In 1972 I was appointed manager of the Connemara Gateway Hotel situated just outside the village of Oughterard, Galway in the West of Ireland. The first few months were busy times as the Hotel was a seasonal one and was due to re-open for the season a month or two after our arrival. Oughterard itself is a lovely village and the two years spent there were very happy ones for both myself, Anne and our young family. I soon discovered the pub that was to become my local. It took a little while for them to get the hang of me in Mike Powers pub. It wasn’t the sort of hostelry frequented by my predecessors and I didn’t appear to have much in common initially Â with Mike’s local clientele which included county council workers, the local postman, the odd fisherman and the like. But I liked it, it was a perfect place to get away from business for an hour or so and it suited me to a tee.
The little whitewashed cottage pub with its thatched roof stands in the middle of the village street, squeezed incongruously between a large modern Supermarket on one side and a bustling guesthouse/restaurant on the other. In those days the dark smoky interior was lightened only by the glow of a smouldering turf fire lit each morning by Mike’s sister who popped in for a couple of hours each day to ‘do’ for her bachelor brother. In the evenings as darkness closed in Mike would switch on the single neon strip light throwing the room and its contents into sharp relief. Somehow it didn’t seem to detract from the unique atmosphere of the little bar. A small red electric light glowed in front of the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the far wall. Another wall sported a rings board and the other a framed copy of the 1916 proclamation of Independence and faded photographs of President Kennedy and Pope John XXIII. Several raffia mats were scattered here and there on the bare stone floor. The furniture was simple; a half dozen Formica topped tables scarred by numerous cigarette burns and matching chairs with tubular aluminium legs. At the bar stood five wooden bar stools. The two small windows facing onto the main street had flower patterned scatter cushions on the built in ledges. Some years earlier somebody had persuaded, Mike to build a large modern lounge extension. He reluctantly gave way to pressure and a new modern lounge was built in the back yard leading to the toilets. It was apparently jammed on the opening night when Mike gave free drinks on the house. However his heart wasn’t really in it; the lounge never really got used and it soon reverted to the passage way to the toilets it had always been; the only difference being that one didn’t any longer have to brave the elements to get to the toilets.
Mike Power and I took to each other instantly. I told him at an early stage of our friendship of my years spent in our small family hotel in Cork. He enjoyed hearing about those boyhood memories of mine as he also grew up in a family pub. I think that it was this more than anything that formed the basis for our friendship.
Our home- the ‘Park View Hotel’ – situated opposite the railway station on the Lower Glanmire Road was much frequented by railway porters, corporation workers and taxi men. They spent much of their working day in the cosy interior of our public bar in those easy going days of the 1950’s. Trains arrived at the station only a few times a day and the railway staff and taxi drivers, who were our best customers, developed a system whereby the Station master or his assistant would signal with a handkerchief to one of the ‘lads’ acting as a lookout at the window when a train was due causing the bar to empty out. For all that I don’t recall ever seeing one of them drunk or misbehaving in any way. Those ordinary decent working men showed great respect for my mother who knew them all by name. Intemperate language was rarely heard and the quality of the conversation, stories and good-humoured repartee to which I listened eagerly was of a high order.
Mike Power prided himself on being able to pull a perfect pint of stout. I was able to tell him that I learned the art of ‘pulling’ a perfect pint of stout at a young age. Our bar in the Park View carried three different stouts; Guinness which of course was brewed in Dublin and Beamish and Murphy’s both of which were brewed in Cork.
The following rhyme I learned as a youngster as a youngster:
‘Guinness stout is good no doubt,
And Beamish stout is better.
But Murphy’s stout, will knock you out
and leave you there forever!’
Depending on your taste and your loyalties one could inter- change the three brand names to suit.
I didn’t get to visit Mike’s pub too often during the busy summer months but once October arrived our company owned hotel closed for the winter period. My regular routine during those quiet winter months was to visit Mike’s in the late afternoon and those hours spent in the comfortable surrounds of my favourite pub prior to returning home for the evening meal were amongst my treasured memories of our Connemara years. A high point during that first Connemara winter was to be invited to join Mike Powers darts team and we had many matches against other teams in the area, both ‘home’ and ‘away’. Trolling for trout on nearby Lough Corrib was another winter diversion and I received no end of good advice from my expert fisherman friends in Mike Powers on what was the best fly to use and also how to dap with live mayflies secured on a very light line at the end of a very log rod when the Mayfly season came around every year. ‘When the trout strikes the fly Brian, give him a few seconds to swallow it and then strike!’ was the good advice received, sometimes worked and sometimes ….it didn’t. But that was all to do with the enjoyment of fishing the Mayfly…..
One of Mike’s concessions to ‘modern’ times was the old black and white television set which sat on a ledge high up on one side of the bar. It was strictly controlled and only switched on for the television news at 6pm each evening and the occasional hurling, Gaelic football or international rugby match and then switched off again. An abiding memory of those carefree days is that of a respectable elderly Protestant couple – Mr and Mrs Davis – who were daily visitors to the pub. On the stroke of six o’clock the Angelus bell would peal out in advance of the television news. Mr Davis would remove his cap and in common with their Catholic neighbours the couple would bow their heads for the duration of the evening prayer.
Mike rarely moved out from his position behind the bar counter, except from time to time to put another log or sod of turf on the fire. The low bar ceiling, discoloured over the years by smoke from the turf fire and tobacco, caused Mike, who stood at least six feet six inches tall, to stoop slightly. A check cloth cap, which he never removed, surmounted his craggy weather beaten face. The stub of a cigarette invariably hung from his lower lip. Each time the bar street door opened the hum of conversation ceased, the silence broken only by the ticking of the old carriage clock on the wall behind the counter. The locals, hunched over the open fire or playing cards in one of the corner tables would surreptitiously scan the new arrivals before returning to the task in hand. Mike was very strict about whom he served and non-desirables were given very short shrift. The ‘how are ye getting on ‘greeting’ from the tall figure behind the counter was the green light that all was well with the new arrivals and normal conversation in the bar would soon resume.
We left Oughterard in April 1972 to start a new career in Kinsale, County Cork and just after the birth of our lovely little daughter Faela who arrived on 1st April of that year and learned with great sadness a year or two after that that Mike had recently passed on to his reward in heaven, and I pen this chapter of my collection of Hotel tales as a little tribute to my old Connemara friend in whose company I spent so many happy hours.
Submitted to Corrib News Autumn 2017
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