In the cavernous darkness of snug, among the forest of dark brown bar stools, beside the shadowy hearth in which a low peat fire smoldered wandered a little boy;
Sniffing the sweet-and-sour smell of stale beer, fingering sodden beer mats and sticky playing cards.
You did your best to ignore the men at the bar who frightened you with their rough, gruff, drunken ways, their hoarse nicotinic voices,
Even as they bought you Cadbury’s Fruit, and Nut and your mother’s body language told you they were friends.
Your grandfather, shuffling around behind the counter,
Serving, at the same time as holding court,
Emperor of this strange, shadowy kingdom.
Trouble: the night they got him drunk and tried to buy the pub out from under him,
A pittance on offer;
There was a phone call from a regular, and your mother came up to put the run on them— a cute clan of grabbers from Lissycasey,
And on the guards who drank after hours on the buckshee, your grandfather simultaneously intimidated and impressed by their uniforms and talk.
He couldn’t lift a barrel anymore,
Needed help with keeping stock,
Would down a short and talk horses and dogs with any passing custom,
Run card schools into the night,
And started to drink almost as much as he was selling.
It was broken into, but the guards looked the other way, didn’t lift a finger.
“You wouldn’t find an elephant in the snow,” my mother told them.
The pub was home to him,
Home away from home for half the Turnpike,
And in better years, when his wife was alive and the shop was still up and running, the heart and soul of the old neighbourhood,
A social service, a source of tick and oftentimes handouts.
She would give a gold sovereign to the mother of each newborn in that poor area of the town.
But he closed its doors for the last time and came to live with us.
Nobody could take it from him then.
But he had fallen from his perch of power, emperor no more,
Just a foolish old man who had become prey to sly and grubbing countrymen and crooked, entitled guards.