There’s an energy that hangs between strangers even in a crowd. Call it interest, or attraction, or the knowledge of things to come. It is awareness, and I was aware to the exclusion of all activity around me that Liam Hennessey was watching me. He was sitting at the corner of the bar by himself, and because I could feel his gaze upon me like an electrical current, I froze. I did not move an inch because I sensed I didn’t have to, that something would come about with little prompting from me. I don’t know how I knew this, but I was right, it came about within the hour. It began as a series of introductions to people near Liam, and drew itself closer until Liam was introduced to me.
Right before Leigh left, claiming she had to get up early the next day to drive to Cork, Kieran pointed out that the Irish traditional musicians playing in the corner were the father and older brother of the lad sitting at the end of the bar.
“That’s Liam Hennessey at the bar there,” Kieran gestured to my right. “He’s the best box player in Connemara – even in the whole of Ireland, many say. His family is long in Connemara; they’re all players, so. That’s Sean Liam, his da, and his brother Anthony there on the guitar.” Kieran seemed proud to know the facts. He next took my arm and led me straight to Liam.
“I’ve the pleasure of knowing this American here, her name is Hailey,” Kieran announced to Liam.
I had an uneasy feeling. It’s one thing to suspect you’ll cross paths with someone again, and quite another to be fully prepared when it actually happens. For some unknown reason, I kept thinking it was strange to see Liam this far out in the country from Galway, but then again, what did I know? I didn’t know anything about him.
Liam looked at me with large dark eyes and smiled brightly. He was different than I had imagined: he was friendlier, more candid. I assumed because he looked so dark and mysterious, there would be a personality to match. I assumed he would be reserved, aloof, perhaps arrogant in an artistic sort of way. I was paying close attention, and there was none of that about Liam. In seconds, I realized he was a nice guy. I moved a step to my right as an older man approached the bar.
“Would ye give us a hand there,” the man said to Liam, and for the next few minutes, Liam handed pints over his head to a group of men too far from the bar’s edge to grab the glasses themselves. Just then, Kieran said something that set off a chain of events and put the rest of the night in motion.
“Liam, will you watch Hailey for me, I’m off to join the sessiun.” With that, Kieran produced a harmonica from his shirt pocket and walked off to join the musicians in the corner.
I stood at the bar and waited for the next thing to happen. The world seemed to operate in slow motion. All the noise in the room subsided, and the only thing I knew was I was looking directly at Liam Hennessey. I searched his face for imperfections. I had never before seen such beauty in the face of a man. I hoped my thoughts didn’t show on my face. He was so good looking, I wondered why other people in the room weren’t staring at him, then I realized most of Hughes’ patrons knew him and were probably used to the way he looked. I was reticent, unsure of how to speak to Liam, unfamiliar with how provincial he may or may not have been. Words tend to get in the way in moments like this, but they lay in wait just the same.
“You’re an American, yah?” he asked in that way the Irish have of answering their own question. “I’ve been to America,” he said.
“Where in America?” I encouraged.
“Boston, New York, Chicago. My cousins live in Chicago. I even went all the way to Niagara Falls,” Liam said.
“Believe it or not, I’ve never been to Niagara Falls. What’s it like?”
“Not much, mind you, it’s a nice enough place, but ten minutes after I saw the falls, I was asking where I could get a nice cup of tea.”
“I imagine it would take a lot to be impressed after living here,” I said.
“I’d never want to live anywhere else. Everything you could ever want is here in Connemara.”
And it is, I thought. Connemara has a sense of peace I’ve never felt before.
“Are you long in Ireland?” he asked.
“I live here,” I said. “I live in Inverin.”
“Ah, so you’re just up the road. Me too.”