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'We have the old bits and pieces exactly as they were': Bringing a 107-year-old Cavan pub back to life

The restoration of Gartlan’s was painstaking work for Sheila and Padraic Smith, but it was worth every minute.

Image: Gartlans/Facebook

IF YOU HAPPEN to find yourself in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, then chances are you’ll find your eyes drawn to Gartlan’s. The distinctive thatched pub has been a mainstay in the town since previous owner George Gartlan acquired it in 1911.

At the time, he signed a 99-year lease and, over the century that ensued, it established itself as one of the town’s most iconic buildings.

The much-loved pub closed down in 2013, a victim of the recession, and the building quickly fell into a state of disrepair. “It was looking very sad for a while,” says Sheila Smith, who now runs the pub with her husband Padraic.

Not wanting to see it fall into further degradation, the couple decided to buy the building four years ago. Neither had any previous experience in running a pub, but they had operated a local B&B for several years.

“So we had some experience in the hospitality trade,” Sheila says.

The Smiths bought the building in 2014 and immediately started carrying out restoration work. Their main objective? To bring the building back to its former glory. The pub had no license at that stage, but the couple were willing to risk it and maintain it as a thatched cottage if needs be.

We knew it was big undertaking but we wanted to do it. It was either that or lose the building.

Home sweet home #guinness #stout #gartlans #family

A post shared by Dermot Kiernan (@dermy100) on

The building was a listed building, which meant Sheila and Padraic had to adhere to conservation regulations, and the front had to be kept the same. The pair set about rethatching the roof and sprucing up the inside, all while trying to keep everything exactly as it had been before.

“We wanted to keep it as it was originally,” Sheila recalls:

We photographed and numbered everything and replaced all the old bits and pieces. We put the antiques back as they were originally. It’s hard to make something look exactly like it was and as if it’s had no work done to it.

Enjoying a pint in Gartlans

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But it paid off when the pub reopened two years ago. Smith says the support they have received from locals in Kingscourt has been “marvellous” with people delighted and relieved to see it thriving once more.

She describes the atmosphere as “warm and welcoming” filled with people chatting and having the craic. There is music every Thursday and Sunday night with a stash of instruments ready to go should anyone feel they have a tune in them.

Crucially, there is no television in the main bar and no internet.

“We have a sign behind the bar that says, ‘No wifi, talk to each other,’” she says. “And they do!”

As on might expect, the pub attracts tourists from all over the world. They have even amassed a collection of international currency behind the bar, which started after one customer signed a pound note and wished them best of luck with the bar.

“Now there are a stack of notes from all over the world,” Sheila says.

Asked for her favourite part of the bar, Sheila immediately mentions the old pot belly stove:

It’s the first thing you see when you walk in. You feel the heat from the stove. The previous people used to take it out in the  summertime, put it under the stairs and hang a calendar all over the hole in the wall, but we’ve left it in for the summer and just kept it off.

The pub has been going from strength to strength since it opened its doors once more two years ago. The Smiths are now setting their sights on perhaps one day opening a tea room and gift shop, though that might be a while off yet.

One thing is for certain: Gartlan’s is here to stay.

More: ‘There’s no sign above the door that says pub’ – The legendary Tipp house that hosts a once-a-week session>

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Amy O'Connor

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