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Issue 109 - Belfast Boy

Whisky Magazine Issue 109
February 2013

 

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Belfast Boy

Jefferson Chase reviews a book based in Belfast during the late 1960s

Bars are examples of society, both in the sense of human co-existence and conviviality. A watering hole is, after all, also a crosssection of where it's located.

So it stands to reason bars make excellent settings.

Glenn Patterson's The International is named after a hotel in Belfast and takes place in 1967 on the day before the inauguration of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, just as the Troubles are about to change the city forever.

The first-person narrator, Danny Boy, is a bartender in one of the hotel's bars, a job that, by his own account, he “fell” into after being caught kissing a classmate in high school. Amidst the resulting scandal, his parents ask a relative with a shady reputation for help:

I decided not to hold my breath, even my mother appeared less than convinced, but there are things in the world far more unpleasant than two boys kissing and by the beginning of the following week Belfast had lurched a step nearer to its unpleasant future. I was sitting in the manager's office of The International Hotel with Second Cousin Clive's testimonial in my pocket.

Danny Boy gets the job – and an introduction to a microcosm of Belfast.

The International doesn't have one central storyline. It doesn't need one. Instead, Patterson relates the stories of one after another of the bar's regulars and staff.

One of them is a famous Northern Irish international football player who's recuperating from an injury by going on a massive Laphroaig bender. He...

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