Okay, I don’t know if this story is 100% true. It was told to me by an Irish barman working in New York. And we all know how reliable they can be. But I think it’s a nice story, so I’m going to retell it.
Conor, the barman, was telling me about a time he worked in an Irish bar in London. One night, this really scruffy-looking guy ambles in the door and makes his way unsteadily up to the bar. Conor is looking the guy over and, from his appearance, presumes he’s one of the homeless guys who often hang out on the bench across the street, and who the bar staff have been instructed not to serve.
“Can I help you?” Conor says.
The guy is so plastered he can barely speak. He looks like he’s running the words over in his head, and after a minute or two, he says, “Has Ronnie Drew been in?”
Now, for those who don’t know, Ronnie Drew was a legend in music circles in Ireland as the leader of The Dubliners, one of the country’s longest-running and most popular traditional groups. At this stage, Conor knows the guy is wasted.
“Naw,” Conor says. “I haven’t seen him.”
“Aw, give us a pint of Guinness then,” says the guy.
“I’m sorry,” Conor replies. “I can’t serve you. I can sell you a couple of bottles if you want to take them across the road though.” He points out the window to the bench across the street, where a bunch of winos have already set up shop for the night.
The guy nods.
“Give us a bottle of Paddy, then,” he says.
Conor gives him the whiskey, the man pays him, says thanks, and wanders off amiably. About a half-hour later, who walks in the door but Ronnie Drew. He takes a seat at the bar, in front of a stunned Conor, and says, “Has Shane McGowan been in?”
Now, Shane McGowan is an equally famous Irish singer with the band, The Pogues, who is as renowned for his drinking as he is for his music. At this point the penny starts to drop and Conor looks out the window, across the street, to where Shane is sitting on the bench, having a rare old time in the middle of the winos.
“Oh, Jesus, Ronnie,” Conor says. “I’m really sorry. I thought he was a drunk. I told him I couldn’t serve him and sent him across the street.”
Ronnie leans over and looks out the window at Shane.
“Ah, don’t worry about it,” he says. “Happens all the time. Put on two pints of Guinness for us and I’ll go and get him.”
When he comes back, Ronnie props Shane up at the bar, and Shane starts in on his Guinness, and chats away to Conor as if he’d never met him before in his life. Ronnie and Shane spent the rest of the night drinking, laughing and singing.
Ronnie Drew passed away in 2008. I like to think this little tale is a testament to his kindness and generosity of spirit.
(Image: Click the pic for credits)