. . . on warming to the G-word
I’m a little bit Gabriel Byrne about The Gathering. I’m not one of the people Leo Varadkar likes to dismiss as “the cynics” or one of those “who likes to sneer” but I still find the whole thing a bit hokey. The Gathering postcards have been gathering dust on my sideboard, and they are destined for nowhere more exotic than the recycling bin. If I want people to visit I’ll ask them at a time of my choosing not because the Government decides to spend millions of euro we don’t have telling me to invite them. In conclusion, I’ll be ignoring The Gathering in the same way I generally ignore the forced jollity of New Year.
I was firm about this position until Catie and Jeanie walked into the bar. I was in New York and, having been up The Empire State building three times in my life, I left my sister and niece to all 102 floors and settled in the art-deco splendour of the Empire Room. Jeanie and Catie, a mother and daughter, had come up to Manhattan from their home in Yonkers for Christmas shopping. They were discussing cocktails when I ordered a Moscow Mule and Catie, overhearing, declared it to be Oprah’s favourite. We started chatting then. Anybody who is intimate with Oprah’s preferred tipple is grand in my book. “Where are you from?” said Jeanie. Ireland, I said. And, as so many conversations do, that’s how it began.
Jeanie had chosen the Empire Room for a post-shopping cocktail because she thought it had a connection with a man with Irish links called Steve Brodie. He may or may not have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge for a dare in the late 19th century. Surviving the fabled jump gave him a sort of notoriety in the Bowery area of Manhattan, where he opened a bar and would tell the story of the jump to anyone who bought him a drink.
Jeanie had heard part of Brodie’s bar ended up decorating the Empire Room, but the bartender didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. It didn’t matter. We were chatting like old friends by now.
Both Jeanie’s parents were from Antrim, which is why Catie’s middle name is Antrim. They live in a part of Yonkers where they feel like foreigners because of their American accents. They said I should check out McClean Avenue and Rory Dolan’s bar, that I wouldn’t believe how Irish it all is. They talked fondly about the time they went for family reunions in Antrim and travelled to Donegal and Dublin. And that’s when I mentioned the G-word.
You’d think I worked for Bord Fáilte the way I started carrying on. Had they heard of The Gathering? They hadn’t? “Well, we are inviting everyone with Irish links to come for a holiday during 2013,” I said (I must somehow have been brainwashed by the posters I’ve been ignoring). “There’s loads on. School reunions and clan meetings and egg-and-spoon races and everything.” I left out Gabriel Byrne and any mention of a shakedown and pretty much made The Gathering sound like it would best the London Olympics.
Catie Antrim was intrigued. She had been considering a trip to Europe for her holidays but she was thinking in terms of Italy or France. Now I had her thinking. The last time she was in Dublin she went searching with her Irish boyfriend for the house where he spent his early childhood, in Clontarf, but he couldn’t find it.
“But that’s mad: I live near Clontarf!” I said, nearly spilling Oprah’s favourite drink in my newfound enthusiasm for The Gathering. Then my sister and niece came back from the 102nd floor, and we all marvelled about how Jeanie and Catie hadn’t heard of The Gathering before, and we told them they really should look into it, and we left the Empire Room feeling all ambassadorial and . . . proud?
I may still be a bit Gabriel Byrne about The Gathering, but my temporary lapse means I am now to be responsible for at least two people rearranging their holiday plans. They were going to taste la dolce vita and now, thanks to me, they might be heading to Clontarf instead. I know the ’Tarf has at least one quite decent Italian restaurant, but I still can’t help feeling guilty. It’s hardly Piazza Venezia.
Before they left I told Catie and Jeanie to be sure and get in touch if they end up Gathering here next year. Under the influence of Oprah’s favourite drink, I may also have told them to call to my place for a bowl of coddle and a sing-song. Yes, alright, you can stop sneering at the back.