A small pub with a big personality

JM Fitzgerald's - or 'John Mike's' - nominated for Bar of the Year prize

Tadhg Evans

They say good things come in small packages, and that saying holds true for JM Fitzgerald's Bar - or John Mike's - in Abbeyfeale.

It's by no means a huge place - George Browne of John Mike's reckons it'd be near full with 20 or 30 visitors - but there's often a lot to be said for that, and the judges behind the Southern Comfort Bar of the Year Awards were sufficiently impressed to nominate it for the 2019 Munster People's Choice Award.

"It's a real old-style bar," George told The Kerryman, "but there's something unique about that. If you took seven or eight steps, you'd be into the kitchen area of the bar!

"The judges - a man and a woman - came around about two months ago. They came in and had their mineral and, I think, a glass of beer. 

"We were delighted when we heard after that we were up for an award. There's a gang of seven of us going to head up to Dublin to find out if we've won," George added.

With voting over, the day of reckoning for JM Fitzgerald's is Monday, August 19. 

The public has been voting since the nominations were chosen, and all roads now lead to the Clayton Hotel, Burlington Road, where the winners will be announced on Monday. The bar's owner, John Mike, lives next door, and George's family is by now synonymous with the bar, and well-versed in its rich history.

George's son, John, explained that the Church Street premises is a mainstay of Abbeyfeale - and he reckons its unique kitchen area had a lot to do with securing a nomination.

"Dad runs the bar with the help of my mother, Margaret, and sister, Norma. At times, myself and my siblings - Karen, Robert and Georgina - help out, when we are around.

"Jack and Nora Fitzgerald purchased the bar back in 1941, 78 years ago. Prior to this, the bar was owned by Nell Stack, who herself inherited it from her aunt. 

"In 1971, Jack and Nora Fitzgerald passed the bar onto their son, John Mike, and the bar is referred to as John Mike's nowadays.

"The kitchen area of the bar today was private up until 1983. Nora Fitzgerald, John Mike's mother, was an extremely caring woman who was known to have brought those who had a 'big small one' too many into what was then the kitchen of her family home, to feed them and bring them round again.

"This kitchen finally became part of the bar in 1983, when Jack, Nora and John Mike moved into their new home next door. 

"Last year, we named the 'kitchen' in Jack and Nora's memory. It's one of the most enjoyable areas in the bar and is often the location of great sing-song or trad session".