Tuesday 17 September 2019

Last orders for the Bog Hotel owner: Patsy Brogan's death closes chapter in illustrious history of one of Ireland's most celebrated shebeens

The passing of Patsy Brogan in recent days has closed a chapter in the illustrious history of one of Ireland's most celebrated shebeens, writes Kim Bielenberg

Closing time: Patsy Brogan with his partner Daria Weiske at the 'Bog Hotel' near Frosses, Co Donegal in 2010. Photo: Brian Farrell
Closing time: Patsy Brogan with his partner Daria Weiske at the 'Bog Hotel' near Frosses, Co Donegal in 2010. Photo: Brian Farrell
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

In terms of luxury, Patsy Brogan's shed in the Bluestack Mountains of Donegal would probably not give the Shelbourne Hotel or Adare Manor a run for their money.

There were clapped out cars in the garden, alongside an old caravan, the entrails of a lorry - and a redundant bathtub sat in the yard.

In truth, it was not the sort of place where one would want to stay the night - but 10 years ago, the building that became known as the "Bog Hotel" created international headlines.

Its unconventional owner, the seventysomething Patsy Brogan and his much younger Polish partner Daria Weiske became overnight celebrities, when it appeared that he was running an illicit pub in the middle of the countryside.

Inside the shed there were shelves of drinks and glasses, and beer pumps, and stools next to a bar, but Patsy maintained until his dying day that it was all for his personal use and that of his friends.

When Patrick James Brogan died in recent days in Donegal Community Hospital at the age of 82, it seemed to close a chapter in the illustrious history of one of Ireland's most celebrated shebeens.

Patsy had recently expressed a rather forlorn hope that his Bog Hotel, famed the world over, would be accorded five-star status and have its own helicopter pad, but he never lived to see his wish fulfilled.

A local priest, Fr Morty O'Shea, told Review that there was a healthy attendance of family and friends at the Requiem Mass at the Church of the Blessed Virgin in Frosses.

Fr O'Shea, who is new to the parish, said: "I didn't know the greater narrative of his life until the very end."

The priest said during the funeral Mass: "Some people have asked whether we are going to see a book or a movie at some stage."

One of Patsy's friends, Laurence McManus from Pettigo, told Review: "I saw him recently in Aldi and he was in good spirits. He was always a good laugh. He was his own man, but in Ireland you can't be your own man."

McManus said amenities such as the Bog Hotel were sorely needed in the countryside. Even though he does not drink himself, he had brought a group of visiting Americans there and they had enjoyed themselves immensely.

The unlicensed establishment had been a closely guarded secret among the cognoscenti of the Bluestack Mountains until 2008 when gardaí launched an investigation into the death of a local man who had visited the establishment a few hours before after a night out in Mountcharles.

Detectives talked to Brogan about the young man's visit to the Bog Hotel. And they were reported at the time to be satisfied the establishment was not directly linked to his death.

But the tragedy catapulted the unlicenced bar into the limelight.

When gardaí sought out Patsy Brogan, they came across the building that to all intents and purposes seemed liked a pub. Patsy appeared to be running the bar with Weiske, who was 28 at the time.

Images of the unlikely pair featured in newspapers across the world along with photos of the Bog Hotel, which included the beer pumps, spirit bottles, a stage and a dancefloor.

Despite the unwelcome attention of An Garda Síochána, Brogan fervently rejected claims he was running a pub.

He said he had converted the shed purely for the amusement of his friends and acquaintances. "If people want to leave money, that's fine - if they don't, that's fine as well. My house is a ceili house, not a shebeen," he told news agencies.

Brogan was certainly a controversial figure in the area, and activities in the Bog Hotel were not always welcomed locally.

Thomas Pringle, who was a county councillor when the bar came to national attention a ­decade ago, claimed at the time that alcohol was being served to underage teenagers, but Brogan denied that young people ever drank there. He also denied that people were charged for drink and he challenged Pringle to name names.

Sting operation

Weiske backed him up: "I have served drink there and have not asked anybody to pay."

Donegal County Council brought an action against Brogan in 2010 under planning regulations, on the grounds of change of use.

But Donegal District Court Judge Kevin Kilrane acquitted him and said there was no evidence anybody was being charged money at the bar.

The judge said the shed had been converted to look like a bar and lounge, and added: "He just might like the idea of looking at it as a bar and lounge, many people have bars with bar stools in the basements of their homes.

"What law is there that he can't drink with his family in the shed?" he added.

In the following year, the Bog Hotel became the target for a sting operation.

An undercover garda bought five drinks on the premises before posing for pictures with Patsy, and he again faced prosecution.

Patsy Brogan served the drinks to Garda Patrick Battles, and the undercover officer drank white wine and a bottle of beer.

As he left the premises, the garda officer said he left €25 on the counter and asked if that covered his bill. "Patsy said 'that's fine'," the garda said. Patsy was fined just €50.

Outside the court, he said: "I have a traditional ceili house, that's all. It's somewhere for friends and strangers to call in for a chat and a wee drink.''

After all the wee drinks at the Bog Hotel, and Patsy Brogan in his grave, it now seems to be closing time.

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