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Raise the bar

I've been a publican for five years, since I married my husband Todd.

His family has owned Campbell's in Ballinlough, Co Roscommon for decades, but there hadn't been a woman behind the bar since 1966, when Todd's mother passed away. I start the day by pulling a drop off all the kegs, so that the beer or lager, which has been sitting in the lines all night, comes out and the first customer gets a fresh pint.

I would then check the optics to make sure all the bottles are full, or, if not, that the back-up bottle is ready and waiting. And, of course, there's a quick check of electrical switches for the glass washer, ice machine, keg coolers and the fridge. Then there's the loos and bulbs check.

I came from a life as a theatrical agent in Dublin and London, so moving to a small, rural community was quite a change. Being married to a publican placed me at the very heart of things.

The pub is still very much part of country life and much of our business is determined by the seasons. In May and June, we get all the farmers in from saving the turf. It's thirsty work. After that, in July, they come in after silage making.

August is pilgrimage season to Knock and many people do a 30-mile walk each way for 6am Mass. They often call in on the way back for refreshment. The shooting season will start on November 1 and we get up to 40 members of the local gun club in the evenings with as many dead pheasants, all displayed on a board on the pool table. The judging gets very competitive.


We open at 3pm most days but early in the week is quiet. We have the local Ladies' Bridge Club on Tuesdays for a sedate start. There's a long-standing card game in neighbouring Granlahan on Wednesdays, and a lot of our regulars go to that. On Sundays, we have our own card game, 25s. It has been running for more than 20 years and the standard is pretty high. It's taken very seriously in the locality. Regular events like this are very important to the community.

Last Monday, the Vintners' Federation held one of their monthly meetings in Castlerea. This is an important forum for setting prices and lobbying on issues like the VAT rate. It also gives you a good feel for how publicans are faring in the downturn.

We have music nights on Saturdays, but it's not as busy as it used to be. In the '90s, Campbell's had 42 consecutive nights of music in high summer. Visitors and young emigrants visiting family gave the town a party atmosphere. Irish country-and-western music is still the stock favourite, as people can waltz and jive. I learned quickly that nobody really goes out in Ballinlough before 10pm.

There'll always be a group of regulars, mainly farmers, sitting in what we affectionately call Liar's Corner, on account of the exaggerated tales told. They have a good support structure going and if one was missing for a couple of days, they would definitely have someone around to check up on them.

The local GAA and soccer clubs hold annual race nights, which are massive events for the pub. Every week, one of the clubs will have a draw, where prizes can get as high as €10,000. Sometimes, the prize is a lamb or a bullock, and the poor animal is paraded through the premises. That took a while for the city girl to get used to!