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At the zenith of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger period in the early noughties, a time when most of the populace had, quite literally, more money than sense, there was a public house in my local town that nicely symbolised the then zeitgeist. Or perhaps not-so-nicely for the few ascetics around.
No quiet corner
The Corner Bar, Ballaghaderreen, located next to what was a busy bottleneck junction on the main Dublin-Westport road before the town was bypassed, was in many ways a representation of the Wild West for the early 21st century.
Word had it that this pub sold the most 500-ml cans of Bulmers cider, aka looney juice, in Ireland. That may have been an urban legend but my own blurry memories of the place back it up. For the record, Bulmers wasn’t my tipple of choice — I was a little classier, of course.
While it attracted all-comers, it was a particular favourite with construction workers. The Celtic Tiger’s flimsy foundations were laid down by boisterous builders after all, heavily reinforced by cheap money from Europe and sod-turning, market-is-king politicians at home. Thus, Ireland and her mother were involved in construction in some form or another. In a town such as Ballaghaderreen and its hinterland, this was very apparent.
The Corner Bar was the go-to place to let off some steam, shoot some pool and throw some drunken shapes after a tough four-and-a-half-day week on-site — Mondays were generally optional, particularly in the summer months.
‘Alcohol-induced rows are fairly commonplace and at least one working Monday a month is spent on the cure from the previous days’ excesses.’
That this establishment is no longer a going concern today is in many ways fitting. It could be said that Ireland Inc., the West especially, is still suffering a hangover from those heady, hedonistic times.
Bygone days for a now bypassed, barely beating Ballaghaderreen.
However, that spirit of The Corner Bar, a far less expensive version that is, is to be found, for better or for worse — health-wise it’s normally the latter — in my current stomping ground of Santandercito in the far north of Bogotá. It’s not one particular place but the barrio as a whole really.
For starters, most of the people I socialise with there are construction workers who certainly know how to play and party hard. Alcohol-induced rows are fairly commonplace and at least one working Monday a month is spent on the cure from the previous days’ excesses.
In place of pool tables and dartboards, there’s bolirana, a game where you accumulate points by throwing six small metal balls into holes of varying value on a gently slanting rectangular surface a few metres away — the first to reach an agreed-upon number of points wins.
The overall ambience, the good-natured banter that can turn ugly at the drop of a bottle, it’s all familiar, even comforting to me. We’re not quite talking about dens of debauchery or iniquity, but there’s a certain roughness to proceedings.
One might ask have I not grown tired of the scene by now? For sure, on the odd manic Monday one may question what’s it all about. But by the time the weekend rolls around again, one is drawn back in.
That I’m single and childless plays a part in my regular revelling — although at a far lower intensity compared to the real hedonists in Santandercito I hasten to add. In fact, the number of partying parents in these parts leads one to surmise that having offspring doesn’t necessarily result in a tamer social life.
Having not left the greater environs of Bogotá for the last 18 months and without full-time employment, The Corner Bar lifestyle has been a relatively cheap escape from the current mundaneness. Of course, it in itself has become a routine — and not a terribly wholesome one — but it nearly always throws up a memorable, if hazy, moment or two.
While the Celtic Tiger and The Corner Bar have disappeared, with both now remembered with an amount of shame, Santandercito’s star doesn’t look like waning any time soon.
Of course, today’s characters won’t be around forever, yet the cheap and mostly vivacious vibe appears perpetual in nature. Let’s raise a litre of Poker beer to that.
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