An Irish pub born in the Dark Ages
Shortly after the working day begins, a hush falls over the streets of Athlone in Ireland’s County Westmeath. Away from the banks, hotels and shopping centres, buses empty out, commuters dip from sight and moored barges and skiffs on the River Shannon are at standstill as the dark, silted water flows past.
一天的工作剛開始不久，愛爾蘭韋斯特米斯郡（County Westmeath）阿斯隆（Athlone）的街道上一片寂靜。這里遠離銀行、酒店和購物中心，公交車上空無一人，上班族逐漸從視野中消失。駁船和小船停泊在香農河（River Shannon）上，夾雜著泥沙的深色河水靜靜流淌。
But across the town’s arched stone bridge, in an unassuming building on the river’s west bank, a 50-year-old barman named Timmy Donovan is already pulling his first pint of the day at Sean’s Bar – and a buzz is starting to build.
但隔著小鎮的石拱橋，在香農河西岸一棟不起眼的建筑里，肖恩酒吧（Sean's Bar）50歲的酒保多諾萬（Timmy Donovan）已經在倒這天的第一杯啤酒了——氣氛也漸漸熱鬧開始起來。
When the pub closes after midnight, the pitted fireplace will have crackled since mid-morning, and scores of pints of creamy-headed stout – and as many drams of whiskey and cups of Irish coffee – will have been poured. Just as barkeepers at the dimly lit pub have done with more rudimentary forms of alcohol such as mead for the past 1,100 years.
Sean’s Bar, with its woodchip-covered floor and walls made of wattle and wicker interwoven with horse hair and clay, has been in business since the Dark Ages. Located near to the ruins of a 12th-Century Norman Castle, it is the oldest extant public house in Ireland, a claim officially certified by Guinness World Records in 2004. But many, including the current owners and plenty of Athlone regulars and respected Irish historians, also believe it to be the oldest in the world.
肖恩酒吧從中世紀前期便開始營業了。酒吧的地板上鋪著木屑，墻壁由板條、柳條、馬鬃和粘土交錯編織而成。酒吧靠近一座12世紀的諾曼城堡的廢墟，是愛爾蘭現存最古老的酒吧，2004年，吉尼斯世界紀錄（Guinness World Records）正式認證了這一說法。而很多人，包括現任老板、阿斯隆當地很多常客和受人尊敬的愛爾蘭歷史學家，認為它也是全世界最古老的酒吧。
“Just imagine how much history this place has seen,” Donovan said, gazing out across the low-ceilinged bar beyond the morning’s first trickle of customers. “I’ve been researching our history for 30-odd years and no other pub comes close.”
Europe’s other most storied pubs – Leeds’ The Bingley Arms (953), Abergavenny’s The Skirrid Mountain Inn (1110), Nottingham’s Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (circa 1189) and Dublin’s Brazen Head (1198) – all have claims on the title of the world’s oldest continuously run pub. Others, too, maintain historical, if hazy, back stories as murky as any pint of Guinness.
歐洲其他赫赫有名的酒吧——利茲的The Bingley Arms （始于953年）、阿伯加文尼（Abergavenny）的The Skirrid Mountain Inn （始于1110年）、諾丁漢的Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem （大約始于1189年）和都柏林的Brazen Head （始于1198年）——都號稱是世界上連續營業時間最久的酒吧。另一些酒吧也宣揚著像健力士黑啤酒（Guinness）一樣渾濁、模糊的歷史敘事。
But according to archaeological research conducted and verified by the National Museum of Ireland, Sean’s Bar dates further back than them all: to 900AD. This predates the defeat and decline of the Vikings in Ireland. The Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland. And the creation of whiskey and black beer themselves, with which the Emerald Isle’s pubs have become synonymous. Combined with the carbon-dated material – including bits of mud, wood and wattle – and the presence of ‘tavern tokens’ found on the site (now on display in the National Museum of Ireland), the sense in Ireland is that Sean’s Bar is very much worthy of the legend.
但愛爾蘭國家博物館（National Museum of Ireland）的考古研究顯示，肖恩酒吧的歷史可追溯至公元900年，比上面提到的酒吧都悠久。這也早于維京人在愛爾蘭失敗和衰落、盎格魯-諾曼人征服愛爾蘭以及威士忌和黑啤酒誕生。威士忌和黑啤酒已經成了綠寶石島（Emerald Isle，愛爾蘭的別名）酒吧的代名詞。結合經過碳年代測定的物料——包括一些泥土、木頭和板條——以及在現場發現的“酒館代金券”（現在正在愛爾蘭國家博物館展出），愛爾蘭人覺得肖恩酒吧非常符合這個傳說。
“When you walk in, you can feel the history and the romance straight away,” bar manager Declan Delaney said, pulling pints of stout for another group of thirsty arrivals. “This is the genuine article. There has been many owners and short-term tenants over the years, but the principals remain the same. It’s got to have ‘caint, ceol, agus craic’ – chat, music and craic. That’s what makes it authentic.”
In his classic novel Ulysses, Irish author James Joyce wrote that a ‘good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without finding a pub’, and today his homeland’s geography is the equal to this conundrum. Every town is marked by a storied drinking saloon, where the sounds of a crackling fire, tuned guitar and clinking glasses thrum like a pulse beneath the hubbub of chatter.
Sean’s Bar is no exception. There’s the unmistakable smell of hops and barley. The lighting that’s not too bright, but warm enough to block out a dark night or indeed morning. There’s the glow of the fire. The nooks and crannies of snugly fitting seats. The walls and wooden beams covered with memorabilia, maps, letters, poems and nautical charts. In such a place, storytelling is indivisible from hospitality.
But those pubs with history ingrained in their warp and weft are a dying breed. The most recent statistics from the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland show the number of pubs across Ireland have been closing at a rate of more than two a week for more than a decade because of the lingering Irish recession, an increase in alcohol excise tax and growing awareness of health concerns. Since 2005, last orders have been called at nearly 1,500 alehouses.
但那些歷史悠久的酒吧正在消亡。愛爾蘭飲料行業組織（Drinks Industry Group of Ireland）最新的統計數據顯示，因為愛爾蘭經濟持續衰退、酒精飲品消費稅增加和人們越來越關注健康問題，十多年來愛爾蘭的酒吧數量一直在以每周超過兩家的速度減少。自2005年以來，已有近1500家酒吧關門。
“There are so many ‘plastic Paddy pubs’ without the history, but Ireland is full of great pubs, if you know where to look,” said Kevin Martin, author of Have Ye No Homes To Go To?: The History of the Irish Pub, who himself has completed a master's degree thesis on the subject. “What is key is the conviviality – and the promise of hospitality. It’s just one of those perfect matches. Conviviality and hospitality are deeply embedded in Irish culture and have found their best expression in public drinking. Unfortunately, Irish pubs are just another commodity now, but you can sense the history at Sean’s Bar. It’s their careful maintenance of that heritage that’s been their trump card.”
“沒有歷史的‘華而不實的愛爾蘭酒吧’有很多，但愛爾蘭也有很多優質酒吧，如果你知道去哪兒找的話，”《你無家可歸嗎？：愛爾蘭酒吧史》（Have Ye No Homes To Go To?: The History of the Irish Pub）的作者馬丁（Kevin Martin）說。他本人完成了一篇以此為主題的碩士學位論文。“關鍵是歡樂的氣氛和受到熱情的招待，這是完美的配搭之一。歡樂和熱情深深地扎根于愛爾蘭文化中，并在公共場合的暢飲中得到了最好的體現。遺憾的是，愛爾蘭酒吧現在不過是另一種商品而已，但在肖恩酒吧，你能夠感受到這種歷史。小心翼翼地守護這項傳統正是他們的核心競爭力。”<-->紐約時報中英文網 http://www.gwbyzx.live<-->
As for Sean’s Bar’s petition to be the world’s oldest pub, an authority like Martin sees no reason why the claim isn’t valid, based on what’s known. “As you can imagine, it’s highly contestable territory and science, and nobody is going to swear on it,” Martin said, whose next book on the history and folklore of Irish pubs will be published this St Patrick’s Day. “Apart from anything else, there were no licensing laws at that time.”
馬丁認為，肖恩酒吧申請世界最古老酒吧稱號不可能沒有依據。“和你想的一樣，這是一個極具爭議的領域，沒人會為此發誓，”馬丁說。他的下一本有關愛爾蘭酒吧的歷史和民間傳說的著作將于今年圣帕特里克節（St Patrick's Day）出版。“別的不說，當時沒有執照法。”
No-one knows exactly when the first stone at Sean’s Bar was laid, but they do know that Athlone’s historical saloon is intrinsically bound to the lore of one place in particular: Ireland’s most legendary river, the Shannon.
The site of Luain’s Inn (as it was first called) was chosen by a former innkeeper called Luain Mac Luighdeach, who used a bend of the river to safely guide people across the water between serving flagons of mead. A central axis of medieval Irish life, the river was a strategic point not only as an important waterway for monastic trade, but it helped spread Viking influence around the country and acted as a geographical boundary between east and west during later military campaigns. Even when the Shannon was in spate, pilgrims could be found at the back door of Luain’s Inn trying to ford the fast-flowing rapids.
盧艾恩酒吧（Luain's Inn，肖恩酒吧最早的名字）的位置是酒吧老板盧艾恩·馬克·盧伊迪奇（Luain Mac Luighdeach）老板選的。在為顧客奉上一壺壺蜂蜜酒的間歇，他利用香濃河的一段彎道安全地引導人們渡水過河。作為中世紀愛爾蘭人生活的中軸，香農河是一個戰略要地，不僅是修道院貿易的重要航道，還幫助維京人在全國擴散他們的影響，并在后來的軍事行動中成為東部與西部之間的地理分界線。即使是在香農河泛濫的時候，也能在盧艾恩酒吧的后門發現試圖穿過湍流的朝圣者。
In fact, there was little other choice. To the north, the landscape gets progressively more challenging, with the waters of Lough Ree (‘the Lake of the Kings’) spilling out across an enormous water basin some 29km long and 12km wide. To the south, the Shannon widens and deepens, creating an even more treacherous journey. In recognition of this, the site of the inn became known by the barkeeper’s name – Athlone, or ‘Ath Luain’, the Ford of Luain – and today the alehouse is one of the few premises in Ireland with a preservation order in place for both inside and outside.
事實上，當時幾乎沒有其他選擇。往北，地形逐漸變得愈發具有挑戰性。里湖（Lough Ree，又名Lake of the Kings）的水涌出，形成一個29公里長、12公里寬的巨型水池。往南，香農河河道變寬，河水變深，形成了一段更加危險的路程。正因為這一點，酒吧所在的地方以酒吧老板的名字而為人所知：阿斯隆，或“Ath Luain”，即盧艾恩淺灘。如今，肖恩酒吧是愛爾蘭為數不多的內部和外部都受保護的場所之一。
When Donovan first arrived at the bar as a young boy with his parents 32 years ago, the first thing that struck him was this relationship with the river, as well as its slanted checkerboard floor. Quite blatantly, it slopes towards the river, as gravity was the only plumbing available when the river flooded during the inn’s golden era. Wood shavings placed on the floor, once used to soak up excess water, nowadays absorb spilled beer.
Little has changed in the bar over the last three decades, but Donovan certainly has. He has worked his way up from barman to owner and back again (the pub is currently owned by a silent partner), and yet still feels drawn to the pub’s history. When he retires, he said, he’ll find a stool and pass time at the bar with Delaney. “Everybody brings a little happiness to this place,” he joked, getting a little misty-eyed. “Some by coming in and some by going out.”
Research is ongoing at Sean’s Bar into claiming the official title of the world’s oldest pub, but in the meantime there’s plenty of other conversations to be had. Seasons shift and tastes change, but for the locals living along the banks of the Shannon, on the spot where Luain once made his great ford, the drink will flow, and there’ll always be a warm welcome.