The pub was empty. Except for me and the bartender. In this particular pub the bartender was a bean an tígh. She was a wise woman. She served me my pint with a cordial, indulgent and native generosity which underpinned her roots, her gender and her age. In other words she indulged me, knowing instinctively that I was after a quiet interlude.
'Bain sult as,' said she 'sláinte' as she retired to polish the shelves and wash glasses.
It was just me and her in silent harmony as I digested the sports pages and savoured the pundits' musings on the weekend's hurling treats and football results while sipping on a pint of plain. The sun shone blissfully and cheerfully through the pub windows and smiled upon our little soirée. The pint was a work of art. All was bliss.
It was then that two is company and three is a crowd became a reality. A tall gangly gent draped himself on the high stool beside me, ordered a drink and shattered the silence.
'You're just the man I wanted to see. I said to the wife this morning if I ever see Gerry Adams I'm gonna ask him this question. Isn't it funny that I said that this morning and here you are? Sitting beside me?'
I said nothing. Instead I smiled lamely and peered earnestly at my drink.
He continued without appearing to notice my disinterest. And discomfiture.
'What question' says she to me.
'Who wud want to be a unionist? That's what I said to her. Who wud want to be a unionist? And do you know what she said to me?'
He looked at me earnestly. I maintained my silence.
'Arlene Foster' says she to me. 'What do you think of that for an answer? Arlene Foster'.
'Well' I ventured ' Arlene IS a unionist. She isn't a wannabe unionist. She's the real deal.'
'I know' he countered ' but my question is who wud want to be a unionist?'
I swallowed the last dregs of my glass as the bean a tígh appeared with a successor.
'I don't know' I replied ' but whether we like it or not some folks are unionists. That's the reality.'
'So you think that's ok' he accused me. 'It's very clear that they don't want any old union. They only want a union which reflects their jaundiced view of the world.'
'That was always the case' I said 'only it’s more obvious nowadays'
'I wud never do business with Arlene Foster!' He told me assertively.
'Do you think you will ever have to?' I enquired as pleasantly as I could in the circumstances.
'That's not the point' he asserted ' you're like my wife. Typical politician's answer'.
'Is your wife a politician?' I queried.
He ignored me. I hated being ignored. Even when I want to be.
'Did you ever meet with Arlene? Or Edwin? Or Gregory?' I asked. 'When is the last time you had to do business with any of them? It’s me or Michelle O Neill or God rest him Martin McGuinness has to do all that. Not you'.
'I know that' he responded'. 'That's why I vote for youse. But that's not the question. The question is who wud want to be a unionist? Imagine! If you're a Unionist you not only have to stop other people getting their rights you have to give up your own rights as well.'
He ordered another drink for himself. The bean a tígh sniffed crossly at him as she took his money but it made no difference. He was on a roll.
'Do you know any gay Orangemen?' He continued.
I said nothing. Even though I do know some gay Orangemen. But I didn't want to think about that. I was still in the ecstasies, in the after flow of the Tipp and Galway game. It's funny how you retain and savour some things. They live on in your memory. I can still see clearly DJ Carey and Seán Óg facing each other like gladiators in an epic game from years ago. That's where my mind was. But I said nothing. Instead I folded my paper and shifted slightly on my stool as I got ready to leave.
'So do you know any gay unionists?' He repeated.
'Well I don't think our sexual orientation is determined by our political views or our constitutional preference' I replied affably.
'That's not the point' he asserted. 'what is a gay unionist to do?'
'The same as gay nationalists did before we all became gay!' I said more tersely than I intended.
'What you mean? I'm making a serious point' he argued. 'They not only deny equality to others. They deny equality to themselves. They condemn themselves to lives of denial, deceit and misery.'
'And I'm on my holidays' I said ' I'm on a break'.
'I'm sorry' he said ' you're probably sick of people asking you these questions. But my big issue is who wud want to be a unionist? If you're gay? Or against Brexit? Or against inequality? Not just for others. But for yourself?'
'I'll ask Arlene that the next time I see her' I said. 'I'm going now'
'Glad to meet you' he said. 'Keep up the good work'.
'Go raibh maith agat' I said.
'Slán ' I said to the patient bean a tígh. ' Thanks for the hospitality'
'You're welcome 'she smiled. 'I have a question as well. Who would want to be a Sinn Féin rep? In a pub?'
'I'll ask Arlene that as well' I smiled back at her. 'Slán'.
Sometimes it's hard to be a Shinner.