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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019

'The dancer is 6ft 4in and captain of the Galway minor football team': The story of Ti Joe Watty's on Inis Mór

Ti Joe Watty’s has been offering a warm welcome for decades.

THERE’S NOWHERE QUITE like the Aran Islands for a scoop. Windswept landcape, creamy pints, an cúpla focal – what could be better?

One of the oldest pubs on Inis Mór is Tí Joe Watty’s. Located in Kilronan and situated at the crossroads to Dún Aengus and the Seal Colony, it’s one of the island’s most popular spots.

For the last nine years, it has been run by PJ and Grace O’Flaherty. An Inis Mór native, PJ remembers the pub well from his childhood.

“It used to be Pat’s pub and then his son – actually it’s kind of a tragic story,” he begins.

“There were seven sons born to him and his wife, but six of them died of TB under the age of twenty. Only one of them survived and his name was Patrick Joseph O’Flaherty as well. I’m Patrick Joseph O’Flaherty, no relation. He would have died in the early 1980s.”

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The pub was auctioned off and changed various hands over the years until PJ and his wife leased it nine years ago. Last year, they purchased it outright.

“It’s back in its original name of Patrick Joseph O’Flaherty again,” he says.


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Steamed mussels fresh out of the Atlantic. 😍🌊🇮🇪

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According to PJ, the pub is known for three things – food, drink and music.

Let’s start with the food. PJ and Grace have long been involved in the hospitality business and previously ran a restaurant and hotel on the island. Grace herself is a trained chef and they decided to create a menu for the pub when they bought Joe Watty’s.

Naturally enough, it specialises in local seafood. Lobster, crab, mussels, oysters – you name it, they’ve got it. They pride themselves on the high quality of the food.

“The food is as good now in pubs as it is in most restaurants and that’s the way we would see ourselves as well,” says PJ.

Drinks-wise, they have all your usuals along with a wide selection of craft beer, gins and whiskeys. If Instagram is anything to go by, it’s their pints of Guinness that are among the most popular.

#guiness #tayto #Aran #islandlife

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Then there’s the music. PJ hails from a family of musicians and the pub regularly hosts sessions and performances from local musicians.

“A big, big part of Watty’s is our music. Our traditional live music. We do a session seven nights during the week in the summer and for quite a few nights in the week, we do a double session and start our music at 7.30pm.”

Among those to regular perform there are the Mulkerrin Brothers, who people may remember from the All Ireland Talent Show. “The dancer is 6’4 and he’s the captain of the Galway minor football team,” laughs PJ, referring to Sean Mulkerrin, the group’s resident sean nós dancer and GAA star.

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Another of the pub’s big ventures is Tedfest, an annual festival dedicated to Father Ted. The festival was founded by Peter Philips and Fergal McGrath. The pair met while volunteering in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.

“The only thing they had to do to pass time was watching a laptop and a series of DVDs of Father Ted. That’s how they spent time. They said, ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to organise a festival for fans of Father Ted?’”

When they returned to Ireland, they began scouting for different locations. They were looking for an island that could replicate the look and feel of Craggy Island. So they visited Inis Mór and met with PJ.

“I was immediately interested in it. We’d be doing nothing in February. I immediately rang the B&Bs, they were very interested. We drove around, met a few people and said, ‘Yeah, this is a possibility if you want to do it.’”

After some deliberation, it was decided that Inis Mór would be the venue for Tedfest. Since then, the island has hosted twelve editions of the festival with hundreds of Father Ted enthusiasts from all over the globe descending on the island to celebrate the cult comedy. Joe Watty’s is now the festival’s main sponsor.

“We tried it once, we said we might get away with it and it was great. We said we’ll try it again. In our wildest dreams, we never thought we’d be at number twelve already and already planning again for next year.”

It brings a lot of business to the island at a time when nothing happens. If somebody said to yourself, ‘We’re running a festival in the Aran Islands at the end of February,’ peole would say you’re mad. At that time of the year! But since its initiation, there’s only been one year that we had a bad day where the ferry had to be cancelled. I joke, it’s Ted looking down on us making sure that it works.

#islandlife #friendsforlife #aranislands #itsthesimplethings

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Tedfest is clearly a blessing for the area at a time that would traditionally be considered to be the ‘low season’. After Easter, the island will start to see tourists visiting in greater numbers again.

PJ credits the Wild Atlantic Way with making a difference in terms of tourism to the islands, but also commends the locals for being proactive in their own way.

“In the old days, it was a hobby. It was a way of making a few bob. But now people are investing in tourism on the island in a genuine, professional way and sustaining a livelihood for themselves.”

He does, however, point to some worrying trends. A downturn in traditional industries like fishing, for instance, and a lack of younger people to take up the baton from the older generation.

“Even four years ago, I think there could have been 400 extra beds on the island than what there are now because landladies have either retired or passed on and nobody’s taken up the mantle,” he points out.

One thing it does ensure, however, is that they don’t grow complacent and continue to welcome visitors with open arms.

“The island is fortunate in the sense that it’s small, it’s welcoming. We recognise the tourists, we recognise thieir value. When you live in a place like we do, particularly with the winter we just had, you just so love to see another face coming.”

 We treat people from all places the way we’d like to be treated ourselves. I think that’s very important. People do still like the Irish pub. It’s gotten very sophisticated in one sense but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the céad mile fáilte.

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Amy O'Connor

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