So, for our three-year anniversary back in 2007, David and I took a two-week cruise around the British Isles. We'd both always wanted to go and I heart everything British, so we figured, why not. We flew to Amsterdam. I almost stuck a Dutch kid in one of the overhead compartments because A) he was a brat and B) he was sitting right in front of us yapping away and C) he was a brat. Just watch your movie and keep to yourself. The ship left out of Amsterdam and sailed down the river through the locks to the North Sea.
We stopped at a few places in Scotland (my favorite), Northern Ireland, Ireland (truly the greenest place I've ever seen), Wales and ended up in Frengland...or Guernsey Channel Island, which is half France and half England...so, Frengland. Actually, apparently it's a remnant of the Duchy of Normandy, but nobody maintains that, so it's weird. My grandmother, my mom's mom...the one whose family is from Ireland...asked me to pick her up a thimble from Ireland (she collects thimbles from all over). Easy enough, right? Saw plenty of thimbles in Scotland. Saw plenty of thimbles in Northern Ireland. Couldn't find a single thimble in Ireland. Apparently, the Irish don't sew. Maybe the leprechauns do it for them, I dunno. That's kind of creepy to think about...anyways. So, I figured, "Well, when we get to Guernsey, since technically it's England, surely they'll have some sort of 'All Things British' souvenir shop and I can get one from there."
We arrived in St. Peter Port on the Channel Island and spent the day shopping. We explored the French part of the city and the English part of the city. We stopped by an antique bookstore just for funsies and, I kid you not, the epitome of THE Englishman worked at the bookstore. He had CRAZY hair...curly and disheveled and huge. He had on tiny, round glasses...framing small, dark, but bright eyes. A perfect cockney accent flowed between Austin Powers teeth. He was wearing brown tweed pants, a once-white, long-sleeved button-up...stained yellow at the neck...a loose brown tie, and a brown tweed jacket with the leather elbow pads. Oh, and drab, brown loafers. He was fabulous. Every other word was either "brilliant" or "capital". I just wanted to hug him and make a miniature version of him to carry around in my pocket. I called him Fritz. We asked him where we might find a thimble with "Ireland" written across it. He directed us deeper into the English side of the city to a quaint, little Irish pub. Why wouldn't there be an Irish pub? Every country in the world has one. My neighborhood has one. And why wouldn't an Irish pub have an Irish thimble? They have everything, right? I think Fritz sent us there because it was the only thing "Irish" in the city.
Well, off we went. We strolled down a cobblestone path and out onto a larger street, one turn to the left and there it was...Claddagh.
I really wanted to get that thimble, so I gave David a sideways glance and sigh and said, "Might as well try...who knows, they may very well have a thimble." We hesitantly trotted inside. Inside, although dark and laden with the smell of whiskey, it was actually quite nice. Dark, wooden walls, a stone floor, pub tables - some tall, some short - scattered around, all completely filled with "regulars." We waltzed in, all American, and of course we looked like tourists. Every eye was on us. When they realized we weren't going to take their drinks, they turned back to their conversations and ale.
The bar was at the back of the pub, running along the left wall. Across from it, on the right wall, was a series of booths, complete with three, loud, drunken Irishmen. Apparently, the front section was for the quiet drinkers...the back, for the real drinkers. The only person not holding a Guinness was the bartender, a tall, skinny, pale early-30's guy with dark hair and startling blue eyes. So we figured we'd talk to him. We walked up to the bar. It was very much a picture-perfect moment. The bartender was wiping beer mugs with a dirt-smudged cloth and setting them in order below the bar. When he saw us approaching, he threw the towel over his shoulder, put both hands on the counter, smiled and said in a thick, almost incomprehensible, Irish accent..."What can I get you two?"
I stepped forward to answer his question...
"Ah, we're okay. Thank you, though. Actually, we were wanting to know if you knew of a place in town where they sold Irish souvenirs...like a thimble. I'm looking for one for my grandmother."
I had to speak loudly to be heard over the din of the Irishmen behind me...on their third Guinness each from the looks of it.
"A thimble?" he queried with a puzzled look on his face.
"Yeah. It's weird, I know. We were told to come here because you might know of a place. My grandmother's family is Irish and she collects thimbles from around the world and wanted one from Ireland and we can't find one anywhere."
"Did you check Ireland? (snicker nicker)" We turned around to see that the three loudy-pants had decided to join our conversation and quest for the thimble. I named them Patrick, Kevin and Oliver. Kevin was the smart one that asked the question.
"Yes. We were there a few days ago and we couldn't find anything. We had to come all the way to Frengland to find one because Ireland was out."
Kevin didn't have a response for that. He sunk back into the booth and pondered his life, white-knuckled grip on his beer mug. I turned back toward the bartender.
Bartender raised an eyebrow and asked, "What does it need to look like?"
I answered, "Oh, just a thimble. Anything really. It can say 'Ireland' on it or just have a clover on it...something like that."
Immediately, the entire world inside the pub stood still. Even the three Irishmen were quiet...all glaring at me...not harshly, just in a "you're an idiot" kind of way. I was thinking, "What did I say?"
Bartender laughed a little and said, "Do you mean a shamrock?"
"SHAMROCK!" Kevin, Oliver and Patrick agreed unanimously....clinking their mugs together...Guinness sloshing all over the table.
"Oh, yeah, a shamrock. That's what I meant."
"She said 'clover.' (giggle giggle)" Oliver slurred.
Bartender said, "We don't have any here, but let me call my mum and ask."
"Oh, gosh, no, that's not necessary...seriously. It's ok-"
He held up his hand to silence me as he put his ear to the phone. "Mum! Hi! It's Bartender...yeah...hey, listen...we've got some friends here looking for a thimble that has something Irish on it. Do you have any?...........Okay, well, go look and call me back." Hanging up the phone, he turned to us and asked, "How long would you need it for?"
"Uhm...well, forever. It's a gift for my grandmother."
"Oh...so, like a souvenir."
"Yes, because she collects them." I was beginning to think he had had a little something to drink.
"Okay...let's see...something with a shamrock........"
Hearing the word "shamrock" again, the three stooges perked up and Oliver said, "Hey, Bartender...your shirt has a shamrock on it...GIVE HER YOUR SHIRT!"
Patrick and Kevin echoed, "GIVE HER YOUR SHIRT!"
Mugs together, slosh, big sip.
Before David, Bartender or I could say anything...Kevin sat up in his seat a little more and said, "Your apron...your apron has a shamrock on it...GIVE HER YOUR APRON!"
Of course Patrick and Oliver loved that idea and echoed, "GIVE HER YOUR APRON!"
Mugs clink, slosh, drink. It was starting to look like a water park at Drunk Booth #2. I realized that the three lads were honestly trying to help.
This time, Patrick had a great suggestion...he glanced up above the booth and saw a mirror...fitted with a faded shamrock sticker in the upper right corner. His eyes brightened. "Hey, hey! Look! The mirror has a shamrock. Bartender, GIVE HER THE MIRROR!"
Oliver and Kevin were tickled pink, "GIVE HER THE MIRROR!" They said in unison.
By now their mugs were empty, so when they clinked them together this time, it was just a loud PING and nothing...they still took big sips, and were slightly disappointed that their mugs failed them.
Bartender smiled sideways at us and said, "If you want anything that has a shamrock on it, you can have it...we have extras."
"Oh, wow. Thank you...I uhm...I really can't take your shirt...or apron...or...the mirror...but thank you. I really appreciate your help."
Just then, the phone rang. Bartender picked it up...it was Mum. After a brief discussion, he hung up and returned to the counter. "She can't find her thimbles, but she said there's a British souvenir shop a few streets down and they might have something."
"Perfect! Thank you. We'll go try there. Thanks for all your help."
Bartender waved, nodded his head, and returned to his bartenderly duties. Kevin, Patrick and Oliver seemed genuinely sad that we were leaving...Oliver stood up and waved goodbye to us and stated for all to hear, "I wish you well in your endeavor to find your...th-thim...the shamrock thim....b...what you're looking for." Kevin and Patrick "hear! hear!"-ed him and all three returned to their empty mugs....Bartender cutting them off at three pints each.
David and I scurried out of the pub back into the bright daylight...heading toward the souvenir shop. We, unfortunately never found the elusive Irish thimble (I think it's a legend), but we did find a British Isles thimble, so I figured that would do. Mamaw seemed to like it.
We will definitely always remember our time in Claddagh and how asking a simple question, "Do you know where we can find an Irish thimble?" turned into us walking out with half an Irish pub in our hands. Also, it was a week day...during lunch...and Kevin, Patrick and Oliver were in business suits...what did they do when they went back to work?