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About A Week: Happy Times In Ireland

Peter Hinchliffe remembers the night when he became a local hero and other happy times in Ireland.

Once upon a time in Ireland, I was a local hero for half an hour. Altogether out of character. It's amazing what Guinness can do for you.

We were staying in Bray, myself and a friend. Set two bachelors down in a quiet Irish town, and how do they pass the time? They drink copious quantities of the dark local brew, and chat up the girls. The combined effects of the stout and a raven-haired colleen led to my heroics.

I met the lass in the lounge of a hotel that served as the German embassy during World War 2. Without waiting to be introduced, I offered to buy her a drink. Guinness melts the ice.

The hotel encouraged its guests to sing. Every evening, a pianist rolled out the old Irish favourites. Visitors from across the waters offered their own contributions. A Scotsman with a face red enough to melt lead gave us a resounding rendition of The Northern Lights Of Old Aberdeen. This particular night, I offered them Ilkla Moor B'aht 'At. I don't remember how many verses, but I certainly got as far as the worms.

As soon as I sat down, the girl suggested I walk her home. Not as the result of any sudden surge of affection. She wanted to get me out of there before I sang again.

So I walked her to a housing estate, 15 minutes away. We had just propped ourselves against a wall, near her front gate, when there was a sudden commotion a few yards up the road. Figures in pyjamas rushed on to the pavement. It was well after midnight, and dark as ... well, dark as a pint of Guinness.

"There's a fire," said the girl.

A reporter's instinct sent me to where the figures were milling around in a mild panic. Only when I reached them did I remember that I was on holiday. There was no notebook in my pocket. However, I had put myself in a position where I had to ask a question.

"What's going on?"

"Our house is burning down," cried an anguished woman. There was smoke coming out of the front door, but no flames.

"Where's the blaze?"

"In the front room."

"I'll take a look," said I. There was the Guinness talking.

I ran into the house. A young man was flapping about in the hallway.

"In here?" I asked, opening a door. A huge tongue of smoke billowed out.

"Do you have a hosepipe?" I demanded. I must have actually sounded as though I knew what I was doing.

He brought a hosepipe from a shed in the back garden. I connected it to the kitchen cold tap. Then I went into the front room, taking the business-end of the hose, a wet handkerchief over my mouth.
The settee was aglow. I sprayed water on it until it ceased to glow.

As I left the house, the fire brigade arrived. I slunk off down the street to the waiting girl. Only she wasn't waiting. She had gone indoors. I never saw her again.

Next day, a story circulated about a mysterious mad Englishman, who appeared out of the night, put out a fire, then disappeared into the night.

I didn't throw light on the mystery. I didn't return to the singing lounge. I went to a quieter pub. There, I got involved in a friendly game of cards with a bunch of locals. The game was really an excuse to sit and talk. Or shoot the breeze, as my American friends would say. Nothing is more entertaining than Irish pub conversation.

Eventually, it was my turn to buy a round of drinks. While being served, I glanced at the clock behind the bar. It was 1.45 am. "Don't you have licensing laws over here?" I asked.

"Yes sir, indeed we do," said the barman.

"What about the police, then?"

"Ah, they're here already." He nodded towards a big man who had been leading the conversation round the card table. "That's the Garda."

Only in Ireland!

We were occupying a three-bedded garret room at the hotel, my friend and I. On the last day of our holiday, the proprietor asked if we would mind sharing the room with . another man.

"He's very quiet. A regular customer, A travelling salesman. My only spare bed is in your room."

"If he doesn't mind us coming in late," said I, "we don't mind sharing the room."

We did come in late. 2 am. Having partaken of the aforementioned dark nectar.

A head rose from the pillow of the spare bed when we switched on the light. A head wearing a night-cap.

"Ah gentlemen. Kind of you to let me share the room. I'm a travelling man. Guess what I travel in?"

His eyes twinkled. He picked up a case from the side of the bed. He. opened it.

Inside were row upon row of miniature bottles of Tullamore Dew, a splendid Irish whiskey.

We had a party!

Such a party that my friend and I had to take a cabin the next morning for a daylight crossing of the Irish Sea. The only occupied cabin on the boat.

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