The Avondhu - By The Fireside
John’s diverse and passionate interest in a host of topics sees him periodically dip in and out of the various discussions going on around the bar in a display of supreme knowledge which is a joy to observe.
One such discussion on historic Irish trade routes saw him momentarily disappear only to return with what must have been the full set of ordinance survey discovery maps of the country, a collection surely only possessed by those who have a keen interest in their contents. The TV is a small but visible device banished to the far corner of the bar and for good reason. Digital media here is seen as a necessary evil with the main emphasis being placed on the value of good conversation.
The true benefit of human interaction is only now beginning to be understood during these challenging times but it’s clear that those virtues have long since been understood in this pub. The arrival of the new card reader is also a talking point and is poised to become a tourist attraction. The conversation is rich and although my history lesson is not yet complete, it’s time for me to move along and so, once again, I bid goodnight to my academic friends and depart this cosy time capsule.
I depart Cotter’s Bar via a pathway at the front door, flanked on both sides by two enormous pre-cast flowerpots which contain a wonderful display of colour, all thanks to the caring hands of Anne Cotter who can be seen early in the mornings, caring for her street garden. She and the others who keep this village looking pristine are all too often forgotten, but not tonight.
The strong exterior facade of The Village Inn across the street promises a traditional style of bar and the architecture inside does not disappoint. The first dominant feature presented to the curious visitor is the large fireplace which might be more appropriately titled ‘a furnace’. The proprietor Chris, is a seasoned publican, diplomat and mother and exudes the virtues of all three. Her late husband Mick was a much loved and respected anchor in this place and his untimely death in 2012 no doubt rocked its very core. Few conversations here conclude without a mention of his name and his familiar face adorns the walls. His son Tommo is an equally towering figure behind the bar and prides himself on his trivia prowess.
Having sussed out his victim, Tommo will pounce with the standard introduction “you’re a smart man, answer me this”, followed by some well researched question on perhaps the biodiversity of some eco system in the Amazon basin or some other similar stickler. At this hour of the night however, this feels like a literary assault and if only I had my guru with me I’d soften his cough, but for now, I must pretend not to hear him above the noise of the other five customers which is declared a distinct defeat.
Morally bruised and battered then I must retreat. This revenge is definitely a dish best served cold. Conversation here is light-hearted and meaningful and connection is everything. Once your pedigree has been established you’re in. There is a distinct jovial air between customer and staff and although the banter is rife, you get the distinct feeling that if you were to drift off for any reason, you would wake up safe and sound in your own bed. Not exactly a balance sheet item, but a reassuring feeling nonetheless. Ordinarily I could so easily settle into this tit for tat festival, but I cannot become complacent tonight as I have a mission to complete. As I depart The Village Inn, Chris gives her customary blessing from afar and I’m once again out in the warm night air.
With my pilgrimage now 75% complete, my next and final port of call is The Butcher’s Bar. Despite my best intentions, I rarely get here before closing time and will typically get side-tracked in the depths of some conversation in one of the other bars before realising that it’s now too late to call. The proprietor Tom Dalton, is a former school mate of mine from ‘The Tech’ and when we meet, I always feel the need to justify my absence with an explanation of my ritual and as always, he is ever the gentleman and converses as though I was a regular.
Tonight though, I am here and having resisted the smell of chips from the chipper next door, I enter through the upper door to find a youthful space with a variety of compartments where groups of all ages can co-exist in a variety of settings. The lower end of the bar is more activity based with all of your typical pub games such as pool, darts and other games, it even has a juke box, a rare treat nowadays. The beautifully restored high-nelly bicycle which hangs on the wall only serves to deepen my guilt having committed to restoring my own late father’s bike almost 5 years ago. This may just be the stimulus I need to complete that project and close examination of the work stirs up a renewed sense of urgency for its completion.
Tom’s default smile and distinct voice are exactly as I remember them from school and we trade stories of joy and sadness until the late hours. There is a selection of distinct characters around the bar tonight, each with a chest full of stories and a delightful willingness to share them. Even the word Covid now is forgotten and in this space right now, the social restrictions of the last eighteen months fuel the talking frenzy and there is a palpable air of relief as ‘the few pints’ is once again possible.
Everyone at this bar and indeed in every other bar here, knows that it’s not just the few pints that make the difference, if it were, none of us would be here, we would all be drinking at home. There is an inherent need in us all to make human contact and the conditions under which that contact is made it seems is irrelevant. The need to be heard, to be understood, to be appreciated and to matter is at the core of our very being. My only regret is that I cannot record and capture moments like this and that’s what makes them special, you’ve got to be there or you miss them. Stories like these fuel further stores in the future and make for rich conversation both at home and away. My biggest worry is that I won’t remember half of the gems I hear here tonight but shur, what’s new. With my little journey at an end for the evening, it would be considered socially irresponsible and downright rude to leave prematurely without hearing everyone’s contribution and so, I exercise my social responsibility diligently.
The valuable service that these four pubs provide then goes far beyond the sale of beverage. The psychological benefit which establishments like these bestow upon its patrons cannot be quantified, nor can it be easily replaced or replicated. Public houses have existed in Ireland for hundreds of years for a very good reason. They have been the unofficial therapy rooms for the vast majority of our citizens and although it may only be now that we understand their value, external forces such as drink driving laws and other legislative changes have conspired to confine these meeting rooms to the more urban centres of population.
From a citizen/pub ratio perspective then, in Kilworth, we are boxing well above our weight with all four displaying signs of considerable investment in recent years with the result that we now have four modern, culturally diverse, clean, trouble-free, well ran and highly entertaining havens to choose from. For some of us, you are not just publicans but custodians of important Irish cultural treasures and valued frontline workers and we thank you for your service. Take a bow!