Herlihy’s Bar Closure – Another Sad Chapter in the Story of Rural Ireland

Friends and family gathered at Herlihy’s Bar in Farranfore on the occasion of Nollaig Na mBan on Friday night to witness the final curtain call on the village’s oldest business.

It fell to Marie O’Sullivan to take the tough decision to close yet another of Kerry’s most historic public houses.

It is no disrespect to any man who ever stood behind the counter in Herlihy’s Bar in Farranfore, but it was its women who put their stamp and imposed their legacies on the place.

Today, you will still hear people calling the place after Maire O’Sullivan’s mother, as in: Maura Herlihy’s.

Cards on the Table

Below, Marie puts her cards firmly on the table and points to the onslaught of government legislation which has left her and many like her with little or no other viable option.

An archaeologist by profession, an historian by instinct, Marie reflected on the establishment of the village of Farranfore and its evolution from a coach-road turnpike to the traffic-busy thoroughfare it has become.

Marie sat down at the weekend and wrote the following account of life at the village cross:

The Pike and the Gatekeeper

“The nucleus of the village of Farranfore was established around the crossroads in the early19th century, after the construction of the mail coach road from Cork to Tralee in 1812.

This was a toll road, interspersed with turnpikes or toll gates, where travellers paid a toll, which contributed to the upkeep of the road.

One such turnpike was situated at the intersection of the Tralee- Killarney-Currow-Firies junction The ‘Pike’ and the gate-keeper for the turnpike lived in a house, on the site occupied now occupied by Herlihy’s Bar.

By the 1830s John Smith was gatekeeper and it is probable that he also ran a coaching inn, where refreshments were served to those travelling through the village on Bianconi’s Coaches – so named after Charles Bianconi the founder of public transportation in Ireland.

Females at the Helm

By 1852 the head of the household was his wife Sara. Here began a tradition of ‘females at the helm’ which has continued almost uninterruptedly down to the present day.

Sara was succeeded by her daughter, also named Sara, who married Daniel Donnelly the village’s first postmaster.

The first village post office, was also accommodated in the house at the crossroads. In 1908 Mary ‘Patsy’ Sullivan bought the lease on the pub from Daniel Donnelly.

In 1912, Minnie Collins – the grand-aunt of the current owner – and her husband moved into the premises. There began a 104 year history and ownership by the Collins/Herlihy/O’Sullivan family. Minnie died in 1925, when her sister Kathleen and husband Richard Herlihy moved to Farranfore. Kathleen was the licensee from 1925-1962, when she was succeeded by her daughter Maura Herlihy O’Sullivan (wife of Pat Sullivan) 1962-2006, who was succeeded by her daughter Marie O’Sullivan 2006-date.

Mná Na hÉireann

This short history goes to prove that Mna na hEireann, were alive and well in Farranfore, long before Mary Robinson coined the phrase.

Over the intervening years since 1904, the family, not unlike every other family, has sustained many trials and tribulations, the most significant of which was the accidental burning of the original thatched building in 1930.

Kathleen and her husband Richard, together with their daughters Maura, then just four and Gabie an infant of a little more than a year found themselves homeless.

They procured temporary and very basic accommodation adjacent to the shell of the uninsured pub and set about rebuilding their lives.

Lifelong Friendships

Family tradition has it that they continued to trade in the ruin whilst the present building was being constructed in front of the original thatched pub.

The stone mason was a local man Jerh Howard and he was tended by Kathleen and Richie. Times were incredibly difficult but there was a great sense of community around the cross.

Lifelong friendships, which have transcended generations were formed, particularly with the Sheehan family.”

A Country Pub in the 1960s

On Friday night, Marie reminisced on what it was like to grow up behind the counter of a country pub in the 1960s.

She remembered how innovative her parents were in setting up an overnight stop for Slattery’s Horse Drawn Caravans, which brought up to 40 Europeans at a time to the village, providing a much-needed economic boost for the village businesses.

She also recollected how the pub trade has changed, stating that in the 1960s it was not at all uncommon to have a full-blown session going on in a packed bar in the middle of the day, with local man Pat Myers playing the box and a set being danced with only one woman participating – her mother Maura.

Repertoire of Songs

Marie also remembered the many unique customers of that period or ‘characters’ as they were known: The Myers brothers Pat and Con – and Pat in particular with his unique repertoire of songs. There was: Eugie Shea, Denis Cronin, Jerry Brosnan, Dan Moriarty and Bill Piggott to name but a few.

She also remembered the other Myers brother Eddie and his very elegant wife Kathleen, mother of 11 children, who was only ever seen on the way home from a funeral, as generally speaking in those days women did not frequent pubs.

Marie finally reflected on her own period as what she would term an accidental publican! Over her ten-year period in the trade, Marie has striven to recreate, what she grew up with in terms of community and business.

Farranfore Development Association

In the early years she was a founder member of the Farranfore Development Association and currently serves on the Board of Management of Knockaderry National School in the village.

On Friday night, she stated that she has lost track of the number of cultural and community events which the premises has hosted in the past 10 years.

However, for her the most memorable are the Crossroads Dancing of the August weekend 2010, Maura’s Rambling House, which ran for five very successfull years, the visit of TG4 to Farranfore as part of the East Kerry Roots Festival/Brosnan Clan Gathering of 2013, the Easter Bonnet Competition of Easter 2012, the many Ladies Clothes Swap Parties for various charities, the barbecue where 70 people were fed and danced in the rain in 2010 and the many nights with Seanachai Ray O’Sullivan.

Happy Customers

She also confessed somewhat sheepishly, that her model for running a business was unlikely to be found in any textbook, that it was never about money and in fact in 10 years she had never drawn a salary, her interests lying exclusively in happy customers and a united community.

In the final analysis Marie concludes that many issues have contributed to the demise of the rural pub. She points to the smoking ban, drink-driving legislation and low-cost drink in off-licenses, together with a complete change in the cultural fabric of Irish society.

She views Farranfore, like every other rural village, as a microcosm of the ills which currently pervade Irish society.

Writing on the Wall

“The village has everything bar a population. It has a very active tidy towns group, which is striving to improve its visual appearance. Yet, on the other hand it does do not have a proper bus stop, public toilets, child care facilities or facilities for a rapidly ageing population. The numbers in the school are dropping and the oldest business in the village has just ceased trading.

It would appear that the writing is on the wall and the issues of rural Ireland need to be faced up to and addressed,” said Marie in conclusion. 

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