Dublin Part One
I hadn’t been in Dublin since 1982 when my boss called me to her office and blurted out she was terrified of flying and could I please go to Ireland the next day, Thanksgiving, in her place. I called my husband and said “Save me some leftovers.”
Thanksgiving dinner, 1982 — boiled grey meat; boiled and mashed potatoes; boiled celery and cabbage — all cooked to a mushy state and covered with cream sauce.
Fast forward, September 2011. My daughter Tess was about to start a semester at University College Cork and I thought it was the only way to get my New York, Italian guy to the Emerald Isle, the land of half my heritage.
With estimates of 1 per 100 people having celiac disease, Ireland has one of the highest incidences of gluten sensitivity in the world. Despite my mother’s protestations, my tests show I have a gluten sensitivity marker from one parent and a celiac gene from the other. I always thought it was my Dad who gave me the celiac gene but maybe that’s not the case. In the end, we met all kinds of people in Dublin and Cork (our next stop) who claimed to be or knew someone who was “celiac”. The term is used so loosely I wonder if it doesn’t also apply to gluten intolerance as not everyone we spoke to who claimed to have celiac disease had actually been tested.
The upshot is that finding gluten-free food in Ireland is not difficult. We did find however, that some brands of gluten-free bread contain “gluten-free wheat starch” that supposedly has extremely low levels of gluten. Tess had some trouble with Check first.
We arrived around 3PM Saturday to low-lying, lumpy clouds in painterly shades of grey. The air was fresh and crisp and we were anxious to explore. We ditched our bags at the La Stampa hotel on Dawson Street and headed to O’Donoghue’s Pub just off St. Stephen’s Green.
Best known for traditional Irish music O’Donoghue’s had several rooms, an area exposed to the elements with picnic tables full of families drinking and relaxing, and a smaller room, with a bar running the length packed with fans watching rugby on T. At the front of this room there was an alcove to the right of the entry and separated from it by a short wall.
I wasn’t sure there would be musicians there as it was mid afternoon, but as we rounded the little wall sure enough there were several men and women seated around a small, low table instruments in hand. I was getting excited. My years with Ernie and his Italian clan plays more to my Mediterranean Greek side than to the Irish.
We got our drinks, Jameson’s for him; gin and tonic for me as I recently learned distilled spirits do not contain gluten even if they are made with grain that does. Something about the processing removes, destroys or obliterates the gluten. That said, you’d think with all the celiac’s there would be a gluten free version.
We situated ourselves at the wall opposite the main bar that had maybe a six-inch wide wood strip where you could put your glass down. We were diagonally across from the alcove, but still quite close to the musicians and the women, clearly sisters, sitting to their left. Knowing glances were shared among them and the older man with a concertina started playing, then a fiddle and a flute and a drum. Then suddenly a man at the center back of the u-shaped alcove with rosy face and a glint in his eye started to sing. His voice was loud and clear. The lyrics filled the little space. I can’t describe the sound of the instruments or the voices in musical terms, but for me, it roused an energy from somewhere inside.