Colm was thrashing around in the back seat as we sat in the empty car park outside the pub. He was invoking the holy family. Praying to, pleading with them that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe we got the wrong night. Maybe we got the wrong location. Maybe we should just go home. From the driver’s seat Maureen murmured calm yet firm assurances that no, we were just early.
To be accurate the car park wasn’t completely empty. There was one other car with doors open as a woman tried to fold her very elderly and incredibly inebriated father into the back seat. He wasn’t having it and after much kicking and struggling he staggered back to the pub’s front door. She drove away in exasperation. We had been sitting in stupefied silence watching this scene but when the daughter was gone and the father had stumbled back into the pub the thrashing started again. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph be good to us. Maybe they cancelled the party at the last minute. Let’s go home, Maureen.”
The party hadn’t been cancelled and Maureen would know if it had. It was her young brother’s 50th birthday and he had come home to Ireland from America for the celebration, a gathering of family and friends…of the village. We had arrived on time, just well ahead of other celebrants.
Colm’s issue was not with the brother or the family or the celebration. It was being at a pub. As a young man he took the vow of the Young Pioneers to never let a drop of alcohol pass his lips. Through the years he and Maureen have been faithful to this promise avoiding drink, drinking, and drinking establishments. With a tender heart as big as the windswept Connemara countryside that surrounded us, Colm’s aversion to alcohol was matched in equal measure by his caring for family and community. Here in the parking lot he knew these two passions were about to collide in the Poitín Stil.
As the first guests arrived we made our way through the front door. Maureen went off to attend the food and Colm assumed the role of host for the event, warmly embracing and welcoming everyone. It was a role he would maintain throughout the evening, laughing and joking and sharing stories even when others were beyond comprehending conversation. These were Irish speakers and with my Irish being limited to the names of breakfast foods I found a quiet corner to watch the evening unfold. There was live music and dancing which soon involved men running at each other from across the dance floor to slam their bodies together. There was drinking, and for the birthday man more drinking as he had spent most of the day pub hopping with friends. Not long into the party I looked over to see him sitting on a bench seat slumped against Colm. He would soon pass out.
By the end of the evening there were just the three of us left sober and standing steady. While Colm continued to be the gracious host, I helped put the food away and Maureen made the rounds collecting keys for cars that would spend the night in the Poitín Stil car park. Then by twos and threes Maureen ushered guests into her car for rides to their various homes. It would be almost two hours before the taxiing was completed.
First to arrive and last to leave. Stepping beyond their aversions and private judgements, Maureen and Colm opened their hearts to their family and village and with love unconditional took care of their tribe. Their compassion was beautiful and humbling to behold.