Though unadorned compared to English pubs, plain timber work and tradition of lettering often makes for a pleasurable experience in itself, as testified to by the fact that books and calendars have been devoted to public house fronts.
In Mayo, as elsewhere in Ireland the pub is the living room of the community with music sessions a common feature and conversation a staple in all but the most banal of sports bars. Televisions and piped music are increasingly a feature, but avoidable in every town. The welcome is generally friendly, particularly in the old-style family run pubs where certain even seats are effectively reserved for loyal locals.
In the daytime, children are welcome too, which might surprise habitués of bars in other countries. On the islands in particular the public house could be seen as the nucleus of community life. Particularly charming are those pubs that still sell groceries or even provide funeral services. The tradition stems from the time of so-called “spirit grocers,” publicans who in response to the temperance movement in the 19th century--when people moderated their alcohol consumption--diversified their business to survive. The tradition remained well into the 20th century until the advent of supermarkets, which gradually rendered their services obsolete. To this day, you will often see an undertaker’s business attached to a pub in small and medium-sized towns.
So strong is the identity of the Irish pub that outside Ireland there are franchises which thrive on their ability to fulfill the expectations of what an authentic Irish pub should be. The irony is that in cities in Ireland, such authentic pubs are becoming scarcer and this fact has given rise to ‘pastiche pubs’, refurbished to conform to the old style pub. However, in Mayo, this phenomenon is rarer and pubs tend to be local, rural, old style or gastro pub.
Leonard’s Stores in the village of Lahardane is so named to reflect its traditional place as a ‘spirit grocery’, the supplier not only of convivial hours spent with friends having a drink, but also the town store where ‘provisions’ were bought. As the mist closes in over the hills around Titanic Village, family-run Leonard’s provides a welcome refuge from the chill and enveloping darkness, with its open fire and friendly welcome.
An old style museum pub, which successfully recreates an old tavern is Campbell’s ‘Museum’ Pub. Situated at the foot of ‘The Reek’, it provides a glimpse of the past with artifacts and images on display throughout the bar and restaurant, and like so many bars serves food.
In Westport, Matt Molloys retains its authentic old style feel while packing the house out with locals and tourists alike who flock to hear top-notch music. The Chieftains are one of the best selling Irish traditional music groups of the last several decades, playing for popes and heads of state alike and in the White House. The walls of the pub document their varied exploits, from playing with Madonna to playing for Pope John Paul II to playing on the Great Wall of China. Matt Molloy’s attracts some of the most nationally and internationally acclaimed musicians. The pint is as good as the music in a place that combines the best of the past and the present under its roof.
A picture perfect rural pub with whitewashed walls and thatched roof is Paddy’s Pub in Tourmakeady. With manicured lawns sloping down to Lough Mask, famous for its trout fishing this pub invites locals to play in music sessions, serves food and lays on BBQs for bank holiday weekends.
Examples of gastro pubs include Bar One in Castlebar, an authentic new-style pub and restaurant. With cool urban-style interiors, this pub feels contemporary and serves the kind of modern food that might be found in any metropolis. Other well-loved gastro pubs include Paddy Jordan’s Gastro Pub in Ballina, Flanagans between Ballyhaunis and Claremorris. and Gielty’s Bar and Restaurant in Dooagh, Achill Island.
Times have changed in Mayo pubs. Not only is high quality food offered in many places, but the pint of plain has more competition than ever. Visitors to McGings in Westport or the Clew Bay Hotel can sample the wares of the new crop of breweries that have sprung up in the county such as the Belgian-style Mescan beer and the Clew Bay range both of which are available on tap in select establishments.
Every town has at least one pub which is worth a visit and usually many more. Just make sure to savour the experience from the outside in.