Accepted as a regular I was seated with the old men, at Shannon’s Pot, a Public house where the Shannon River crosses under the R206, warming at the peat, I was trying the local brew when he walked in. He was wet, old and carrying a double bladed paddle. He had what passed for a pack and a bodhrán in a sheepskin bag over his shoulder.
“God bless all here. Whose round is it?” He said. He went up to the bar and asked. “Paddy, me lad. Where can I park me boat?”
Nobody paid him much mind until he said “boat”. Conversation slowed and stopped as we waited Patrick, the publican, out.
“Shannon. You’re not here to start trouble are ye?”
Well, the barman knew him. A small buzz of talk between sips commenced.
“Paddy, me lad. Surely you know me better than that. I never start trouble.”
“I know, but you’re always the last man standing after its over.”
“Me boat?” Shannon didn’t like to be sidetracked.
“The hooks are over the bar, man. I’ll give ye a hand.”
The pair struggled a bit but the boat was up and drying. Where I’m from it’s called an open kayak ... at least it’s not a coracle.
Shannon’s Pot is two places: the Pub, and Legnashinna (Lag na Sionna) a pool in the karst (landscape underlain by limestone that has been eroded by dissolution, producing ridges, towers, fissures, sinkholes, and other characteristic landforms) near Cuilcagh Mountain in County Cavan. An aquifer-fed naturally fluctuating pool, it is the source of the Shannon River. The Pot is not more than a kilometer north of the crossing.
The boat (I use his term) out of the way, the old gentleman lowered his pack from his shoulder, unstrapped his bodhrán and his snap purse and said, “My round, Paddy.” he unsnapped his leather and pulled out a coin. The old man dropped it on the bar ... gold has a distinctive ring.
“Shannon, I can’t take that.”
“Why not? ‘Tiz coin of the realm.”
“Davy,” said the publican.
When he spoke my name I looked up.
“Ever seen one of these?” He pitched the coin my way.
I fielded it. A crown ... a GOLD crown. Worth five shillings when new ... in 1648 ... that was the date ... I had to look twice. A crown stamped on the front ... a crown stamped on the back. (Reverse and Obverse for a purist) In 1648, two of them would be an experienced upstairs maids wage for a years service. Of course, you had to feed, supply her clothing and house her. But the wage was due after the year.
“What’s it worth, Davy?”
I held it in my hand ... ran my fingers over the surface ... like silk ... heavy like lead ... but no piece of lead felt like this.
“Five pounds ... in 1648. Today? Upwards of eleven thousand dollars ... I think.”
My education was diverse. The PhD was for publishing new discoveries in Central America. The Masters was for thoroughly understanding the Clovis period.
I was on sabbatical in Ireland to record the legends. A busman’s holiday ... so to speak. I read a lot ... and remembered what I read. Never lost, I could find my way from here to there after looking at a map. A map with pictures? Even better. And I had read ... just the other day ... about a coin auction at Christie’s ... and none of the coins were this perfect. A 1643 crown sold for 16 thousand dollars. One coin ... sixteen grand.
I tossed it back. Another excellent catch.
“Surely you have something else, Shannon?”
He opened his leather bag and spilled out a little mound of coins; gold coins. Probably twenty-five of thirty ... a fortune. And nothing else ... not even a farthing.
“Shannon? Where do you sleep tonight?”
“I thought to wrap in my cloak and curl up by the fire.”
“Shannon, I have a caravan parked next to the river, I’d be blessed if you stayed with me.” I knew hospitality was watchword here in the mountains. Declining would do my quest no good. “Tomorrow, we’ll take my poor vehicle, such as it is and go to Blacklion, to the numismatist and see about trading your crown for usable cash.”
“Well now, if that’s how it is to be ... round on me. Paddy, do your duty and have one yourself.”
“American?” he looked at me.
“Anthropologist, professor,” I said.
“Do you know the story of Shannon Pot?”
“Ah. But do ye know the whole tale?” He took up his sheepskin bag and unlaced it. The bodhrán gleamed the gleam of prideful ownership. The goatskin head was well beaten, the tipper or beater was traditional carved bone ... two larger ends with a thin shaft and knob in the middle. He lightly tapped and turned to the fire.
“Tuning,” he said. “Damp.”
He held the head to the heat, tapped some more, rubbed the head a bit and repeated the rigamarole until satisfied. He beat out a complicated rhythm.
All the old men silently raised a glass, took a sip and settled in.
A single beat.
“The god of the sea, Manannan mac Lir desired a wife, in time one came to him.”
A double tap.