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Benjy Egel is a journalism junior studying abroad in Cork, Ireland, where he frequents local pubs in search of lively conversation and a good time. He writes a recurring column about the people he meets entitled “Guy I met in the pub last night.” This week, he interviewed a barman named Keith Lynch.
With no Thanksgiving in Ireland, Christmas celebrations are just around the corner. It’s bartender Keith Lynch’s favorite time of year.
Keith isn’t most excited by seeing what Santa Claus brings or for religious reasons — rather, he’s ready to hand out hats to the thousands of customers who will come into his pub, Cissie Young’s, ready to start Cork’s holiday pub crawl.
Groups start at Cissie Young’s and make their way down to the city center, spending approximately half an hour at each of the 12 pubs along the way. Every barman hands out trinkets, such as the 1,000 plastic hats Keith recently bought.
“Some people have rules for every pub, like you maybe can’t call people by their names or it’s left-handed drinking over there,” Lynch said. “And the big one is you can’t speak to the barman, so you just have to point and grunt. Sometimes girls come in and (the rule is) they have to kiss the barman, so that’s always great.”
Cissie Young’s is a traditional Irish pub named after a woman who used to own the bar. It’s located in a residential area about a mile from the city center, so many customers are old men or young couples looking for a quiet night.
Keith’s grandfather purchased Cissie Young’s in the 1970s before he was born, and his father, Tom, took over years ago. When Tom finally decides to retire, Keith will likely buy him out to keep the pub in the family, he said.
Even someone unfamiliar with the Lynches might guess Tom and Keith were related, given their circular eyes, tight smiles and similar jaw structures. Tom had Keith washing glasses in the back of the pub when he was 12 years old and bartending when he was 15 or 16. Keith’s mother and brother also work in Cissie Young’s, along with four other cooks and two bartenders. His sister chose college over full-time employment at the pub, but worked in the kitchen as a teenager.
Though he never went to college, Lynch traveled a bit after graduating secondary school, working at bars in Belgium and Australia. The Belgians stocked more unique beers, including one bar with over 300 on tap, but Australia produced more interesting characters.
“There’s a big beer culture in Belgium, mainly bottled beers. Less binge drinkers, in a kind of way,” he said. “Australia was just all parties … you’d get lots of backpackers coming through.”
One of his responsibilities at Cissie Young’s is ordering alcohol from vendors, so he decides which specials the pub will serve besides standards like Guinness and Beamish. Since he’s on a Blue Moon kick right now, bottles of the Colorado wheat beer are behind the counter.
Murphy’s Irish Stout recently ran a promotion called “When It Rains It Pours,” where patrons could get a free pint every time it rained in Cork at participating bars. Lynch signed Cissie Young’s up for the deal. Murphy’s even repaid them at five cents under what pints were normally sold for, because the increase in customers was worth the small loss per individual beer.
Beer in Ireland is chilled, not served room-temperature like English beers. Stouts are poured three-quarters full, left to sit for a few minutes then filled up to the brim. These are Lynch’s favorite drinks to make, since they require a little skill on the barman’s behalf.
Ireland is just getting into the India Pale Ale (IPA) craze currently thriving on the United States’ West Coast, Lynch said. Small breweries like Franciscan Well, built where an old monastery used to stand in Cork, have just recently started selling their beers in local liquor stores called off licenses.
He drinks at other bars more frequently than his own, often in the city center after returning from a tiresome rugby match with the lads at Musgrave Park. Players range from 19 to 37, so 30-year-old Lynch has a few years left to play, he said.
Keith normally starts at one of the wing forward spots next to a 6’7”, 350-pound monster of a man. While Keith is nowhere near as large as his linemate, steady training has packed about 230 pounds into his 6’2” frame.
A teammate’s father sponsored all 25 members of the club on a series of exhibition matches throughout the United States in March, Keith said. The Irishmen bussed between Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis and Nashville to play American teams for 10 days at just 500 euro per person.
Despite being surrounded by fine beers and liquors and living in a flat above Cissie Young’s, Keith rarely samples the products he serves. Too many of his bartender friends drink seven days a week, and he’s seen the toll this habit takes on their personal lives.
“I try to stay away from it. It’s a bad habit to have,” he said. “I’ll have a drink (at Cissie Young’s) maybe once every two weeks or so … if I need a cure or something.”