
Tellingly, not a single gardai was injured. Most of the gardai weren't even wearing their badge numbers in locations that people could read them.
I left Dublin for Cork the next day. I continue to drink Murphy's and poteen when I can find them, but I'm sure as hell not getting involved in another police riot if I can help it.
Poteen in Brief
Quality: A- Taste: Poteen is highly flammable. It is green. The taste really doesn't matter. Aftertaste: Rubbing alcohol, sweetened by peat. Strength of Liquor: Mind-numbing. Most of it ranges from 140-180 proof (70-90% alcohol by volume) Strength of Hangover: Weaker than you'd think. As a mostly pure alcohol, the pain the next morning will mostly come from the stupid things you did while under the influence rather than a hangover Final Recommendation: If you like strong spirits, you should give this a try. If you can't afford a trip to Ireland and want to know what it's like to be beaten by the Gardai, drink as much of this as you can.