Michael Muldoon – The Professor

Michael MuldoonMichael Muldoon was born in East Galway. He grew up in Galway city. After leaving St.Mary’s college, he studied in U.C.G and after that moved to Kilronan on the Aran Islands. He and his wife Eibhlín have worked in the catering business since then. His writing is as clear and strong as his social conscience.

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The Professor

By Michael Muldoon

From the cut of his clothes Bridey guessed he was American. One of the many visitors to her little thatched pub in Kilronan on the Aran Islands.
He was in fact a professor of modern English from a famous American university and his visit to Ireland had lived up to all his expectations. He had been overwhelmed to find in 1974 an island with no electricity where gas light, kerosene lamps and candles still ruled. The light and noise from a gas mantle is a mixture of warmth and intimacy never to be forgotten. There had been but half a dozen customers in the pub when he entered and the low murmur of conversation had halted as he and his wife lifted the latch. He would later dramatically compare it to a gunfighter entering a saloon in one of John Ford’s great westerns. The locals could now size up the visitors as they and their ancestors had done for generations. As the conversations resumed a warm glow descended on the old professor as the slow motion character of everything he surveyed generated a great sense of well being and the Irish whiskey went to work. The most important seats in the pub consisted of six empty Guinness barrels placed in front of the counter and covered with some ancient cushions. The men who occupied these positions of importance had established title to them through frequent use. It could be described as a type of squatter’s rights. This title would remain with them until death or sobriety dethroned them. On this June evening three of the seats were occupied by men who spoke, moved and drank in the most relaxed manner the professor had ever encountered. It was imperative for these men to establish where the visitor was from and how he was enjoying his visit. The night was passing pleasantly when a small, weather beaten old man limped in and engaged the company in conversation. “Well Mikealín ?“ The man on barrel one enquired. Mikealín told of his visit to the doctor earlier that day. What amazed the old professor was Mikealín’s statement of “they contorted my toe”. The professor announced that it was no wonder Ireland had produced such wonderful writers from Swift to Shaw to O’Casey to Joyce to Yeats when an ordinary peasant on an off shore island in the extreme west could use such descriptive language when telling of his visit to the doctor. Was it any wonder that the islands had been the birthplace of the great Liam O’Flaherty and the inspiration for Synge? This was indeed proof positive that the exalted position the Filí and the Bard had occupied in the ancient Gaelic tradition had nurtured a nation of wordsmiths. In any other country a peasant would surely not have casually come up with such a colourful choice of words as “they contorted my toe”. One would have expected perhaps “they twisted my toe” or “they moved my toe” or some other more mundane example. The professor announced that he would be using old Mikealín’s words in his next lecture to his students as an example of the incredible turn of phrase one could expect to hear in Ireland where Hiberno-English has proceeded on an exotic tangent from the rest of the English speaking world.
As the hour was getting late the professor and his wife said goodnight to their new friends and happily headed back to their guest house through the darkened streets. If their entrance had generated a great silence their exit did the opposite. As the door closed behind them the locals finally broke into broad smiles. Being courteous by nature they had kept quiet as the professor had gone on and on about Mikealín and his toe although it had been difficult at times to keep a straight face. His use of the word peasant had not been well received as the islanders were convinced, like all Irish people, of being descended from either warriors and kings or saints and scholars. However, causing embarrassment to a stranger was something these Islanders would always strive to avoid and they knew the professor meant no disrespect. You see their problem was that what Mikealín had said was not “they contorted my toe” but rather “the c**t hurted me toe”.

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