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A copy of the 2001 edition of The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Gaelic Football and Hurling is kept behind the bar at the Twelve Bens. Its jacket is gently tattered around the edges, and droplets of beer have been wiped off a page or two. It's Saturday, and a discussion is turning into a dispute: Barry, 40, an expat from County Mayo, wants prove to a pal that Offaly trumped Galway to clinch the 1985 hurling title. (Hurling is like lacrosse. Sort of.) Mike Mannion, 35, reflexively hands the book across the bar.
"It solves a lot of arguments," Mike shrugs as he breezes past me to deliver the beers. There may be arguments here, but there aren't fights. Ever. Mike's brother, John, 36, assures me their father, Gabe, doesn't tolerate it. One way he preserves a relaxed atmosphere is by not having a Keno machine, or anything else that dispenses disappointment for a price.
There's also a "No Gambling" sign posted by the kitchen window. "Dad says guys drinking don't wanna see people spending money," John says.
People sit along all four sides of the bar here. John typically holds down the fort in the daytime. Mike takes over around 5 pm. Gabe, a Galway native, is in and out. He says these days are quieter than when he bought the bar in 1982, after working at the Eire for a decade.
Way before Gabe took ownership, Paulie was already stopping in regularly for a drink. The retired general contractor is a lively septuagenarian. "I've been drinking here since I was 16," he says one recent afternoon. "I've got Italian blood in me." Most days he drifts in around one, has a beer, and leaves. Gone are the days of a beer and ball. (That's vintage lingo for a beer and a shot, typically Old Thompson.)
John, of course, gets Paulie's drink ready when he sees him walk in. John has an engineering degree from Mass Maritime Academy and is presently in nursing school. He has three children. He has no plans to give up his shifts.
"I'd rather do this than what I'm qualified to do," he confesses. "It's hard to get away. And at this point, it's a borderline social life."
Liza Weisstuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.