WE START OUT at the usual Italian place, PH’s stammtisch despite his complaints that they’re stingy and never bring you a limoncello at the end of a meal, as is custom elsewhere. The usual verbal briefings are exchanged, updating each other on the scheme of things and the general banter. It’s warm enough to sit outside, which allows us the luxury of a cigarette with our coffee as we cast aspersions on passing strangers. This quickly moves on to casting aspersions on mutual acquaintances (we will not call them friends!) and extrapolating therefrom more general condemnations of the heresiarchs and heretics of our day (chiefly: liberals, Modernist clergy, fops, les Brideshead affectés, users of inappropriate typefaces, and all people who take life too seriously).
After the postprandial coffee, we head on to Doyle’s but, just as we arrive, Brian gets in touch directing us elsewhere. We meet up with him and his three friends on the street but PH and I do not take a shine to Brian’s temporary entourage and secede from the party. Where to? Lincoln’s Inn, end of Nassau Street.
Should we go through Trinity for a laugh? Why not. Stories of college. Stories of balls. Stories of the boat club. Tales from Pearse Street Garda station. (“I only ended up there twice…”). We get to the pub and come across Anthony and Gav and them, and Eamonn turned up as well, though there we were with pints and it looked like he was drinking water. More banter. Over to the Ginger Man — a crap book but a decent pub. Snuff was taken. PH runs into one of the Trinity Prods and gets an update on this and that. Anto and I have a chat with Maeve. Last orders. Some halfwit complains about religion — “I mean: Gaza, people! Gaza!” — I don’t like the look of him and am about to set him to rights but PH skilfully prevents a boring and pedantic argument by physically directing me onto the street and we move on to the next place.
Which, regrettably, was Fitzsimon’s. No good can be said of the place, so nothing will be said. Some time later, we’re standing in front of Dublin Castle waiting for PH to emerge from his brother’s flat with a bottle of wine. Anto begins to waver. Thinking about calling it a night. This is a sign of his sensibility, which requires immediate counter-manoeuvres. “Ah, go on. You’ll come back to Brian’s for a bit of wine.” Anto remains unconvinced, but just then PH appears and we’re all on our way. We pile into a taxi. The banter with the cab driver turns into a conversation of the impact of mobile technology on the cab trade, with a sidetrack onto the matter of Nigerian immigration.
Oh, right, Brian’s flat. Brian has inexplicably inherited his new flat from a Dublin cell of Italian communists. It is littered with out-of-date issues of Il Manifesto and the refrigerator is decorated with a magnet commemorating the marriage of Andrea and Giulia, 10 Giugno 2009. They couldnt’ve been a particularly secret cell if they left all their ideological remnants littered about the flat. (Perhaps they were actually fascisti and this was a false-flag operation). Brian has added to this collection his own copies of Le Monde Diplomatique and Junge Freiheit, which he reads in the spirit of European brotherhood, alongside the vain hope of trying to pick up French girls. The flat is also inhabited by a Polish doctoral student doing lab work at Trinity in plant biology and who has been soundly slumbering for several hours.
PH decides Kasia has had enough sleep, enters her room, and drags her out of bed. One of the more curious of dispensations made during the Wojtyla era is that Catholics in a state of grace may enter the rooms of female atheist Polish doctoral students if it is in the cause of a good time. (A clarification was later issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delineating a strict definition of what constitutes a ‘good’ time).
And so Kasia comes out to join our conversation. She exhibits obvious signs of irritation, clearly a feint. From somewhere, a bottle of peach schnapps emerges, but it is not consumed as we had already opened the previously procured bottle of chateauneuf du pape. Anto tries to be serious and discuss matters scientific with Kasia, but PH, Brian, and I join forces against his pretentious spluttering and steer the conversation back towards more enjoyable subjects.
Kasia’s atheism is excoriated and she is accused of witchcraft. We decide to throw her into the Liffey. If she drowns, she was innocent and will go straight to Heaven (which, we understand, is preferable to studying plant biology) but if she survives then her guilt is assured. Perhaps indicative of the level to which even we have been infected by modernity, we all assume she will drown and so no punishment is devised for the eventuality of her survival.
Conversation is continued. Poland is praised. Poland is condemned. Jokes about Senator David Norris are shared. Brian falls asleep, a glass perilously balanced in his right hand perched on the armrest. We begin to make fun of Brian but then remember he is probably the most genial human being on the face of the planet so decide to continue mocking each other instead.
PH, being clever, leaves us to go to sleep in the spare bed. We, however, carry on, unless you count Brian lapsing in and out of sleep, occasionally being forced to agree with some obviously ridiculous statement, to our great merriment and amusement.
What’s that strange light outside? Dawn. The sentiment emerges that the hour has come to call it a night. Kasia heads to her bed. Brian to his. I seize one of the sofas, but Anthony, on account of his greater length, is provided with a duvet and pillow and claims territory on the floor.
The sun is shining when I wake up. Sunday morning — how long will it take to walk to St. Kevin’s? St. Kevin’s is the only place anyone ever goes to Mass to in Dublin (though sometimes I pop into St. Teresa’s off Grafton Street on a weekday). Brian’s old flat was spitting distance from St Kev’s, but the new place is a bit of a trek: a 25-minute walk. We should leave in 10 minutes. Anto, y’comin? Feck off, I’m sleepin in. Five minutes later he’s up and ready and the three of us are out in the refreshing air of a grey Sunday morning.
We reach the Liffey and hail a cab. The driver’s got Padre Pio hanging from the rear-view mirror, provoking PH to relay some brief tales of the saint and encourage us to look up his last Mass, it’s on YouTube. We pass Christ Church, which sparks condemnations of the Protestant Reformation. Dublin has two Protestant cathedrals and no real Catholic one. I point out that the Church of Ireland, tired of the upkeep, actually offered the Catholic Archdiocese its choice of the one or the other — St. Patrick’s or Christ Church — but the Archdiocese turned them down because they wanted to build their own (which, thank God, they still haven’t done). Shock and astonishment is expressed at the Archdiocese’s stupidity, but there is a general confidence that we will get them back eventually.
There’s the place itself, St. Kevin’s, a gothic thing in grey stone. We all four split up without a word and find our own places: Brian in the transept where his father usually is, PH on one side of the aisle, me in the last row on the other, and Anto in the row just in front of me. A large family of daughters process merrily down the aisle and are directed into a pew by their father. A stern-faced man with slicked-back hair, he glances around the church menacingly and has the look of a man you wouldn’t want to cross. A sturdy, behatted old woman genuflects next to me and I shuffle over to give her room to sit. Young children and old men shuffle in and out of confessionals. It’s a sizeable congregation for a bank holiday weekend.
Anto shifts from side to side. The various inhabitants of my head begin taking bets against each other as to whether he’ll keel over or survive the Mass to the end. I sympathise. The last time I was at St. Kevin’s, I was the one in his situation. He seems to stabilise for a moment, then looks left and right, and calmly makes a respectable exit. But he is still around at the end of the Mass, standing at the back. The characters in my head redistribute their finances according to bets taken.
Breakfast. We’re a bit early — the priest’s voice was a little hoarse and the sermon was omitted — so the place isn’t open yet but we’re welcomed in by the manager who sits us down. Brian is despatched to get the Sunday Times as PH whips out ye olde iPad and begins to download the Telegraph and the previous day’s Irish Times. Massive, filling breakfasts enjoyed all around. Various sections of the paper distributed. Not much about David Norris in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, but we were already aware of the massive hit-piece in the Irish Mail on Sunday, front page story, with a splendid two-page spread, and a column by John Waters as well. Anto shares an amusing photo of Sepp Blatter from one section, and I suggest maybe he should run for president. The prospective Labour candidate is revealed to have been involved in a bizarre cult-like organisation. Thoughts about if the Shinners will put anyone up for the job.
We pay our bill. Anto bids adieu. Wander through Temple Bar and come across what might grandiloquently be described as a bouquiniste in one of the squares. Have a look around — we’re all firm believers in the impossibility of having too many books. Mock a few of the titles on offer. PH points out a Penguin edition of Belloc’s The Path to Rome. Have I read it? No. You should. Right. How much it’s going for? Fiver. Good condition, too. Hmmm… Ah he’ll do it for four, wontcha? The bookseller considers. How about it then, I ask, four euro? Deal. I fiddle about in my pocket and realise I haven’t enough coins. Embarrassed, I whip out a tenner and everyone laughs, but the man smiles and makes out the appropriate change.
Walking through the quiet streets under a grey sky, PH treats us to a reading:
Whatever is buried right into our blood from immemorial habit that we must be certain to do if we are to be fairly happy (of course no grown man or woman can really be very happy for long — but I mean reasonably happy), and, what is more important, decent and secure of our souls.
Thus one should from time to time hunt animals, or at the very least shoot at a mark; one should always drink some kind of fermented liquor with one’s food — and especially deeply upon great feast-days; one should go on the water from time to time; and one should dance on occasions; and one should sing in chorus. For all these things man has done since God put him into a garden and his eyes first became troubled with a soul. Similarly some teacher or ranter or other, whose name I forget, said lately one very wise thing at least, which was that every man should do a little work with his hands. …
Now in the morning Mass you do all that the race needs to do and has done for all these ages where religion was concerned; there you have the sacred and separate Enclosure, the Altar, the Priest in his Vestments, the set ritual, the ancient and hierarchic tongue, and all that your nature cries out for in the matter of worship.
Appropriate for our Sunday morning.
Bank holiday Monday. District court. A dozen gardai mull about, waiting for the start of business. The judge is in chambers, dealing with a few search warrants. The lawyers, well-dressed, mill about. They cut a respectable figure and exude a certain confident eminence. Court officers mull matters of procedure. A large African woman comes into court and looks around slowly. I offer her my seat and she thanks me and sits down, leaving me to lean against a table and ponder the scene before me. Since the new building went up by the park, the Bridewell court is rarely used, and the state arms aren’t even found above the judge’s head anymore. The lady registrar comes over with a little smile on her face and informs me that I will be dealt with first and instructs me on what to do. The judge enters, all rise, he ascends to the presiding chair, and the court commences its business of the day.
Outside, adjacent to the court, is the Bridewell garda station. Great capital letters proclaim from the pediment: FIAT IUSTITIA RUAT CAELUM. I’ve always had a bit of trouble with that epigram. What good is justice if the heavens have fallen? (And again, as Camus said, “I will defend Justice, but I will defend my mother first.”) It really means that some people will tear down the heavens in order to correct some wrong, which is in fact the very antithesis of justice. Sadly appropriate in Ireland, where there have been no shortage of men willing to pull down the edifice of Heaven to exact justice, whatever the cost. And then, strange moments of coming together — like Elizabeth II’s recent visit to the Republic. I made a note in my dagboek that night: Today I saw the Queen of England bow her head before the Children of Lir. That was something I never expected to see ever in my life.