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'We're just beginning to pick up on the gin thing now': Finding a new era at The Old Thatch

It’s Ireland’s oldest thatched pub, but The Thatch in Killeagh is starting to cater to a modern crowd.

Image: Facebook/The Old Thatch

KILLEAGH IS A VILLAGE steeped in history and tradition.

Situated in East Cork, it’s home to local landmarks like Glenbower Wood and Dromdiah House.The former is an ancient woodland, while the latter is a once-grand country house dating from the nineteenth century that now lies in ruins, a shell of its former self.

During its heyday, locals from the village were invited to the estate on the first Sunday in May as part of the annual May Sunday celebrations.

At the foot of the woods is The Old Thatch, which holds the distinction of being the oldest thatched pub in Ireland.

“If you’re down here on a Monday or Tuesday night and you mention something about the history of The Thatch, all of a sudden, bang!” says Brian Barry, co-owner of The Old Thatch.

People just open up and start telling you about the history of the place.

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And what a rich history it has. The Thatch has been operating as a public house since 1650. The pub is filled with quirks and oddities that hint at the building’s storied past. For instance, a deer head caught by a previous owner in 1851 is mounted on the wall. There are stone walls and old barrels still visible behind the bar.

Moreover, the thatch you see outside is the real deal.

“You never take down a thatch,” explains Barry.

You can only thatch on thatch. So when thatch goes bad, you just thatch on top of that. So this has been thatched since the 1600s. It’s been thatched every four to five years on top of that.

The Old Thatch Spinning Jenny #theoldthatch

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Barry took over the lease on the pub twelve months ago with chef Deborah Walsh. He was born and raised in the village, and previously ran Kennedy’s, another pub in the village. Their objective upon taking over the pub was to marry the old with the new.

We had to come in here and be very careful and conscious of the history here. But also we had to bring it to a modern crowd.

First on their to-do list: expanding the restaurant.

“It was a 25-seat restaurant when we took it over. On Mother’s Day, we opened a new section of the restaurant. It was very difficult for us because it’s a listed building. There were two old bedrooms in the back of it but we’ve revamped it and it’s now an 80-seat restaurant.”

19059772_1932595433665935_6336573138067623458_nSource: Facebook/The Old Thatch

The restaurant specialises in casual dining. Think burgers, roasts, steaks, mixed grills and fish sourced from nearby Ballycotton. Behind the bar, they stock all your usuals on draught as well as a healthy selection of local drinks.

Cider is a big seller and the pub works a lot with Stonewell Cider, a craft cider company based in Kinsale. They have even gotten in on the gin craze:

We’re so far behind here compared to Dublin. We’re just beginning to pick up on the gin thing here now.

Elsewhere, they also opened a beer garden to cater for 200 people. The outdoor area overlooks the Dissour River and was intended to offer customers a place to enjoy the sunshine.

“When the sun shines here, we found it was very quiet in the restaurant because… It’s not that it’s dull and dreary, it’s just that it’s very old-style. We’ve done up the beer garden and since we’ve done that, it’s made it more diverse.”

34962743_2102344620024348_1352597729653555200_nSource: Facebook/The Old Thatch

Renovations aside, both Barry and Walsh both wanted to turn the pub into a haunt for locals and have made significant headway over the last twelve months.

Before we would have taken it over, about eighty per cent of customers would have been tourists. An awful lot of Americans and stuff like that. But since we’ve taken it over, we’ve gotten a lot of the local trade back.

“The locals are the life and soul of our business at the moment. We’re not dependent on a passing trade. We’ve got a very good local trade. But we are coming into the summer period now so we are expecting an influx of tourists.”

All in all, it has been a productive year for Brian Barry and Deborah Walsh. They have taken a 368-year-old pub and helped usher it into the 21st century, all while remaining sympathetic to its roots.

“It’s modernised while still holding on to the traditions we have here,” concludes Barry.

As the old maxim goes, “Something old, something new…”

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Amy O'Connor

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