109. Finding the Craic

Finding the Craic: In Portland, I used to work with an Irishman named Mick. Whenever he passed me in the halls of our office, he’d always greet me by cocking his head to one side and jerking his chin upwards in one fluid movement that was equal parts heya and I figure I know what yous been upta. I’m not sure if I’m describing the movement well, but it’s a little bit nod and a little bit twist, a confident salute that really catches you out if you’re not expecting it. The only thing Mick would ever say was just about anything, other than my actual name, but usually he just said, “Spaaaaarky,” with the what have ye done now implied by a thick Oirish accent. I always thought the head jerk greeting was Mick’s own mannerism, but that’s because I’d never been to Ireland, where practically any local will greet you in this exact manner if you give them an honest chance. So the first time I got the greeting here, I was giddy, then proud for putting it all together. I think I even jogged a little, in a rush to tell Amy about it, like I’d just definitively solved the mystery of Celtic stone circles. The greeting has become a bit of a game since then, mostly to test the limits of who I can draw it from. I managed to get a really fantastic one, my favorite yet, from an old woman resting on a stone wall down a country lane; all I had to do was raise one single finger from the steering wheel in lazy salutation. No one’s ever called me Sparky though, so I’m pretty certain that was just a Mick thing.

It turns out that exchanging head twists with a stranger gives me a great, satisfied happiness, the kind that comes from feeling like you’re in on someone’s open cultural secret. But there’s something deeper to it that I’m just now starting to work out, after a month of circling this country along its breathtaking coastline. See the thing about Mick was that even though I didn’t know him that well, I always felt like I did. I never wondered why and it never occured to me that I should. But the more time Amy and I spend meeting locals, the more we find ourselves in the same position, forming instant bonds with new acquaintances that are based almost entirely on that most endearing of Irish traits, effortless cordiality. There is an infectious, easygoing geniality ingrained in Irish life and if you can really embrace it, that’s when you fall in love with this place. It’s also when most visitors are suddenly much more likely to invent some distant Irish ancestry, buy a local hat, learn how to correctly pronounce and use the word “craic” – anything that makes them feel more Irish. Or for that matter, any Irish. I have to say, I don’t really feel Irish and I’m still pretty certain I don’t have any Irish ancestors, but I did buy a local hat and increasingly find myself staring into the vast green countryside or the shimmering bottles of whiskey behind the bar and romanticizing a life here. Christ, that’d be good craic.


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