history of Clare Pubs
Pubs have been part of the Irish scenery since the invasion
of the Normans, providing food and drink to "bona fide"
travellers and locals alike. Tony Mulvey, chief reporter,
examines a new book which traces the ups and downs of the
licensed trade in Ireland and looks at the history of a
number of family-run businesses in Clare.
MUCH has been said and written about Irish pubs. They are
world famous, central to a host of activities taking place
in cities, towns and villages in Ireland, and they are also
playing their role promoting this country as a holiday destination.
There has not been too much comment, whoever, on how and
where it all started and to find out one has to go back
as far as 1066.
It was not until after that year and the arrival of the
Normans that tavern and inns began to be established in
Ireland. The countrys first taverns were in the Norman
strongholds in Leinster and the Pale, and they were set
up as wine importation businesses where the primary business
was in selling wine to stock the cellars of the local nobility.
Gradually these became places of social interaction and
discourse, with food as well as drink available.
How the trade developed from there is unearthed in a treasure
trove of facts, figures and fokelores relating to the major
developments in the history of the pub from the Iron Age
to the present day.
They are all contained in The Story of the Irish Pub:
an Intoxicating History of the Licensed Trade in Ireland,
the first published social history of the trade in intoxicating
liquors in the country.
The 300-page book includes maps of each province to help
readers locate the individual pubs that have been profiled
by the author, Cian Molloy, a journalist specialising in
The book also features the individual stories of over 100
pubs that have been in the same family for over a century.
The Clare pubs featured are Bohans (Feakle), Brownes
(Parteen), Donnellons (Kilkishen), Powers (Clarecastle)
and the Roadside Tavern (Lisdoonvarna).
Before 1916, Irish pubs closed 25 minutes and 21 seconds
later than pubs in England, Scotland and Wales because Ireland
was on Dublin Mean Time.
Before the arrival of supermarkets, the Irish Licensed trade
sold 95 percent of all foodstuffs and consumable household
requisites used in the country.
Before 1960, St Patricks Day in Ireland was a dry
day when all pubs were closed as in the practice on
Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Today there are just under 13,000 fully licensed premises
in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, of which
less than 200 are reckoned to be in the same family for
over a century.
The first statute to control the number of pubs in Ireland
was enacted in 1635 by which time Dublin was reckoned to
have some 4,000 families an 1,180 public house, most selling
their own home brew.
In 1787, Arthur Guinness became the first Irish brewer to
produce porter, with other Irish brewers following suit.
The story of large scale industrial brewers like Guinness
is central to the history of licensing in Ireland from the
mid 18th century onwards. The increased duties on spirits
due to the Gin Acts of 1744 and 1751 led to increased beer
consumption within the licensed trade but it also led to
a boom in the unlicensed trade in whiskey, described as
poteen, from the 18th century onwards.
Such was the level of competition between the brewers in
the 19th century that appeals to sectarian sympathies and
fears were made to licensees an drinkers.
In the 1920s, Guinness own sales representative
in Cork complained that sales there were suffering because
priests were advising people to drink Murphys because
it was a Catholic porter.
One brewery which benefited from being identified with Catholicism
was the OConnell Brewery founded in 1832 by Daniel
OConnell, son of the Liberator, who had £2,000
invested in the enterprise.
The story of the Irish pubs deals at length with the infamous
bona fide travellers, who, under the Licensing
Act of 1872, were served outside of normal trading hours.
According to the rules, to qualify for late night or all
day drinking on a sunday in Ireland and Great Britain, one
is require to have travelled in good faith for
a distance of three miles, by public thoroughfare, from
the place they spent the night.
Travelling in good faith meant that you could not be travelling
for the purpose of taking refreshment, but you could
be one who goes into an inn for refreshment in the
course of a journey, whether of business or pleasure.
While people posing as travellers were regularly charged
and prosecuted, it was difficult to prosecute licensees
who had a handy escape clause in the law.
To find the publican guilty, the prosecution had to prove
that the licensee did not honestly believe that
his customer was a bona fide traveller when serving outside
of normal opening hours.
However, with the growth in the use of the motorcar, all
night drinking got out of hand and the law was changed in
1943 so that bona fide travellers could not be served between
midnight and 6.a.m., and in 1953 the concept of bona fide
travellers in pub licensing law was abolished.
A reference is also made to the price of the pint and shortly
after national independence, Irish politicians started to
complain about the price.
In the list of family owned pubs in Munster, Bohans
of Feakle is the first Clare one mentioned.
It was opened in the 1890s by Michael and Ann Fitzgerald
who opened a grocery, bar and tailors shop. At that time
the Land War was at its height in Clare, and seven miles
from Feakle, the infamous Bodyke Evictions took place in
In troubled times the Fitzgeralds were fortunate to remain
in business. The Fitzgeralds had three children but two
of the sons, like their father, died of arthritic fever
and in 1927 the pub was inherited by their daughter, Bridget.
In 1932 Bridget married Michael Bohan but she remained a
licensee because of Michaels job.
He was a policeman and was one of the first recruits to
join the Garda Siochána. The licensing laws forbade
Garda Bohan from being on the premises while on duty and
when he married he was transferred from Feakle to Ennis.
For the next 22 years, until his retirement in 1954, Garda
Bohan lived permanently in Ennis and cycled 18 miles home
once a month to spend the night with his wife and family.
Following his retirement at the age of 52, Michael ran the
pub with his wife. Michael died in 1972 and a son, Seamus,
became more directly involved in the business.
Following his mothers death in 1980, Seamus became
the licensee. He has carried out many improvements and extensions
and pride of place in the pub is given to a hurley autographed
by members of the Clare team which won a number of National
League titles when managed between 1973 and 1980 by Fr.
Harry Bohan, Seamuss brother.
Brownes of Parteen was founded at the end of the 19th
century by Delia Browne, grandmother of the present licensee,
Gerard Browne who reckons that the pub was established about
Being located three and a half miles from Limerick, the
pub benefited from the bona fide trade.
During one of De Valera's famous general election campaigns
in Clare, the Fianna Fáil leader called to the pub
for an election rally. After his speech he bought a drink
for every man in the pub.
However, he overlooked paying the bill and the amount, 3/6d,
remains outstanding in Brownes old accountancy books.
During the 1920s the pub experienced a boom trade with the
building of the hydroelectric scheme at Ardnacrusha.
Between 1925 and 1929 more than 5,000 labourers and engineers
were employed on the Shannon scheme.
Following Delias death in 1929, her son John became
licensee. His brother-in-law, James Gleeson, had been killed
in the Meelick Ambush during the War of Independence.
Johns son, Gerard, has been licensee since 1968. He
has extended the pub but closed the grocery counter.
Brother and sister, Patrick and Nancy Donnellon run the
well known Donnellons pub in Kilkishen.
The pub was originally founded as a licensed grocery by
their grandfather, Patrick Donnellon. He was the son of
a tenant farmer but they were evicted from their small holding
in Classduff, two miles from Kilkishen in the 1850s.
However, the family survived and thrived and by 1870, when
Patrick married Kate Corbett from Scariff, he was able to
describe himself as a publican on his marriage certificate.
In 1922 the pub passed on to Patricks son, John Donnellon,
when he married Ellen Flannery. They built up the business
and added a bakery to the grocery.
During the war of Independence, the pub was ransacked by
British troops who took all the spirit bottles from the
back of the bar. However, the Donnellons had the last laugh
as the brandy and whiskey bottles contained only coloured
The well known Clarecastle premises owned by the Powers
has been in the family since May 30, 1872, when the license
was transferred from Daniel OBrien to a Patrick Power,
a farmer from Ballyea. However, the license had been in
existence since before 1866 as it was acquired by OBrien
by transfer in 1866.
As well as being a publican, Patrick Power, who was born
in 1848, imported coal from Whitehaven and exported timber
from forests in East Clare.
He also ran a farm and had an interest local politics, particularly
the Land League. In 1885, his business faced a new challenge,
not from the police but from the church. Two local priests
formed a Temperance Society in Clarecastle which enlisted
over 180 members at its first meeting.
However Patrick and his business survived this challenge.
Patrick died in 1832, when he was aged 83, and the pub was
managed by his wife Maria until 1945 when she passed it
over to her son. Bernard Power and his wife, Margaret née
At that time where they had already ended the grocery side
of the business, Powers also removed themselves from the
coal trade in the late 1960s. In 1968, the pub was extended
and in 1975 a lounge was added. Bernard died in 1978 and
Margaret ran business until she retired in 1992, handing
it over to one of one of their sons, John, who now runs
it with his wife, Eilish.
The Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna is another famous Clare
pub. It sprung up with Lisdoonvarna in the mid 19th century.
The pub was established by a local landlord, Pierce Creagh.
It was bought in 1893 by Christopher Curtin, a baker by
trade. He married Nora and they expanded the business to
include a bakery. The arrival of the West Clare Railway
heralded a new era for Lisdoonvarna as a holiday destination
and it also allowed the Curtins to develop a sideline as
wholesale butter merchants. Peter Curtin, the man now in
charge, refers to one incident when the Local Defence Forces
were stationed nearby on coastal duty during World War Two.
The troops used to take advantage of the fact that Christopher
Curtin started work at two in the morning.
On one particularly bad night two soldiers came into the
premises and hid their guns and ammunition in the unlit
oven and started drinking.
When Christopher lit the oven without checking what was
inside, there was a big noise and the place was nearly destroyed.
Nora and Christopher ran the business together until 1944
when they handed it over to the youngest son, John, and
his newly wed wife, the former Mary Monahan from Clonroad,
They had difficult times ahead with the post war depressions
years. Nevertheless, the business survived and Peter says
that Roadside is now the only true pub in Lisdoonvarna,
the rest are hotels and lounge bars. Lisdoonvarna, became
a venue for traditional music in the 1970s and some
well known names entertained the patrons of the Roadside,
including Christy Moore, Davy Spillane, Tommy Peoples, the
Fureys and Sharon Shannon.
Peters father died a good many years ago and his mother
died in more recent times. As well as the pub, now extended,
Peter runs the nearby Burren Smokehouse. One of the best
known family owned pubs of Ulster, Blakes of the Hollow
in Enniskillen, has ties with County Clare.
The pub has been in the Blake family since 1887 when Richard
Herbert, a cousin of Patrick Blake, founded it. Richard
was grandfather of Enniskillen-born Dick Herbert, the Shannon
Aer Rianta electrician who lives in Pine Grove, Ennis. His
wife is the former Nuala Smith from the Market, Ennis.
Blakes of the Hollow - it nestles in the hollow of
Church Street - is one of the most celebrated pubs in Northern
Irelands partly because it retains most of its original
and distinctive architectural features.
For generations, the pub has been noted for the quality
of its wines, sherries and whiskies and the family has continued
its tradition of whiskey bonding.
Courtesy of the Clare Champion