Miles Kington Remembered: The traditional mussel fair with not a mussel in sight

When the Irish grow up, they give up step dancing, and go over to step drinking, a skilful activity which involves walking across a crowded bar holding pints of stout

Share
Related Topics

(20 May 1994) The reason I was in the west of Ireland last weekend was to go to the Bantry Mussel Fair. Last year I happened to be there with three friends called Eric, Alan and Peter, and we thought we'd go back again this year, for fun.

Well, they were going for fun, but for me it was a scientific experiment. Last year I became ill after a day of eating mussels, and local opinion thought it might have been because I had had some whiskey, the same evening.

"Mussels and whiskey never mix," I was told by Finn, at the shop in Adrigole. "Every time I have whiskey after mussels, I'm ill. Every time. Never fails."

Impressed by the logical rigour, I felt I should do a back-up experiment one day. Now, at last, the time had come. The same four of us would go back again, except that Eric had to drop out at the last minute.

Now, if I ran a mussel fair, I think I would try to fit mussels into it somewhere, but in Ireland they don't always take the soft option, and the people who run the Bantry Mussel Fair had evidently decided to omit mussels from the programme.

There were bands and there was music and there was dancing and there were classical recitals in Bantry House, but no evident mussels to be had, except at the Anchor Tavern where they were giving away steaming dishes of them free with each dark pint of Murphy's stout, the patron of the fair.

"Do you know where I could get some fresh mussels to take home and cook?," I asked over the Anchor bar. "I need them for a scientific experiment. I've got the whiskey already ..."

They looked puzzled. Nobody had ever asked them for live mussels before. They suggested that I ask at the tourist information bureau, a few doors along. It seemed a good idea. The tourist people were obviously geared up to the mussel fair. Their window was full of mussel fair programmes and recipes for cooking mussels in Murphy's, and even empty mussel shells containing fake pearls.

But there was one snag. The tourist information bureau was locked and dark every day we visited the Mussel Fair. This was Ireland, after all. So, instead, we had a good time and went to JJ Crowley's Bar to hear the Dukes of Jazz, a band that may have been a jazz group once but was now playing good-time Irish blues. And on the bandstand in the square we saw a Cajun band called the Squealing Pigs, which may have been a Cajun band once but now was playing good-time Irish blues.

Also on that stand we saw a display of step dancing, an activity engaged in by tiny girls, which consists of moving everything below the knees and nothing above the waist, like folksy tap dancing. When the Irish grow up, they give up step dancing, and go over to step drinking, a skilful activity which involves walking across a crowded bar holding pints of stout, motionless from the waist up and side-stepping and shuffling dexterously from the waist down ...

"I'll get us another two pints," said Peter.

Yes, we were down to two people by now. Alan had been taken furiously ill one night and been rushed to Bantry Hospital. No, it wasn't mussels and whiskey. Yes, it was his appendix, which had gone slightly gangrenous.

"I didn't know he still had his appendix," I said to the nurse, after the operation.

"Well, he hasn't now," she said, a little pedantically, I thought. Alan himself seemed more subdued than usual. It may have been the after-effects of being cut open. It may have been the crucifix staring down at him from the wall. Either way, he half-rose from his bed of pain and pointed at me.

"You aren't going to write about all this, are you?"

"Certainly not," I lied.

We had to leave Alan behind in the hospital. He'll be coming home tomorrow. If you see a tall man with a beard on the ferry, wincing with every step, don't for heaven's sake offer him mussels and whiskey. He's more of a gin and tonic man, really.

Meanwhile, I hope to get back to Bantry next year. I think this year's experiments on mussels and whiskey were inconclusive. Failing all else, I'll be there in 1996. Not only is that the bicentenary of the invasion of Bantry by the French, but I couldn't help noticing that JJ Crowley's Bar was founded in 1896.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer

£36000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Buyer is required to join thi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Between the covers: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, opposite Colin Firth's Mr Darcy, in the acclaimed 1995 BBC adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice'  

To talk about 'liking' a character may be a literary faux pas, but I don't care

Memphis Barker
Hinkley Point A to the right of development land where the reactors of Hinkley C nuclear power station are due to be built  

Should the UK really be putting its money into nuclear power in 2015?

Chris Green Chris Green
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen