Esther Murbach was born in the middle of the 20th century, raised and living in Basel. She studies of languages, history, philosophy in Basel and Berlin. She is a journalist, translator, PR and advertising, medical secretary. She is freelance author since 2008.
By Esther Murbach
I’m not from Galway. I’m not even Irish. I like to describe myself as Swiss going on Irish though this sounds a little weird. Never mind, it’s just how I feel.
Maybe around the time when my appearance in this world was due, a young Irish couple placed an order with an incompetent stork. It must have been an old stork who was already befuddled. Or a young and unexperienced one. Whichever, the stork got lost on his way to delivery of the baby-me. Storks didn’t carry navigation devices then.
So instead of the Irish West Coast, the stork ended up in the Northwestern Corner of Switzerland. There I was placed in a Swiss cradle, raised and educated in the Swiss town of Basel. Lived, worked and founded a family in Switzerland. But I felt like a changeling all my life. It took me a few decades to find out why.
The day I first set my foot on Irish soil about two years ago, I began to understand. It was my first time in an Irish pub with a few locals playing traditionals, patrons singing along or dancing spontaneously. Just like that, because they felt like it. And nobody saying, do you have to make a spectacle of yourself. I had always liked to make a spectacle of myself, for no reason at all. You don’t do that in Switzerland, it’s considered undignified. But I suppose it was just the way I was conceived by the Big Designer who resides upstairs on top of the clouds. It wasn’t really HIS fault that I got deposited in the wrong cradle. HE’s responsible for the allover conception and the big picture of the world. HE can’t follow up on every little detail like a stork misplacing an infant.
Anyway, once I found out where I really felt at home, and after I had visited Ireland a few times, the stork’s error was at least partly rectified. One evening I even became part of the local colour in Galway. That’s the story I’m going to tell you now. Except for a few names I’m changing for discretion’s sake, it’s entirely and honestly true.
The second time I visited Galway was in September 2011. The wind blew from the West and the rain pelted down when one evening I walked through the Latin Quarter. I took refuge in a pub which was crammed. A young band was fiddling merry reels in a corner, the beer flowing and everybody having fun. As I peeled out of my wet jacket, a guy pushed to my side saying, ‘Oh, yer takin’ yer clothes off!’
‘Not all of them,’ I replied politely and concentrated on ordering a Paddy at the bar.
As a helpless woman, you wouldn’t want to vex a guy like this. His big round head was shaved to a shine, his stomach spoke of many beers, his huge biceps wore wild tattoos, and his right hand carried the obviously umpteenth pint of Guinness.
The band took a break which made him loose interest in me. He pushed forward towards the musicians’ corner, threw his head back and began to sing. From his apparition, you would have expected him to launch into ’The Wild Rover’. But no. In a husky, mellow voice he rendered a romantic ballad speaking of love unfufilled. A real crooner! The excess of Guinness made him occasionally slip a bit out of tune, but still his performance drove tears to your eyes. Everybody went immediately quiet and listened.
When he had finished, the din in the pub rose again. I ordered a second Paddy, nursing it for a while in the hope of another song. But then the band resumed to play. The guy ordered another pint. I finished my Paddy and left. My mood for merry reels had gone.
At the time I was writing a novel, and I decided to include the scene I had just witnessed into it.
April 2013 saw me back in Galway for the Cúirt International Festival of Literature. It was a busy week full of personal and literary highlights. On my third last day I dove into my favourite pub again for a proper musical and spiritual goodbye. Over the rim of the counter hung a familiar moon, the round pate of the singer with the husky voice. The stomach, the biceps and the pint in his hand were the same too.
‘Is it you who sang this romantic ballad here in September 2011?’ I asked him.
‘Might very well be,’ he said gruffly, eyeing me with suspicion.
‘I described the scene of you singing in the book I was writing at the time.’
The moon began to shine. ‘Ye described me singin’ in yer book?’
‘Are ye a writer?’
‘Hey, everybody, have ye heard? I’m in a book!’
He turned towards me again. ‘Would ye like a glass of wine?’
He climbed from his seat and offered that to me as well. The instant transition from sourpuss to perfect gentleman was breathtaking. I reminded him of the way we had met the first time, how he had expected me to take my clothes off.
‘I apologize for that!’
Obviously he was at his first Guinness of the evening.
Then he introduced himself formally. ‘I’m Dan. A pity I’m not free anymore. I’m getting married next month and moving to Illinois. My bride is from there. But this here, my friend Kieran,’ he pointed to an elderly man sitting next to him, ‘he’s still free. He might be the man fer ye.’
How very considerate! Had I written ‘I’m a cougar on the prowl’ all over me? Probably Dan just meant well. A woman by herself hanging around in a pub solely for the music and a good drink seemed a thing inconceivable to him.
He asked about my book. ‘Where can I get it?’
‘From Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop,’ I said.
‘Right in the centre of town, ask anyone.’
‘Know what? I have a better idea. Why don’t ye get it for me and we meet here again the day after temorrer? Temorrer I’m out of town. How much is it?’
‘Twelve Euros. And the day after tomorrow I’ll be on my way back to Switzerland.’
‘What a shame! Know what? I’ll give ye the money. Get the book fer me and deposit it here in my name. Andy!’ He yelled to the barman. ‘The lady will deposit a book fer me temorrer!’
He turned to me again. ‘I’ll give ye ten Euros.’
‘It costs twelve. I have to buy my own book and I don’t want to lose money on it.’
A real bargain. He handed me eleven Euros. I decided to take the glass of wine he had offered me into account, plus the seat, and took the money.
‘Please note the page I’m on!’ he advised me.
Clearly this would save him a lot of unnecessary reading.
Then I thought he might at least give me another song to warm my heart. So asked him what other songs he knew. Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears? The Rose of Tralee? Galway Bay? He seemed suddenly kind of embarrassed and nearly shy.
‘Maybe if you give me the tune,’ he finally said.
So I hummed the first bars of ‘Galway Bay’. Astonishingly enough, the quiet Kieran joined in, and he even knew the words. Then it turned out Dan knew the song after all. So did I. We ended up singing it together, all three of us. Right then the door opened to let a few tourists in, amongst them an middle-aged American couple.
‘How nice, some local colour!’ the lady twittered and got her camera ready.
That’s how I finally ended up where I really belonged. Where my soul had been craving to dwell all along. In a pub in the middle of Galway posing as local colour for tourists on the quest for their Irish roots.
As to Dan, I did as he wished. I went to Charlie Byrne’s to buy my own book, deposited it in the pub, marked the page of his appearance for him and even wrote a heartfelt dedication. Hopefully his wedding went well and he’s moved safely to Illinois. I also hope that he’s not going to feel like a changeling there. That he’s integrated in an Irish expat community with Irish pubs where they serve pints of Guinness and play Irish music. Otherwise he might get homesick and ask the stork to carry him back to Galway. Where he most certainly would be adding to the local colour again.