Brown Cow, after hours, a Good Friday fiasco

By Tom Gillespie

PICTURED here behind the counter is Michael McNulty, who was the proprietor of The Brown Cow public house at Thomas Street/Charles Street, Castlebar.

The sole customer is Willie Cresham, a former Fianna Fáil councillor and popular Mayor of Castlebar, who was employed at Castlebar Bacon Factory.

The pub was so named because on fair days livestock were assembled on the streets outside.

It was a small bar, catering for male customers, while the ladies were accommodated in an adjoining room where there were a few tables and chairs with a hatch where they could order drinks from the bar.

I remember the day Michael closed up shop. I would have been a regular customer and I called in to wish him well.

The shelves were almost bare but there was one dust-covered bottle of whiskey, almost empty, on the top shelf that had not been opened for years.

There was just one other customer present and Michael took the bottle down and poured three drinks for us.

I am not a whiskey drinker but I do recall it was a well-aged, smooth, mouth-watering tipple.

Today the premises is Stacks, previously Skeffington’s, Paddy Cannon’s, John Coyne’s and Eddie McNulty’s, but after Michael McNulty retired Jim Dwyer, a retired army officer from Thurles, Co. Tipperary, operated the Brown Cow with barman Martin Roach.

Jim carried out extensive renovations, converting the ‘ladies room’ into a specious lounge. He lived with his family overhead.

I remember one night in particular in The Brown Cow during Jim’s proprietorship.

It was Friday, October 10, 1986, the final night of the 21st Castlebar International Song Contest, which for the first time in 20 years was not staged at the Royal Ballroom in Castlebar. Instead the show was transferred to the newly developed Beaten Path complex at Brize, outside Claremorris, which was run by Gay and Carmel Nevin.

I was a member of the organising committee as well as covering the final for The Connaught Telegraph, The Irish Press and the Cork Examiner. Mike Murphy was the compere and Johnny Logan was guest artist for the televised show which, due to a technical fault, suffered a three-minute break in transmission.

When the show was over I went straight back to Castlebar and got into The Brown Cow just before closing time.

Directly behind where Willie Cresham is standing in the photo, Jim Dwyer had installed a cigarette vending machine. I had my reporter’s notebook and a song contest brochure and I placed both on top of the machine and left them there as I went to the loo.

On my return the entire pub, to my surprise, was completely empty except for Jim and Martin Roach.

In my absence, gardaí had cleared the premises and thankfully they had not checked the toilets. And there on top of the cigarette machine were my notebook and brochure.

On another occasion, maybe the previous June (1985), after returning from an evening in the bog on a Thursday night, I went in for pint and it was unfortunate that a particular garda came in the side door after closing time.

Luckily, I had covered the district court in Castlebar the previous day and the garda in question had several newsworthy cases before Justice Patrick Brennan.

His first question to me was how did I think he performed on the stand and the conversation dwelt on aspects of the cases. At this point I had almost a full pint in front of me when the said garda told me to enjoy it and he left the premises, much to the relief of Jim Dwyer.

On Sunday night, April 27, 1985, I went for a few pints to The Brown Cow. It was the night Dennis Taylor, with his distinctive, specially designed glasses manufactured for snooker, from Northern Ireland, defeated Steve Davis with the final ball of the 35th frame in the final of the World Snooker Championships at the Crucible in Sheffield.

The game went on well after midnight and all in the pub were glued to the television until the final black was potted.

Another encounter with the law happened on a Good Friday when my colleague from The Connaught Telegraph, Frank Burke, and I got in to The Brown Cow about four o’clock. Later, we were joined by another colleague, who will remain nameless for reasons which will become apparent.

It was a glorious afternoon weather-wise and several other regular customers were admitted.

The conversation at one stage centred on how agile some roof repair men were and how they could scale great heights. One customer in particular, Ivan Browne, spoke of one such man who he said could ‘climb up a cobweb’.

When Frank and I had our fill we departed, leaving our other colleague behind. He had arranged for his wife to collect him.

There were three doors into the pub - the main one on Thomas Street/Charles Street, one on Thomas Street and the third on Charles Street.

The best concealed door was that on Charles Street - the one used to admit customers.

Unfortunately, she was spotted by passing gardaí who arrived in hot on her heels.

Back in those days pubs were forced to remain closed from 2 to 4 p.m. on a Sunday. Very few, if any publicans, abided by the ‘holy hour’ closure and patrons in-house before 2 p.m. were usually allowed to wait until 4 p.m.

The closure was abolished in June 1999.

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