Finding the Pooka

An email dropped into my inbox last week from the Puca Press, in Irish and English, inviting me to the launch of "Words, Lines and Knots." Launches are all the rage here. Something is constantly being launched by the resident community of artists, musicians and writers.  This one was from 6-7 on December 3rd, at the press itself.  The short and formatically mangled invitation ended with this cryptic line: "If you have a knot to perform, you are free to do so."  I was definitely going to that.

The Puca Press lives on River Lane, the best laneway in Dingle town.  It's the best laneway for two reasons.  One, because it connects two streets, The Mall and Dykegate Lane, between which no one really has any reason to go.  People on either of those streets are headed north toward Main Street or south toward Holy Ground, and aren't likely to make a sudden horizontal cut down a laneway that, aside from the Puca, features only the concrete, flat backs and sides of McKenna's department store, the Cafe Literarta (known locally as the Cafe Lit), and a couple of townhouses that front The Mall.

So if you're walking down River Lane, you're doing so out of sheer whimsy, just to see where it goes.

The second reason is because at the Mall end, River Lane is a concrete bridge over a river that runs underneath a short row of houses at the top of the street. Directly underneath, not submerged underground. The houses were built over the river.  These river houses are probably one of the few Dingle landmarks that have not changed in the 12 years I've lived in Ireland.  And I have always loved them, loved the idea of a river flowing under the house, wondering if you can hear it burbling at night while in your bed.  

So I sometimes walk down River Lane just to cross the house bridge.

The Puca Press is the only premises, business or residential, that opens directly onto River Lane.  I didn't arrive to the launch until well after 6:30 (still managing to be early. I'll never master Dingle time).  The town was dark and quiet, in winter hibernation mode.  Turning down River Lane from Dykegate lane, I saw, well, nothing.  No people, no light.  But I was sure this was where the Puca lived.  Then I noticed a man walking toward me from The Mall side.  He headed for a faint glow in the line of flat concrete and opened a door.  

I arrived just after him tto the tiniest shop in town.  Through the glass door framed by two large, paned windows, I could see seven or eight people holding glasses of wine and amiably squeezed into the candlelit space among presses, the work counter, and the sales counter.  I entered to a hubbub of Irish, the visitor ahead of me being both voluble and popular. 

After a moment of uncertain lingering by the door, I registered Dominique's "tar isteach" (Dominique Lieb owns the Puca Press) and made my way from the front holding area (an L-shaped corridor, about 8 feet on the long arm and 5 feet on the short arm) to the back holding area (about 6' x 4') via the long arm of the "L," between two presses. From there I could look around at the prints.

Hanging down from work shelves on double strings were uniformly sized, black and white prints on the theme of knots.  The artists were various and the interpretations unique, from John Holstead's elegant, mathematically precise fisherman's knots, to Heiko Rolff's knotted Hokusai wave, to Dominque's celtic intertwinings and Liam Holden's abstract sea squiggle.  There were close up drawings of hairy tangles, aerial views of highway interchanges and intracranial abstractions of knotty minds. 

The limitations of the gallery (it being not a gallery but a printing workshop) meant I couldn't see all the prints close up.  Some were inaccessibly hanging in back of the front press (viewable by the two or three people comfortably slotted into the short arm of the "L"). Others were above and behind the back press (which you could see as you squeezed your way down the long arm of the "L," mindful of not being accidentally decanted out the front door).  As I was working on that maneuver, I saw the book.  

What I hadn't quite understood from the email invitation is that this was a book launch.  Each print was reproduced on thick, irregular cream paper,accompanied by poetry and prose in Irish, English and German, and bound and covered with a heavy tan jacket featuring one of Dominque's images. It was one of those completely impractical, totally beautiful things you know you have to have. I found Dominique (not too hard in a 10' x 6' space) and bought the book.

More people were improbably coming into the shop (proper Dingleites–arriving to a 6 p.m. event at 10 minutes to 7) and I thought I might attempt an exit, which was getting somewhat challenging as the latest arrivals were forcing me back down the long arm of the "L."  I inched determinedly to the door, spent a few moments negotiating with a woman in a long, black and white winter coat about where, exactly, she might go if I actually tried to open that door, and stepped back onto River Lane.

River Lane is also known as the Bothar an Phuca, or Pooka Lane. In the absolute darkness and quiet of a West Kerry winter night, the pooka seems viable.  I imagine it would come from the river side, from under the houses, slinking out, straightening itself, and shaking off the wet before fixing dark fairy eyes on me with nefarious purpose.  

Three people, laughing and talking, turned into the lane in front of me, heading for the launch (I nearly went back with them to see how they were going to fit).  Any pooka behind me retreated back under the bridge. And I walked away from another quirky moment of beauty in my adopted home town, on a very dark winter night, heading toward Main Street via Dykegate Lane.