Uisce beatha

The light music of whiskey
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Andrea G. Levendusky
Original illustration.

I first taste Jameson in a small pub in Doolin on the western coast of Ireland, and it’s like butter on my tongue.

“How old are ye?” the bartender asks, leaning forward across the bar, his accent thicker than the smoke in the room. “Um,” I look around for anyone who might hear me, even though I already know I’m going to tell the truth. I can’t lie. I might be rich with Irish blood but I’m poor with blarney. “I’m sixteen,” I say this as I twist my red curls around my neck and wait for his disap- proving look. Instead, he smiles. “A coffee for you, then.”

Everyone is shoulder to shoulder in here—hikers, backpackers, all hungry. We spent the day hiking and hanging our heads over the edge at the Cliffs of Moher, spitting and musing about life from the 700-foot drop to the ocean below. Our wandering led us here: sunset, hearth side, and ready for a night of pub life.

The Irish coffee swirls white, and black, and brown toward me across the bar. I smile, say thanks, and bring the drink to where we sit, tucked next to the musicians whoare now playing a rousing reel.

“I can’t hear the drum!” I shout to my mother. A man who is playing the guitar nearby looks at me as I say this and replies, “That’s because she doesn’t know what she’s doing!” He laughs and goes back to tapping his foot.The coffee goes down warm and sweet. “Boy, that’s good,” I say. “Best coffee I’ve ever had.” She laughs. “That’s because it has Jameson in it.” I look at the glass cock-eyed, wondering if it’s possible that one sip of whiskey could simultaneously make me a drunk and also win me over forever.

I’m sixteen, and I’ve just had my first drink. While I consider these implications, an Irish air on a tin whistle floats up from the corner. I turn to see a young man and he’s looking at me as he plays. I note this in my journal, to be read years later:“The Lord did a good thing when he made Irish men and music.” If I learned anything in McGann’s Pub that night it’s this—Ireland is full of bartenders who wish their patrons a good night, whiskey warms and ages the soul, and one look shared over music is a complete love story.

I’m sixteen, and Ireland (and probably Jameson) has just won my heart forever. Slàinte.

Andrea G. Levendusky lives in Rochester, where she raises her ever-precocious five-year-old daughter and works as a freelance writer and graphic designer.You might even spot her in the corner of a small pub here in town, playing the bodhran in the Irish folk band, Rusty Kettle. 

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