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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
story of my pub

'If you were loud in the bar, you'd be marched out': The colourful history of Clarke's in Drogheda

The story of a Louth institution.

STANDING ON FAIR Street, Clarke’s Bar is something of a Drogheda institution. The impressive building dates back to 1850 and has operated as a pub since the turn of the twentieth century at least.

In 1900, a man named Thomas Reid purchased it and transferred his pub’s licence from Little Denmark Street, Dublin (which incidentally no longer exists). He moved to Drogheda and married a local woman. They had two daughters, one of them known as Nano Reid. She would go on to become one of the country’s foremost visual artists although she wasn’t necessarily recognised as such during her lifetime.

A few years ago, a plaque was unveiled outside Clarke’s in recognition of the fact that Reid was born there, lived there and that her talents had gone underappreciated in her hometown. 

The pub changed hands again in 1926 when two brothers from Dublin purchased it. It was in 1960 that the eponymous Clarke family took over the running of the pub. 

“Paddy Clarke, his name is still over the door,” says Brian Browning, the pub’s current owner.

Clarke was a decidedly old-fashioned publican and is said to have tolerated little in the way of messing.  

“More people in this town have been barred from drinking there,” explains Browning. “Whether you tripped on the way in on the step, whether you were vocally loud in the bar or if you were seen to be bumming a pint off your mate, you would be marched out the door.”

“We would have an awful lot of people come in locally who maybe haven’t stepped foot inside the pub for many years and they will tell you stories of their altercations with Paddy Clarke,” he adds.

In 1996, the pub was up for sale. At the time, Browning was running a pub on Trinity Street but Clarke’s piqued his interest. 

“This pub came up on the market for public auction and I said to my brother, ‘Let’s go have a look at this,’” he recalls. “I went in one door, had a pint and went out the other door. And I said to my brother, ‘I’m going to buy that.’” 

The auction was competitive, but he was successful. Afterwards, he opened the doors, did a roaring trade, and the rest is history. 

Clarke’s is a protected building meaning neither the exterior nor the interior can be altered – so the pub has changed little since it first opened. The original bar and snugs are all still intact. Elsewhere, a scale once used to weigh tea hangs from the ceiling while another scale for butter and lard can be seen on the counter. 

The pub boasts four snugs with each considered a hot commodity among patrons – and with good reason.

If you are sitting in any of the snugs and the pub is packed, you will have a perfectly good conversation with the people in the snug. The bar doesn’t drown you out. Likewise you could be sitting in that snug all night drinking and your friends wouldn’t even know you’re there. 

They were also once used to conduct business. Browning recalls a story once relayed to him by the pub’s previous owner, Maureen Clarke. 

There was a cattle market in Drogheda just up the road on Magdalene Street. On cattle market day, farmers would descend on Clarke’s to thrash out deals that didn’t happen at the mart and she once told me, ‘There was many a cattle bought and sold in them there snugs – and the odd lady or two also.’

While Clarke’s might have one foot planted firmly in the past, it continues to thrive and attracts what Browning describes as a “very cosmopolitan crowd”.

“You have everybody drinking there from solicitors, doctors, building workers, arty people,” he says. “It’s a great mix, young and old.” Furthermore, he claims to serve “the best pint of Guinness in the north east.”

Up next for Browning is opening a visitor centre dedicated to the pub’s previous resident, Nano Reid, and ensuring that the pub’s rich heritage is kept alive for generations to come.

‘We use the downtimes to repair’: How The Bulman Bar turned an ancient pub into a foodie haunt> 

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