When Irish Eyes Are Glued to the Screen
The Claddagh Irish Pub and Grill, normally so jolly, was subdued when I visited one recent Saturday. Just before I got there, this watering hole popular with fans of British soccer had been rocked by bad news: The game they'd come to watch on the pub's big screen had been "canceled due to rain" -- the four most terrifying words in the English language. Instead, this expatriate crowd -- some Irish, some English, and a smattering of Scots -- had to settle for a match most of them had seen two weeks earlier. One man tried to make the best of it. "It wasn't a bad game," he said. "I don't mind watching it again."

Most of the others watched, too -- but only after bolstering their spirits with pints of Guinness and pints of Harp. Some, though -- those for whom the news had been a special shock -- needed stronger medicine and sought solace in the Claddagh's all-day Irish breakfast.

For people who take their soccer seriously, they were oddly sedate, murmuring when one team broke through the other's defenses, emitting the occasional "aahh" when a penalty was called, and getting to their feet and shaking hands -- no high-fives here -- when someone scored a goal.

At halftime, there was lots of talk of goal ratios and such British soccer clubs as Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Leeds United, Queen's Park Rangers, Tottenham Hot Spurs. How exotic they sounded.

The Claddagh has its drawbacks. My table had a bad leg and rocked so furiously, an entire Houston Chronicle was needed to bring it to a halt. And the place is dark -- so much so, you need a miner's helmet just to read the menu. But who could dislike it? Happy hour here begins at 10:30 in the morning and finishes eight and a half hours later.

The pub is named both for a fishing village in the west of Ireland and the Claddagh ring, whose salient feature is a heart tightly clasped in two hands. No, it doesn't represent Dr. DeBakey about to perform a transplant. The heart symbolizes love, and the hands, friendship. Much meaning attaches to how the ring is worn: turned inward if you're romantically involved (or, as the Irish put it, "spoken for"); worn outward if you're unattached (or "have a free leg").

-- Eric Lawlor

The Claddagh Irish Pub and Grill, 5757 Westheimer, 789-4858.


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