Ciara Kenny

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Email from home sparks contrasting emotions

News that our local brewery in Dundalk is closing brings up happy and difficult memories, writes Sean Rogers

Sean Rogers with his father John while 'home' in Dundalk on a recent visit.

Sat, Oct 5, 2013, 09:00


Sean Rogers

With great sadness I see the news in an email from a fellow emigrant – the Harp Lager Brewery in Dundalk is closing. How could they be closing the place which formed such a large part of my early childhood and my dad’s working life and memories?

Immediately my mind drifts to the children’s Christmas party my father brought me to in ‘74 when I was only 11 years old. “Santa will be arriving,” he said, but I thought I was a bit old for Santa at the time. Nevertheless, off we went to that familiar place with the smell of hops.

It was many years later that my wife sat inside the Railway Bar across the street from the “brewery” – as we affectionately called it – to sip a pint of fresh Harp. She had never tasted a fresher pint, with the smell of the brewery wafting in through the open door. We thought the proprietor must have carried it directly from the vats across the street.

With the announced closure, a myriad of memories started flooding my mind and reminded me of my childhood, and the role that brewery played – from school lunch spot, Christmas parties, fun runs and drop offs, to my dad’s weekly retiree social hour. The pickups were always fun, and afterwards off to bed he would go to sleep it off.

Off-hour phone calls are the fear of every emigrant—with a rush of blood and quickened heartbeat. To date, it has always been a drinking friend, with “Is it that time in Boston?” coming from the other end of the phone. But much more devastating is the late call that brings news of the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

In a flash it was obvious – how could we have missed it? “I know him!” was his statement in the supermarket, at the bank and with the barber. Efforts to remember were like a shooting migraine, eyes closed tight and head shaking and then a smile. “I think he’s from the Harp dad.” Yes, the Harp—and on we’d go – just a nuisance really for a moment.

He meets me from the airport bus, in the wee hours – no matter how early—and always positions the car in front of the bus. “Dad they will clamp you,” I would say, and out would come the station master making sure he had met the right bus. “Did you get him now?” was always the phrase. “All set, thanks.” And off we’d go.

Up past the brewery, the Railway Bar, and down the Ecco Road, a short trip past the brewery and time to talk about jobs and houses. “You know the school is just around the corner if the boys were to come home,” was always the refrain.

The last trip brought everything home. On opening the front door I saw him, passing by on his way down the hall. He glanced and saw me, stopping momentarily, before continuing on. It was the supermarket all over again. “Someone from the Harp,” I could hear him think.

Over the years I’ve had many trips home, many for short periods and some not so short. Each is now filed and stored in memory—like movies to be carefully selected at the right time, or topple out accidentally when smelling the hops by the brewery gate. It’s time to be strong.

You were born fit for it
Stand here in front of me
And take the strain
A Kite for Michael and Christopher (Heaney 1984)

Sean Rogers lives in Boston with his wife and two sons. He has written previously for Generation Emigration about arriving back to Ireland as a visitor, and contributed to an article by Ciara Kenny about how the Irish community in Boston responded to the marathon bombings in April.