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'It has the best view of any pub in Ireland': The secret behind the great pints at JJ Bowles

There’s more to it than just Limerick’s oldest pub.

FANCY A PINT with a view? You won’t find one much better than in JJ Bowles. 

“As I say to people, it has the best view of any pub in Ireland because you can see King John’s Castle across the river,” says Aengus Darcy of the beer garden, which overlooks the Shannon.

It’s one of many features that sets JJ Bowles apart and ensures it’s one of the most well-loved pubs in the city. 

The building dates from the late 1600s and it has been a pub since 1794. That makes it the oldest pub in Limerick. In the late 1910s, Darcy’s grand-uncle JJ Bowles purchased the pub and made it his own.

“He was a champion handballer and he was Irish champion for twenty years in a row,” recalls Darcy. “So we have pictures of him on the wall and we’ve kept the name going.” 

The pub has been in the Bowles family ever since. Darcy and his wife are relatively new to the game having only taken over three years ago.

“My aunt was selling it and I decided to buy it because it’s a Limerick institution, really,” he says. “It’s been so long in the family, It’s a great pub and I didn’t want it going out of the family.”

It marked a stark change from his previous work in software development, but he has adjusted nicely and says he finds the work rewarding.

The pub itself is deceptively small from the front, he says. Once inside, there are a series of four rooms that back out onto the beer garden.
He describes it as warm and cosy, the kind of place where there’s always a fire roaring. “Except when it’s thirty degrees outside,” he says, referring to the unseasonably warm summer just gone. 

Aside from that, the pub hasn’t undergone any substantial renovations and has retained its signature charm. 

“It hasn’t really been touched for the last hundred years,” notes Darcy. 

IMG_0019 Source: JJ Bowle's

It’s well-known as a rugby pub, due in no small part to its proximity to Munster’s home ground.
“They’re our big nights when there are matches in Thomond Park,” he says. “We get huge crowds in those nights.” 

Over the years, several Munster heavyweights have popped in for a pint, including Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls and Dave Kilcoyne. 

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“They wouldn’t be regular customers now, but occasionally,” he notes.

But it’s not all about rugby. Limerick is also a fierce hurling county as this summer’s All Ireland heroics demonstrated. Darcy is hopeful that he might get a sniff of the silverware himself.

“They’re saying they won’t bring Liam McCarthy around to the pubs, but hopefully it will come in,” he laughs. 

Last year, the Limerick Leader ran a poll on where you can find the best pint of Guinness in the county. Thousands of votes were cast and JJ Bowles eventually came out on top. A quality pint is something they pride themselves on in there. 

“We’re well known for it anyway,” says. Darcy. “A lot of places would have a good pint, but people do come into our place and say, ‘Yeah, it is the best pint in Limerick.’”

So what’s their secret?

“It’s about having the beer at the correct temperature, the lines being cleaned and a volume of Guinness going through that’s constant. It’s the freshest pint always. There’s no such thing as kegs being left in our cold room for more than a week or two. We have a high turnover.”

There you have it. Now you know where to get your Guinness fix the next time you’re in the Treaty County.

More: ‘It’s not uncommon to see three generations sitting at a table’: The magic of Geoff’s in Waterford>

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Amy O'Connor

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