Friday 23 February 2018

Tales of timeless taverns and popular pubs

'Not just men of might but also maestros of music frequented the city's pubs'
'Not just men of might but also maestros of music frequented the city's pubs'

Fiona O'Connell

I'm always sorry to finish a good book - and even sorrier to see a shop that sells them shutting down. So I'm delighted that the bookshop in this country town, which was floored by the winter floods, has just turned over a new leaf in a new premises.

At least for the past few weeks, a 20-minute drive meant I could browse bookshops in the nearby city. Which is where I came across Kilkenny Pubs and Bars by John Fitzgerald (also available as an eBook from Amazon). It is packed with enthralling tales of taverns new and old in the Marble City - such as the wonderfully named 'Hole in the Wall'. Regulars of this 16th Century drinking den have included the Duke of Wellington. The wooden counter where the Iron Duke pondered weighty matters is still available for lifting liquid weights, thanks to the restoration work carried out by the cardiologist who bought the bar. So whatever about an apple a day keeping the doctor away, here's a cosy corner where one will administer a drop of the hard stuff instead.

Not just men of might but also maestros of music frequented the city's pubs. Such as Thomas Moore, composer of Moore's Melodies and much loved songs like The Last Rose of Summer. Moore fell in love with young English actress Bessie Dyke when they performed together at the nearby theatre in 1808. They conducted their whirlwind romance in another watering hole, where Moore soon proposed marriage.

Moore was so relieved when his English rose answered in the affirmative that he bought drinks for all his fellow revellers and also gave a free recital. The pub still has a room dedicated to the musician's life and work, while a stone plaque on the floor marks the spot where he popped the question.

This has prompted many love-struck men to follow suit - though the less musical among them might be wise not to break into song until they've actually sealed the matrimonial deal.

Indeed, a few centuries ago might have seen their tone-deaf delight land them in what is now another popular pub, had the much-feared town sergeant heard their off-key wooing, for it was originally built to serve as the city jail in the 16th Century. This man of no half measures - rather than double ones - also banished the culprit from the city forever upon release.

Fast forward to modern times, when folk often voluntarily vamoose from rural parts to serve sauce to all and sundry in the biggest smoke of them all. As did one local, who worked as a barman in Dublin's famous Bailey for several years.

He remembers the legendary poet, Paddy Kavanagh, who was a regular there, and his less than pleasing habit of spitting in the pint of anyone who refused to buy him one too.

Try that in one of this country town's pubs and they'll likely throw the book at you!

Sunday Independent

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