Castlebar’s first Harp Bar
I REMEMBER once being in Thomas Durcan’s Harp Bar on Main Street, Castlebar, now long since closed, and which later became Homemaker Arcade, writes Tom Gillespie.
I recall the roasting hot coal fire that blazed on the right-hand wall outside the bar counter.
Durcan’s also ran a hardware, grocery, builders suppliers, furniture store and fuel suppliers. The coal used to heat the bar came from split bags in the fuel depot out in the large back yard that ran down to the town river.
I presume I was with my uncle Denny Fahey, a blacksmith, who had a forge at Newantrim Street. Denny enjoyed a bottle or two of Guinness but confined his drinking to north of the bridge on Bridge Street - particularly Linenhall Street (Lally’s, Healy’s, McNamara’s and Conway’s), Rush Street (Doyle’s, The Brown Cow and Tuohy’s) and New Antrim Street (Norrie’s, later to become the Welcome Inn Hotel).
However, to acquire the iron needed for his trade he had to place an order in Durcan’s and collect it the next day.
The iron and other goods arrived by train to Castlebar station and Tom Kelly from Balloor would collect it and transport it to Durcan’s in a horse and cart.
So it was on one of these excursions that we ended up in The Harp, which apart from the bar also stocked table wines, with a separate counter to serve homemade ice-cream and a large selection of sweets, chocolates and biscuits.
I can still see Durcan’s delivery truck driving in and out of the narrow archway (beside Leo Doherty’s) that led to the well-stocked yard.
The hardware shop was extensive and there was a unique cash control system in place.
This consisted of a wire pulley contraption that led to Ena Elliott of Chapel Street in the cash office.
The shop assistant, a Mr. Lavelle, who lived in a house where the entrance to Kennedy Gardens is now located, would insert the customer's cash and order docket in a wooden container that he screwed to an attachment on the wire circuit above him and pulled another wire to send it on its way to the cash office.
The customer’s change came back in reverse. All very modern and civilised.
Back to Rush Street. Today, Tom Tuohy’s is now ironically named The Harp.
In the early days of RTÉ television, enterprising publicans installed black-and-white TV sets in their premises to attract more customers. And so a set was erected above the counter in Tom Tuohy’s. Power to it was controlled by a meter into which a half-a-crown was inserted to get a few hours viewing.
But in keeping with the saying that the pub is a poor man’s university, customers concerned that viewing would not be interrupted came up with the notion that if they turned down the sound during the advertising breaks, they would save electricity.
Linenhall Street had up to 15 pubs at one stage - nearly every house on the street. Fair days were held in the county town and once a month, on a Saturday, sellers and buyers would gather at the Fairgreen - where Scoil Raifteirí is now located.
The Kenny family - John, Dennis, Henry and Maggie - ran a pub on Main Street (now The Oriental Chinese restaurant) and were licensed to operate a bar from a shed-like building on The Fairgreen where they sold bottles of beer and stout.
When dealing was done the jobbers would walk their purchased stock up to Linenhall and Newantrim Streets. Most of the pubs had large yards at the back and the cattle were marched through an archway or the front door and out the back where they were housed until their new owners decided to take them home.
Denny Fahey had an extensive yard and often obliged jobbers by allowing them keep their cattle there.
Often, if he was drinking in Conway’s on Linenhall Street, he had direct access to his property by going out the back of the pub and over the fence.
This proved a boon as the jobbers could keep an eye on their stock while going to the loo at the back of the pub.
Many youngsters on the street earned a few bob keeping an eye on the animals too.
Following the fair days the streets in the surrounding areas were left in an awful mess, with cow dung everywhere - on streets, windows and walls - which imposed a lot of work on publicans, householders and council workers to clean up for Sunday mornings.
Fairs and markets were always part of the life of an Irish town. This tradition continued up to our grandparents’ time.
Country people would get up very early in the morning and travel on foot to the nearest town, bringing food and animals with them to sell at the fair.
Often the farmer had to walk with his animals all the way to the town. It often took him a few days. He would sleep in a hay barn on the way if he was lucky. Some farmers could carry their smaller animals to the fair by horse or ass and cart.
* A group pictured at Durcan’s Harp Bar on Main Street, Castlebar, prior to its closure. At back, from left: ‘Buddy’ Dowling, Mel Grey, Kevin Lally, Ger Ralph, and Seamus McTigue. At front: Jack Cassidy, Mick Moran, Patrick Tuohy, Paddy Deacy, Nora Ralph, Mikie Kilcourse and Michael Rice.