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'Roger Moore popped in for a few drinks': Why French's pub in Gorey is a true original

A Wexford institution, the pub has been in the French family since 1890.

‘ALL KINDS OF High Class Drinks and Groceries’ reads the sign above French’s, arguably the most cherished pub in Gorey, Co. Wexford.

Over its long and storied history, it has operated as both a grocery and pub, doling out everything from sugar to bacon to pints. These days, it operates mainly as a pub, while still selling fertiliser on the side.

It’s as traditional and unfussy a pub as you’re ever likely to find and that’s precisely why people gravitate towards it.

As owner Jim French puts it, “If you were in the area and you had visitors, you’d bring them to French’s.”

The pub has been in the French clan since the late nineteenth century.

“My great-grandparents, Andrew and Julia French, bought it in 1890,” explains Jim French, the fourth generation of the family to take charge of the pub. The family lived above the pub for many years with French’s parents moving in after the death of his grandmother.

“I was reared there from the age of ten on,” he says.

At the time, French’s father was as much a merchant as he was a publican. The premises were home to a bacon shop, buttery, and bakery. Sugar and tea lined the shelves.

“I have clear recollections of selling sugar and tea,” says French.

Quiet night in..

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For many years, French wasn’t involved in the business and instead forged his own career as an accountant. But he gradually returned to the fold and “weaned myself off my accountancy work.” He eventually took over the pub following his father’s untimely death in 1987 and has been ruling the roost ever since.

The pub has undergone scarce renovations over the years with the introduction of a smoking area and beer garden being one of the few notable changes over the years. Otherwise everything is precisely as it was.

“It’s very traditional,” says French. “It’s largely untouched. It’s not smart. But it’s interesting.”

Cosmetic changes aside, it has steadfastly refused to change its modus operandi. For instance, there are no cigarette machines. Instead cigarettes are sold from behind the counter with boxes kept behind what French describes as “a discreet curtain”.

While the pub may have had a rugby bias once upon a time, it doesn’t claim to have any sporting affiliations these days. The pub will show matches – soccer, rugby, GAA – but the television will be turned off again immediately afterwards.

Elsewhere, the pub hosts a traditional music session every Thursday night.

“It’s an amateur session but it’s as good a session as you’ll find anywhere,” says French.

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French’s prides itself on attracting people from all walks of life. French says this sets it apart from pubs in Dublin that can sometimes attract many of the same types of customers.

“It’s a great cross section,” says French. “It always has been. From blue-collared workers to suits. And young people as well. That’s what I enjoy about running the pub.”

“It’s quite the opposite to a D4 pub.”

Over the years, the pub has welcomed a number of famous faces.

“There have been heaps and heaps of people in over the years,” says French. Off the top of his head, he remembers the time the late Sir Roger Moore popped in for a few drinks.

Television actor Richard Greene, best known for playing the titular role in The Adventures of Robin Hood, was also a regular when he lived in nearby Borleagh Manor.

As a pub with no airs or graces about it, it’s easy to see why continue to flock to French’s.

“It’s an original of the species,” he says. “It’s iconic.”

Ah how I've missed this place #Home

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As the fourth generation of his family to manage the pub, French is showing no signs of handing the reins over any time soon. He has three children, but has no inkling of whether or not they will succeed him in running the pub.

“It wasn’t pushed on me,” says French. “There was never any pressure.”

“I’ll let the future take care of itself.”

More: ‘Come for the view, stay for the craic’: The mountain magic of the Blue Light pub>

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Amy O'Connor

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