#139, Baggot Street, Dublin
My senior year of college, I dressed up like William Butler Yeats. Not every day, sadly, though I have to confess I cut a surprisingly sharp figure in a cape, flouncy poet's tie, and pince-nez. I made a pretty good six-foot-two Irishman for a five-foot-two American girl, and sometimes I think they must've switched souls at the Illinois hospital where I was born with a word-struck mystic outcast lad from Sligo. We've been trying to find each other ever since.
The method to the cross-cultural cross-dressing madness was a one-person show for my Non-fiction Studies class in the Performance Studies department. We were to research the life of a historical figure, put together a script using only primary sources (diaries, letters, first person accounts), and then perform a 30-40 minute long show where we became this historical figure. There were my classmates, parading about as Janis Joplin, Anais Nin, Frank Zappa, Bette Davis, and me, W.B. Yeats. The life of the party.
I mention this today, for 139's pub mural, because Yeats was not a drinking man. This asocial quirk did not make him popular among his fellow countrymen. As a child, children would jeer as he approached, lanky and gloomy, "O, here is King Death again!" As a grown-up, he was known as "Willie the Spooks." George Moore said of W.B. that he looked "like an umbrella left behind at a picnic." And as you can see, here he's been ousted from the hard man's drinking party with James Joyce and Patrick Kavanagh who are clearly living it up, bad eyesight and all, on the wall of Toner's. Only look at those drugged expressions. What do you suppose they're drinking, absinthe?
In any case, the famous prankster, writer, surgeon, and man-about-town Oliver St. John Gogarty (fictionalized as the character Buck Mulligan in Joyce's Ulysses) decided enough was enough with old stick-in-the-mud Willie and decided it was time Yeats fix his pub deficiency. (Yeats, apparently, had somehow made it to adulthood having never set foot in a pub, too busy writing unrequited love letters to Maud Gonne, the poor fella.) And so Gogarty convinced Yeats to have a couple of jars one night at Toner's on Baggot Street. Yeats sat quietly at a corner in Toner's, sipping his sherry. He finished his drink, stood up stiffly and announced, "I have seen a pub. Will you kindly take me home now," and left.
Still and all, I happen to love old W.B., and if I'd been alive when he was alive, I'd be dead now. But if he was alive today, I'd be sure to put up my dukes and defend poor King Death. Though I might find myself drinking alone, alas.