The Irish Pub, Turtle Bunbury & James Fennell (Thames & Hudson, 2008)


O’Shaughnessy’s – The Ivy House

Glin, Co. Limerick

There is a story about the Knights of Glin that during an assault on his castle by an English fleet, one of his sons was captured. A message was sent to the Knight stating that if he did not surrender, his son would be blasted from the ship’s canons against his castle walls. The Knight is said to have replied: ‘Fire away, there’s plenty more where he came from!’

Whatever became of the unfortunate son is unclear but it’s the sort of legend that must have appealed to Dody Meer when she came to roost in a pub by the walls of Glin Castle in 1952. Dody’s Hungarian homeland had been devastated by the loss of 71% of its territory in the wake of the Great War. By 1945, the country has been seized by Russian communists. For Dody’s father, Leo Meer, a banker and stockbroker in Budapest, the situation was now intolerable. In May 1939, he sent his daughter to holiday with friends in Essex, where she stayed until after the war. As well as banking, Leo was also a brilliant musician, playing viola with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In later life, he would sit in the blue sitting room above O’Shaughnessy’s bar and practice for six hours straight.

In 1946, Dody visited her cousin and his wife Pixie in Surrey. Pixie was an O’Shaughnessy from a mysterious land called Limerick in the farthest reaches of Ireland. Her brother John was also present, a tall man and a Captain in the Irish army. Dody and the Captain exchanged words and smiles and fell in love. They were married in London in 1948.

The O’Shaughnessy’s descend from Sir Dermot O’Shaughnessy, a warrior from Gort in County Galway who was knighted during the reign of Henry VIII. A branch have been in Glin since 1692 when, in the aftermath of the Treaty of Limerick, Thomas O’Shaughnessy, a great-grandson of Sir Dermot, moved south from Gort and crossed the Shannon. In the late 19th century, ‘Old Pat’ O’Shaughnessy, second cousin of the aforementioned Captain, aquired a single-storey building on the Market Square in Glin. As was customary at the time, he ran the business as a grocer, hardware store, building supplier and public house. Pat ran the business with his only son Maurice, a haemophiliac. After the latter’s premature death, Pat engaged his cousin Mossy as a hand. In his will, Old Pat left young Mossy both his pub and some considerable debts.

Mossy was the second son of ‘Big Maurice’ O’Shaughnessy (1878 – 1943) by his wife Margaret Colbert. Margaret was a first cousin of Captain Con Colbert who commanded the rebels at the Jameson Distillery during the Easter Rising. Colbert was subsequently court-martialled and shot, declaring ‘Better a dead man, than a live coward’ shortly before the fatal guns fired. His death inevitably caused much unrest in Glin and the town expereinced its share of trouble in the ensuing war of independence.

In Mossy’s time, the pub was known as Ivy House after the green leaves creeping up its walls. A room to one side of the pub was sublet as an office to a traveling solicitor who came to Glin once a week to resolve local disputes. Mossy ran the pub until his preamture demise during a botched hispital operation in 1952. As he left no will, all his siblings had an equal claim. Ultimately they all signed their claim over to the youngest sibling, John, a serving officer in the Irish Army.

Captain John O’Shaughnessy returned from London in 1952; his wife and sons following later. It must have been an astonishing time for Dody to move from London to an isolated community in rural Ireland where transport was scarce and foreigners somewhat marveled at for their fancy notions of indoor toilets and such like.

Assisted by a German friend, she set up one of the first cottage industries in Ireland, teaching villagers the intricacies of basket-making and rush-ware. A tremendous comfort was a telephone in the house. Dody’s son Thomas O’Shaughnessy recalls an endless stream of farmers subsequently calling by en route to the creamery, asking him to dial ‘11’ to get the vet out for their sick animals.

By 1960, Dody’s keen Magyar tastes had deduced that the only hope for the somewhat drab interior of her husband’s pub lay in a complete revamp. The Captain was all in favour although, as Thomas points out, Dody was always close at hand ‘to keep him on the staright and narrow’. The Captain was universally loved as a fine gentlemen and a marvelous storyteller but questions were raised as to his aesthetic sensibilities.

Both the Captain and his father Maurice were Secretary and Chairman of the Glin Coursing Club. Coursing took place out ‘over the far famed Glin demesne’ with substantial stake money to be won. The pubs close affiliation with coursing is attested to by the greyhound resting above its entrance.

The Captain’s cousin Pat was one of the pub’s great characters. He tended to live in the kitchen and liked to put cubes of butter into his tea instead of milk. Indeed, he held court from an armchair carefully placed within a vast timber box formerly used for holding parts for Ford motorcars. He also frequently slept there.

After Pat’s demise, the genius of a foreign eye enabled Dody to convert the kitchen into a delightful room where musical sessions now take place around the nimble Monington & Weston piano. The mighty Liscannor flagstone floors, salvaged from a catholic church in Old Pat’s time, were given a lift when the surrounding walls were painted in bright and cheerful colours. A traditional clevvy is now laden with cups and pretty vases of wildflowers and miscellaneous oddities. Drinkers recline in a variety of country chairs, armchairs to sticklebacks, resting their drinks on simple kitchen tables. Beautifully produced greyhound posters unfurl alongside shelves stacked with ledger books and fifteen volumes of Greyhound Stud Books. A ceiling beam is festooned with a bee helmet, a scythe, a gas lamp, a garland of party balloons, a stray boot made at the old Christian Brother industrial school in Glin. Framed alongside a butter churn and a stuffed otter are photographs of Con Colbert and pictures of Robert Emmet and Daniel O’Connell. A poster relates the tolls and charges for bringing goods to market in Glin during Old Pat’s day.

Above the hearth, is a traveling priests altar from penal times, complete with anointment water, crucifix, holy water spoon and embroidered cloth. Somehow this remarkable piece made it to New York where it was discovered by Thomas’s brother Jancsi and brought home again. ‘I used to work in a museum in London’, laughs Thomas’s wife Val. ‘And now I’m living in one’.

Thomas and Val took on the family pub in 2002. They live in a nearby house with two teenage sons. Thomas, half Magyar, half Limerick, has a full time job with an independent oil and chemical storage company in Foynes. He only opens the pub on Friday evenings, at weekends and on certain mornings. He has no intention of selling. ‘O’Shaughnessy was the name above the bar when I got it. And it’ll be the name above it when I go’, says he. ‘That’s all I can do’.

1. The Concept.
2. On the Road.
3. The Chosen Pubs.
4. Conclusions.
5. Personal Qualifications.
6. A History of the Irish Pub.
7. Acknowledgments.
8. Media Coverage.
9. Bibliography.
10. Places to Stay.
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