I'd only ever thought of the town as a talking place, a drinking place, a place of stories and boats and singing. In my head I travelled there an awful lot more than my budget of two or three visits a year would allow me.
Through meetings and the whirring of printers and the general bullshit of men in suits at work (trying to out-loud each other) I'd imagine myself sat in O'Flahertys pub - that great big green room with the replica of itself in the corner farthest from the door - pretending to read while listening in on Irish words long since left in my Leaving Cert textbooks.
Off the bus. Into Murphy's. Out of Murphy's and up Green Street, past the shop incongruously named La Boheme. Past Dick Mack's and the church and the chipper that never opens. On to Main Street with Currans and Foxy Johns and Ashe's agus An Droichead Beag, before the turn of the heel to visit them all again. And again. And again to inebriation...
I don't meet strangers easily.
It's not in my nature to start up conversations with people unknown to me but I could always manage it there. They'd see my history in me and know I'm not a blow-in - two of my grandparents were born in the town before making their lives elsewhere - so I'd feel unencumbered in stepping in to ask random people if they knew of any living Devanes from Grey's Lane.
I've still to hear the word 'jackeen' muttered under breath, probably why I keep going back.
This time was different, though.
Years after my first visit there I realised that this is a place of water, and places of water are never far from darkness, and I wondered how I'd never noticed it before.
Eyes narrowed where hands had been proffered. Confrontation replaced ebullience. The song taken by the whisper. Our openness met with reluctance.
My mother told me afterwards that the place was always made that way. Brothers and sisters living two streets apart who hadn't seen each other in years, families riven with only minutes between them at any one time. Inheritances, you would imagine, or just plain old fighting over a woman to blame for it.
It's in my head at several days' remove and the closest feeling that comes to it is the unimagining of Santa Claus but, in a strange way, it makes the place more attractive to me - something more than pubs on a poster to be crossed off over a spell.