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Eva Romanczak: Irish embrace welcoming spirit

There is great free music every weekend around here. My husband and I enjoy getting out to listen and to engage in our favorite pastime of people-watching.

There are so many interesting human beings in the world. Often we get drawn into fascinating conversations with people we wouldn’t normally get to meet – it’s very entertaining.

On a recent Friday night, we went to a well-known Irish bar in South Buffalo, a great place to go to listen to local bands. We wanted to get there well ahead of the first song, but 15 minutes before the music started, every table and spot at the bar had been taken.

As we stood there pondering what to do next, the place was getting more crowded by the minute. The gregarious barkeep spotted us and set to work finding a place for us to sit.

He asked the owners of a couple of coats draped on chairs at the end of a long table if they truly were sitting there. “No,” they said, “just playing pool.”

He cleared the way, motioned for us to sit and proclaimed them: “Best seats in the house!” It was a natural gesture of a host in his own home, making strangers feel welcome. It caused me to reminisce about a trip to Ireland with my sister.

One afternoon, hungry and cold, we stopped at a neighborhood pub in Dundalk. As we stepped in the door, it was clear the lunchtime rush was in high swing – not an empty table in sight. Within seconds, the bartender came out and found us a spot at a counter along the back wall. We were grateful and not at all inconvenienced by the slightly awkward setting.

Imagine our surprise when he returned later to move us, plates and all, to a freed-up table near a cozy coal fire. It was typical of our stay in Ireland – we were treated like family. On several occasions we were invited home for dinner or hot whiskeys. People were genuinely welcoming.

In South Buffalo, the band was hopping. Our host, a glass of wine in hand, strolled back and forth checking to make sure everyone was having a good time. He also was keeping an eye out for anyone having too good of a time. The band isn’t separated from bar patrons by much space at all, and we have seen a tipsy person try to “help” a guitar player.

One of my favorite memories is of this very same music-loving owner leading the crowd in a song the band was performing. We all knew the lyrics and it was fun. Again, it reminded me of the pub scene in Ireland, with the sing-along of familiar favorites.

In the Southtowns, a birthday was being celebrated on one side of the room, a wake on the other. Between songs, a man in a suit and tie stepped up to the microphone and asked all present – on the count of three – to shout out, “rest in peace, Bill,” which we did. He shared a few memories of his father and how he’ll be missed. It felt like we were one big family saying goodbye to a favorite uncle.

Thousands of miles separate this bar from Ireland. It is fascinating to me that the establishment here, owned by the same Irish family for years, feels so true to the roots from which it came. Looking at the faces around the room, there is diversity, but also acceptance.

“God bless all here” is found on the back of their drink tokens, and it rings true to me.