~ The Jolly Barman ~ A Short Story ~

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! It’s an odd time isn’t it? One thing I noticed, when I visited Dublin a couple of years ago, is that Irish folk always maintain their positivity. No matter what.

I love Irish culture too. I love their energy and their spirit. When I was in Dublin, we were treated with nothing but respect and warmth.

So to pay tribute, on their day, I wrote a little story. I like to think of it as my own little folk tale and I’m experimenting in the folktale style. So excuse me if it reads a little different!

Enjoy and please let me know what you think x x

~ The Jolly Barman ~

Nestled on a corner of O’Connell Street, sits a small tavern called ‘The Jolly Barman.’

It’s not as loud or famous as The Temple Bar, but it’s been passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of… well… folklore. And according to folklore, they said that the jolly barman opened the tavern after his wife perished during the potato famine.

“But why call it ‘The Jolly Barman! Why could one be so jolly after losing one’s wife?” The men did cry.

“Not everything sirs!” The Jolly Barman did reply, “For I have my customers and they need me to keep on smiling. Even when they leave and my grief overcomes me, I shall keep smiling!” The Jolly Barman turned away, muttering to himself, “So shall it continue.”

And continue it did. From father to son, the bar did pass and each of them kept smiling, kept laughing. When the pain glistened from behind their eyes, they kept smiling. When the war ripped through their city, through their homes, they kept smiling. Watching their sons and nephews shot dead in the streets, their blood sliding into gutters… they kept smiling. When bombs exploded two doors down, smoke hissing into their rooms, they chuckled and giggled until their wives hit them over the back of their heads.

Why did they laugh?

For it kept up the spirits of the fallen and the broken.

Now, The Jolly Barman whistled to himself, overturning bar stools onto tables. “It’s no nay never, no nay never no more…”

With a heavy heart, he wiped down the bar. It was only to give his hands something to do, for tonight there was not a soul in sight. Sickness ripped through the land like a plague and all the locals had barricaded themselves indoors.

There had been no party. No drinking. No cheering. No shenanigans. Since St Patrick himself had wandered through the land, there was no one celebrating. Sure, folk will be raising a pint or two behind closed doors. But no one could come together. So why did he still smile….?

With his back to the door, he didn’t see the figure watching him through the window. An older man entered the bar, slowly removing his cap.

“Sorry, we’re closed.” The Jolly Barman sighed, “Until further notice.”

“I’ll only have a whiskey.” The Stranger said, draping his coat over an arm, “I have been on my lonesome for a while. I promise I do not carry anything sinister.”

The Jolly Barman wearily wiped a hand across his brow. Silently, he tipped a bottle of whiskey into a small tumbler. Before he could cap the bottle, the Stranger slid a wad of Euros toward him. “Leave it.”

Hesitating – The Jolly Barman took it, a smile playing upon his lips. “Thank you.”

As he drank, The Stranger watched as The Jolly Barman went about his business, a smile nailed to his face while a tear rolled down his eye.

“Tell me to mind my own business if you like.” The Stranger started, swishing the dregs of his whiskey in his glass, “But why do you smile, when it’s clear you’re in so much pain?”

“Tis’ a curse.” The Jolly Barman replied softly, tears falling thick and fast… yet his cheeks kept pinching. “Started long ago. From one of my great-great granda’s. I forget which one. But my Da’ told me he’d put a spell on us.

“A spell?” The Stranger echoed, intrigued. “Do tell.”

“It is said that anyone of his kin that takes over the running of this – this place. We have to smile all the time, come day or night, come rain or shine. When our hearts are breaking, we smile. When our soul is waning, we smile. When our light is dimming – “

The Stranger threw up a hand. “I got it. But surely, it’s a blessing is it not? To have such a – gift?”

“A gift? Is it a gift? Is it a blessing?” He gritted his teeth, “Is it a curse? Oh God see. You see! Even when I am… seething with rage and – disdain, all I can do is smile. I can’t stop! I’m smiling manically and I can see the people looking at me and laughing – “

“Do they laugh at you?” The Stranger interrupted, raising his empty glass, “Or do they laugh with you.”

The Jolly Barman stared at him. “I don’t see how. They come here to pour out their heart not to hear me cackling away, like some loon. I’ve heard stories in here, stories that you won’t believe.”

“Try me.” The Stranger mumbled, into his glass.

“And they want to someone to just pour them a drink and listen. Maybe even cry with them – “

“Folk don’t want that.” The Stranger said, his voice tightening. “They want someone to pour them a drink, that’s for sure. But when they’re feeling like shite. They want someone to make it better! And to help them smile and laugh. Come rain or shine. It’s you they want and it’s you they need! They come to you because they know you’ll always be here with a bottle,” He shook the bottle, “And a smile.”

“The world is falling apart.” The Jolly Barman said quietly.

“Ah, the world is always falling apart, every century or two.” The Stranger shot back, “I’ve seen plagues of all kinds, come and go. Crusades. Wars. And every time they thought it was the end of days.”

“Think you’ve had too much to drink.” The Jolly Barman quipped.

“You know what got them through it all?” The Stranger turned and stared right at the Barman, his blue eyes piercing through him. “Laughter, son. Laughter.” He set the glass down upon the bar and with a flourish, swept his hat back on. “Thanks for the drink.”

The Jolly Barman stared as The Stranger swaggered out of his bar, walking off into the night.

The world was still falling about their ears and no one could predict what was going to happen in the coming months. Life as they knew it, was at a standstill.

But one thing, The Jolly Barman was absolutely certain of… was that he’d keep them all laughing, if they needed it.

© By Christina Alagaratnam

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