Daily Archives: August 29, 2009

The night i inadvertently caused an Irish gypsy riot


Irish gypsies are a mystery. Literally. Nobody’s quite sure where or when they came from. Some think they started roaming during the Famine days of the 1840s. I disagree with that. Others say they got their start during the wars of the 1600s. i disagree with that too.

Irish gypsies aren’t related the European gypsies (The Roma). Although they do tend to have darker black hair and kind of look a bit different. I can spot an irish gypsy a mile off. They even have their own language. or is it a dialect? either way they can be very hard to understand. i grew up in the part of Ireland with the biggest concentration of gypsies. i had childhood friends who were gypsies. one of my fondest early memories is being in a gypsy cart driven by a macho teenage irish gypsy who courageously stood up as he raced his shallow two-wheeled cart around my neighborhood.

BTW, Brad Pitt did an awesome job of impersonating an irish gypsy in the movie SNATCH. i was blown away by his dead-on accent. I know the accent well but would never attempt doing it. it’s too hard. and brad pitt, a southern boy from Columbia Missouri, nailed it.

So anyway. I was seventeen and working in a bar in Galway. And one day at lunchtime two gypsies came in. I gave them two pints of guinness. and then two more. and two more. the owner of the bar spotted them and was angry with me for serving them. he went over and explained that it was bar policy not to serve gypsies. blatant discrimination, in other words. but they were used to this. they did seem a bit surprised I served them. but i was kind of outraged at this policy. but i also knew the gypsies didn’t exactly help their image by getting pissed drunk daily in the town square. and fighting each other.

but i knew a few and so was sympathetic. but this bias against serving them in pubs was pretty widespread. so it wasn’t really a problem. they all drank together.

two years later i was working at the same bar in the afternoon in the midweek. my gypsy friend Sean Ward, who i had attended high school with, came in for a pint with his brother Eamon. it was about four in the afternoon. Sean was really a good boxer. his family had given up the road and so lived in permanent housing. Like in the movie Snatch, boxing is big in the gypsy community. But Sean boxed with gloves and in a ring and that. totally legit!

There was no way in hell i was telling Sean and Eamon they couldn’t have a pint because they were “travellers” as we daintily put it. i actually gave them a free pint each before my shift ended at six pm. my relief bartender was a very happy go lucky Gaelic speaker also named Sean. I bid all the Seans good night. As i left the bar i noticed that Sean and Eamonn’s cousins had joined them at the bar. This troubled me for some reason.

At this point, I should point out that the bar i worked in was very 1980s-modern lounge bar. lots of comfortable banquette style couches and carpet on the floor. and mirrors on all the walls. mirrors everywhere! this was no quaint irish pub. it was a booze dispensing machine.

Well when i came in the next day all the mirrors were broken. Apparently a long-simmering feud within the Ward clan had come to a head a couple of hours after I left the bar. with more and more members of the clan meeting at the bar. and we had these very durable, very heavy glass ash trays which had been deployed as missiles in the fracas that ensued. hence all the broken mirrors.

My boss was furious. what idiot had served these gypsies??? i just shook my head and tsk-tsked. who indeed!