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Dublin: 12°C Monday 2 August 2021

'It was like watching Homeland': The tiny Louth pub that hosted the Vice President

Lily Finnegans in Whitestown, near Carlingford, has a storied history.

NOBODY REALLY KNOWS how long Lily Finnegan’s, a little pub outside Carlingford, Co Louth, has been going.

“We haven’t got an exact date,” says Derek McGarrity, owner of the pub.

All they know is that it’s been going for a long time.

“We can trace it back to the early 1800s,” he says. “We have a licence from around 1845 and we have another one from 1895.”

The pub is named for Lily Finnegan, who took over the pub from her father in the 1950s. She never married and ran the pub right up until 1990 when she fell ill.

The Good Friday protesters are out in force already

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The pub closed for a few years before it was taken over and reopened by her nephew, John Pratt. (Pratt was reared by Finnegan after his mother passed away as a child.)

In 1994, she passed away and was waked upstairs in the pub.

“Finnegan’s Wake, as they call it,” jokes McGarrity.

The Guinness is a bit colder today than usual!! ⛄️⛄️

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McGarrity himself grew up half a mile away from the pub and started working there as a teenager under Pratt. In 1997, Pratt decided to lease the premises out and McGarrity’s family took it over.

“In 1997, I was only eighteen so I wasn’t old enough to hold a publican’s licence. In 2001, I took it over off my own bat and I’m here since.”

The pub itself is quaint and cosy, says McGarrity. There’s a bar, a snug and a parlour. Nothing has changed over the few decades and he describes it as genuinely old school.

“If you look at the layers of paint on the ceiling, you can see it for yourself,” he laughs.

“The bar itself is pretty small,” he adds. “Even if there’s only six or seven at the bar, you get a nice bit of a buzz. There’s a fire lighting. It doesn’t take a huge crowd to get an atmosphere going.”

Over the years, it has welcomed some notable guests. Back in 1985, Bruce Springsteen was headlining Slane and stayed in a small cottage about a hundred yards from the pub

“At that time out here, this would have been really, really obscure. I suppose that’s what his people looked for. Somewhere that was out of the way.”

“Anyway, he came into the bar and there was only seven or eight people at the bar, and he bought them all a drink. And they didn’t even know who he was.”

It was only after he left that locals clocked that the Boss had been sitting amongst them.

Two years ago, Vice President Joe Biden popped in during his visit to Ireland, having ascertained he was likely related to Lily Finnegan.

“His great grandfather was a Finnegan. He traced his family back to this area here. Now on this little road, which stretches for not even a mile, there were eight different Finnegan families back in the early 1900s.

“As you know yourself, we’re all related if you go back far enough so he would have been a relation of Lily Finnegan in some way.”

The visit itself was unlike anything else the pub had ever experienced.

“We had the whole hullabaloo with the secret service,” says McGarrity. “My phone was hopping between Secret Service, the guards, the Embassy. The list went on and on.”

And don’t even mention the motorcade.

“It’s a little narrow road. In a lot of places, two cars would have to slow down to pass each other. And we had thirty-five vehicles.”

“It was like watching Homeland or something.”

But the visit went off without a hitch with Biden meeting locals, posing for photos and chatting away.

“He was very down-to-earth,” he says.

Last year, Biden returned in a private capacity to explore the area and popped into the pub once more. This time, however, there was no palaver or hullabaloo.

Now that we’re heading into the summer, the pub is expecting more and more visitors.

Over the last few years, Carlingford has become increasingly popular with tourists and those driving the coastal road often wander into Lily Finnegan’s, sometimes on purpose and sometimes accidentally.

“A lot of people just happen to stumble across us and they can’t believe it,” says McGarrity. “Then people in turn will come back every couple of weeks.”

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Amy O'Connor

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