Homestead salt in a tall plastic container, ½ pint bottles of Smithwick’s, brown boxes of Barry cellophane wrappingless tea, multipack packages of cigarettes, loose tea, I suppose there was a time when your mother might have sent you here for messages. The bar itself seems to be made of church timber, and the pub is a corridor, the furnishings, if they could be called that, are sparse, a church pew pushed up against the wall is the main seating area. There are 6 stools, no ice and an 89 year old one eyed man tending bar sometimes, when he’s awake. When he’s asleep you wait.
There is no ching ching, there never was, no abacus, no calculator, just a sheet of paper on which he tots the drinks. I sit and read it upside down to ascertain the price of two double brandies but he catches me out and tots in his head and then adds it to the other drinks in the round. I evade this manoeuvre and divide it by two and find a place in post Celtic tiger Ireland when you can still buy a double brandy for €5.60. No-one asks the prices, the locals wouldn’t and wouldn’t come back anyway, the tourists are in shock at the warm drinks or are overwhelmed by the charm by the place.
At the centre of West Clare’s most vulgar consumer central Lahinch, Frawley’s pub is a place I go to for the same reason I go to a Shane McGowan gig, there may not be a next time. It’s not of the malt and marble variety and in reality could probably have done with some investment in the 20s,30s,40’s or each succeeding decade. Indeed Tom’s own father could have taken some of his famine savings and ploughed in with a mirror or two, but Tom and his people weren’t catering for the smart set.
There is however something strange and unworldly about the joint this year. Noticeable only at Angelus time and also for Ann Doyle’s turkey neckedness, the TV has not so much as been upgraded, but replaced by a space age yet modest flat screen which I have yet to see on. West Clare is a football stronghold, so you will not see Clare’s relatively recent successes on the hurling field here. But it’s there, above the Smithwick’s.
There is a restaurant on the Danube which has frosted glass around the toilet cubicles and a huge marble slab with sensors for soap and water, and when you make a pee you can see a Parliament building on the Buda side of Budapest. Tom’s toilets are nothing like this. His toilets exist on an opposite side of this spectrum, they are outside. There is another establishment on Winthrop Street in Cork city called the Long Valley with no roof over the loo but once you reach Tom’s loo there is a roof which will clip you smartly as you fumble with your zip, there is no light save the moon and stars which are mostly obscured in this gray Irish Summer. And even without a light there will never be a doubt as to the location of this ammonia caked pisseoir, Stephie Wonder could locate it but would need to be careful where he put his hands. Third millennia concerns with hygiene are not catered for here, be careful with your aim and stand well back. I have never wimped out and visited the ladies instead and judging from the assault of ammonia vapour which happens every time I visit, I must be alone.
On rare bright days, you will see Tom on his single chair in the suntrap at the pub front. He won’t see you with his one eye, it will be closed. I’ve never looked closely enough to see what the other is doing, I suspect it is dreaming of seeing. Gregarious he is not, an economy of words has probably marked his bachelor life, and vocabulary may have been limited, he’s only ever said “stout” to me although he once mentioned Croke Park, short pants and a train journey in a rare revelatory flood. Looks like there wasn’t many who liked the silent type in West Clare, but the Church on the other hand love his silent millions. I’m told that when Tom turned 84, the priest became his bestest friend which had nothing to do with his multi-million heirless consumer central property and huge bank balance.