Echoes of home on streets of San Francisco
Emigrants both recent and of longer standing gravitated to bars in the US city to watch the All-Ireland football final
THE STREETS of San Francisco are rather chilly at seven o’clock in the morning. And for those of us who were suffering from jet lag on Sunday, September 23rd, things took on a bit of an hallucinogenic quality.
The house of the Grateful Dead – or one of their houses anyway – was only a couple of blocks away. But we were focused, or trying to focus, on watching the All-Ireland football final.
Even we could tell the bar was open by the small knots of smokers standing outside. The man who let us in and stamped our hands in exchange for the $20 admission fee was very small and civil and looked as if he was maybe from South America. The Kezar pub on Stanyan Street is a sports bar, we had been told, called after San Francisco’s Kezar stadium, which was once home to the San Francisco 49ers football team.
If the front bar was a slice of a hyper-real Ireland – there was sawdust on the floor; we nearly died – the back bar was showing the Manchester United v Liverpool game and there were quite a lot of Americans in there, watching the soccer. One man was bringing in his toddler sons.
As my friend’s American husband started to count redheads – “five”, he said after we had been in the place three minutes – we ordered tea for two. It came in a big stainless steel – or perhaps aluminium – teapot.
“Jesus, you could be at home,” said the man at the bar as we all gazed at it admiringly. Of course you don’t get tea in pots at home any more. The man, Pete Smyth, was a construction worker from Cavan. How did he like San Francisco? “It’s better than f***ing Cavan, anyway,” he said.
Some things do change, however. At half- time all the mobile phones come out and the texting, a slow telephonic ripple during the game, becomes a flood.
Breda McDermott is from Donegal and one of the star Donegal players, Neil Gallagher, is her cousin. She is sitting at an Ulster table with women from Armagh, Donegal, Derry and Monaghan.
Breda was in national school in 1992 the last time Donegal won an All-Ireland. Now she is a bartender and a care-giver in San Francisco and having a great time, she says. On her phone she has a picture of her baby nephew Oliver which she took of him when she was at home in May. Oliver is dressed entirely in the Donegal colours. Her phone receives another text. “That’s my mother,” she says.
“Eleven,” says the redhead counter. But he can’t possibly tell in this light.