I’d like to see it succeed for my grandfather and father...
Tom Quane is a man with a sense of history on his side. The Blennerville publican maintains a strong link between a popular family pub and an even more popular village. It's a story stretching back over 100 years, and Tom is proud to be the third generation Quane serving pints after his grandfather and father.
The dictionary defines 'Skelper' as meaning 'something large', which is about right given the late Tom Quane was larger than life with a penchant for stories, hurling and greyhounds. In 2009 Tom decided to name the pub 'Skelpers' in honour of his grandfather. But Tom's aunt, Mary; and his parents, Johnny and Shirley, more than pitched in to create the pub's special atmosphere for over 40 years.
"I suppose in essence the pub got its character from the people over the years. I'd like to think that feeling lives on in the walls of the pub. The sense of fun created by so many still breathes in these walls," Tom says.
The Quane link with Blennerville starts in the early 1900s when Tom (Skelper) married Nora Gleasure, who was the original owner of the pub. Following Nora's death, Tom remarried to Margaret and they ran the pub until their children, Noreen, Mary and the late Johnny (Tom Jnr's father) took over in 1950.
Today Tom and his wife, Catherine, run the family pub, which remains a focal point in the village. Anyone who runs a rural pub won't need reminding of the economic challenges involved. Tom also runs a milk delivery business and a postal-collection service, and when he amalgamates the three, it provides him a living. Nostalgia and family tradition don't pay the bills, but they can still be powerful motivators.
"I absolutely love it. I started pulling pints when I was nine years old standing on a box. It's part of my routine now. As I've grown older, I've grown to appreciate it. It's not an easy life but I'm used to it and it becomes part of you. I was born into it. We're very conscious of the history and the part the pub has played in village life. It's a pub since the 1860s when it was owned by the Chute Blennerhassetts."
A pint and a singsong has been a feature of Quanes for decades, something Tom takes great delight in. Ronnie Drew and The Dubliners, Ned Kelliher, Brendan Grace, Jim McCann and Red Hurley have all frequented the bar in the past.
Fishing, football, greyhounds and horse racing are debated at length, while the characters - past and present - equally endure with names such as Pa Joe Hanlon, 'The Duke' Myers, Brendan Breen, Toss Cournane and Tommy Houlihan recited like a poem by Tom; 'they're an extension of the Quane family', he says.
"I was reared listening to them. Music is a huge part of life in the pub and hearing these guys singing songs - some of them only bits of songs - was something. It created its own element of grandeur, and I've grown to appreciate it."
Even though Blennerville today belies the fact it was once the thriving port of Tralee, it still exudes charm. But this hasn't prevented locals from wanting more for their village.
"Maybe if the Jennie (Johnston) hadn't left it would have enhanced Blennerville. There are two pubs and a restaurant in Blennerville at the moment, but I can visualise a time when there might be one, or even none. It suits all of us when things are going well as there is a spin-off trade. There is a lot of old buildings lying idle at the moment that should be revived. Who knows, maybe down the line it will happen."
You don't need a Harvard degree to pick up on Tom's pride in the name above the door. Keeping the family business above water is important when one factors in a family's blood, sweat and tears over many decades.
"I have a huge sense of pride in my father and grandfather's involvement. I learned everything from my father. He was only 50 when he died, so I took on the running of the pub. I'd like to see it succeed for him and for everything he gave for it. That's a huge part of it for me because he tried hard over the years. He had good times and bad times."
Lastly, Catherine is a strong presence behind the scenes adding her own touch to the bar. Tom lets me know in no uncertain terms that Catherine's input is vital to the pub. Even Tom's daughter, Clodagh, who works as an audiologist, still comes in to help out behind the bar every now and then. It's a family thing for sure.
"Catherine is good at what she does and the bar would be lost without her touch. Anytime we have an event she will lay out the tables, add flowers and have everything perfect. It always looks well, and when she's not around for a few days you can see the difference," Tom says.
"We've earned a good name for serving a good pint and I want to keep that up. Who knows, one of the kids might take it over some day. I have a great connection with the locals especially St Pat's GAA, who are so important to the identity of Blennerville. But I owe it all to our loyal customers and a great wife and family for sticking by me."