March 1994 and Dublin was buzzing. The Celtic Tiger was hovering on the edge of the city, breathing hot economic promises into the cool night air. The excitement was palpable and to a rule-abiding Yank, the Irish disdain for authority was irresistible. Christine’s mid-life adventure, to seek a new existence in Ireland, was an ongoing conundrum to her friends and family, drawing a host of well-intentioned comments and one blinkered observation, “They speak English and you can figure out the money, where’s the challenge in that?” On her first Sunday Holy Hour, she found herself inside O’Donoghue’s pub on Baggot Street, listening to music, nursing one pint of Guinness and trying to ignore the second pint that had magically appeared behind it. From nowhere, a man jumped from the floor, onto the bar and “Riverdanced” between the pints, his dazzling feet meeting her gaze but missing her Guinness. She was mesmerized. Amid rampant applause, the dancer jumped from the bar to the floor allowing the drinking to continue and the barman to carry on. Seeing her with two full pints, the barman stopped. He picked up one and holding it in front of her, he scolded the novice punter, “Look here now,” he said, “this is a living thing. It needs oxygen to survive and you’re after killing it.” Then he threw out the pint and replaced it with a new one. “I’m giving you one more chance, now drink!” And as she did, the source of the pint, a music-loving, poetry writing, Guinness guzzling, giant man from Donegal, nudged his stool next to hers. He raised his glass, “Slan,” he said as the doors were locked for Holy Hour.
Well and truly past her sell-by-date, Christine left Los Angeles for a job as a therapist in an ancient Irish asylum also known as Portrane. Sweetly duped by the gangly, tall, elderly interview chairman, his offer of employment came with a whiskey recommendation but omitted the word “asylum.” It was her first exposure to their future conflict of cultures; Americans who can’t shut up and the Irish, who provide only the most necessary of information; it’s a skill honed from 800 years of English oppression, or so they say. Leo, her Irish-American neighbor, taught her his one abiding Irish rule; “Whatever you say, say nothing. Say nothing and you’ll get along just fine.” She understood. She would be that Yank that blended in, respected her new country, adopted its rules and adapted to its quirks. She would be Irish. She would say nothing. Leo’s advice led her to believe that putting her rent money down a hole in the ground was normal. It wasn’t. That all those lovely, chatty men in the pub were single. They weren’t. That Portrane really wanted her expertise. It didn’t. But the staff and the residents of Portrane; Anthony, Hugo, Kitty and Annie, who knew Portrane as their only home, taught her all about living in the asylum and seeing it as the home and the refuge that it was meant to be.