Drawbridge Street—the birthplace of my Mom. Though she’d been raised in Dublin she’d lived the first three years of her life there, with her birth parents, brothers and sisters. Her oldest brother, Johnnie, who had never really gotten along with his Dad, had served in WW2. After the war he’d returned and found that his father had wanted him to join in his chimney sweeping business. They still could not come to terms, though, and shortly after that he returned to Germany.
The oldest daughter, May, instead joined her father and helped him run the business—yes, she swept chimneys too— until he retired. Later, after Johnnie’s mom and dad had died, his sisters and brother had tried to find him. They’d even enlisted the help of the Red Cross, all to no avail. The best response they received was that Johnnie simply did not want to be found.
They’re all gone now, though. The youngest, Annie, died in 1993, my Mom two years earlier, and that was that. The house was rent controlled and the owner really wanted everyone out so that the place could be converted to commercial use. It was, after all, right off busy St. Patrick Street; a prime location.
I found it right away. At least I knew there way there, if not anywhere else. I was really struggling with the recalled details. Things did not match. The street itself was not too different from what I recalled. Very narrow; not much more than an alley and each numbered property had only a small frontage but want fairly far back. Number 21—that was it. It was now a dress shop. Half of a dress shop, in fact. The shop took up two adjacent spots. It had a lovely glass-front display. Nice items. I figured they were hand made.
It was closed for the evening, though. It was after the supper hour and most of the shops in the area were closed as well. I could not leave, though, and kept walking back and forth in front of it; criss crossing the street and viewing it from every possible angle. It was the place, for sure, but it still did not feel quite right somehow.
Aunt Bridie and Aunt May stuck it out until the end, though. When Aunt May—the last sister who’d lived in the house—died, Aunt Annie made the trek across the ocean to finish up the affairs. There had not been much of an estate other than personal effects and furniture. Two unmarried sisters lived together until the end, the rest of the family dead, missing, or living far away in Canada.
A dress shop! Not a bad outcome. Aunt Bridie had been a seamstress for most of her life. She’d worked as part of a company that made draperies mostly; custom jobs, each individually cut and fitted. There had always been a promise that the shop would eventually be hers and, year after year, she’d worked away, always in hope. It was not to be, though. The promise was never kept and the company was eventually disposed of another way, sold off to some “other rich person.” I can only imaging Aunt Bridie’s disappointment. Still, though, this was not a bad end for the place.
We walked around some more and eventually found our way back to the hotel. That evening we scratched another item off the list. Henchy’s Bar was as good as the Taxi Driver had said. We sat down, faced with an array of locally-brewed stuff. Cream Ale—mmmm. My first choice was easy. Josephine was not so sure so the barman poured her up a couple of samples. Seeing my look he laughed and poured up two more which he placed in front of me. “Can’t have you accusing me of showing a preference.” Mmmm. Nice and Nice. Dessert for the first pint!
Then another; a pint of one of the samples he’s placed before me. “What do you like best?” I asked.
“I prefer ciders. Bulmers is the one I go for the most.” I’d never had it. The only cider easily available back home is not one I like. I made a face. The fog from the first pint-and-a half probably helped.
The music! It was coming from what seemed to be a room to my left. Henchy’s has rooms here and there. Besides the bar area and the outside spot there are nooks and crannies where you can go if you’re feeling less social. That room seemed a bit out of the way, situated right next to the end of the bar. You’d almost miss it if not for the music and songs drifting through.
“That’s a group that comes by here every week or so. They called one time a few years back looking for just a place to play so we offered them that room.” The sound was pretty good. Not exactly professional quality but still unmistakeably well practiced, and played with that mixture of love and passion that artists strive for. Traditional tunes mostly—though mostly Irish, still quite recognizable to anyone who’d grown up in rural Newfoundland Labrador. They weren’t drinking a whole lot. Cleary for them this place was somewhere to get together and share some music over a few pints.
Speaking of which several more samples had just appeared. “The Bulmers is the one to the left.”
Nice. Down it went followed by the second, which I had another full pint of.
We’d been noticing the others at the bar. A few loners here and there quietly nursing their beer—Budweiser mostly.
Budweiser? Lord save us! The bar had better! Oh, and this was Cork, Ireland. Whatever…
Groups were talking all around but the music and the fog from the beer was making it hard to follow anything in particular, just get snippets of themes: Hurley, city politics, stuff…
“One more. I like the first one I had best.” I pointed. I could not even recall the name.
We chatted a bit more between the three of us. Though he knew we were tourists—you generally can—he hadn’t figured us for Canadians. The accent—it’s not what non-Canadians expect. He’d judged us to be fellow country folk but, perhaps, from off the main drag. I mentioned that I’d not been here for 37 years and how things seemed the same but still oddly different. I noted in particular how, unlike back in Dublin, I was having difficulty matching what I saw with how I recalled it.
“Some things have changed, especially back in the nineties when the economy was strong. These days, though, with things slower it’s more like it was.”
Closing time was earlier than I’d expected. Eleven thirty and people were quickly drifting back to their homes. Back home, bars are always open very late but a part of me was grateful. As a morning person, most of me starts shutting down right about that time. It was doing that and no doubt the beer was helping.
Josephine and I made the short walk back to the hotel. All the way back I was quiet—strange for me under the circumstances—and thinking about Drawbridge. Too bad the dress shop had been closed. Closure—yes that was it.
The hotel was on a hill overlooking the city. I walked to the other side and stood on the balcony overlooking Cork. It was a little busy. A wedding? On a weeknight? I found St. Fin Barre’s; a landmark, even at night, then found St. Patrick’s street. It was still lit a little brighter than the nearby streets.
Was it always that bright? I recalled the shops. Lots of them. They were there, too, in my memory. There were just more than I’d recalled. But Drawbridge Street, the dimly lit, narrow little thing running parallel to the Lee one street back? I could not be exactly sure of where it was right now, overshadowed as it was by the bright lights nearby. Worse, though, I was bothered by how it did not mesh with my memory. I wish that shop had not been closed.
It could have been the beer though.