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'It put another string to my bow': How one of Ireland's best-known trad musicians came to own a pub in Westport

Matt Molloy’s name is synonymous with The Chieftains, Planxty, and a beloved Mayo bar.

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 2.44.49 PM Source: Instagram/vtanz84

MATT MOLLOY IS one of the most renowned traditional musicians in the country, having played with the likes of the The Chieftains, The Bothy Band and Planxty. His name is also linked to a pub in Westport, Co Mayo, which has established itself as one of the most popular traditional music pubs in the country since Molloy took it over nearly thirty years ago. 

So what inspired one of the leading musicians of his generations to enter the pub trade? 

I suppose it was the insecurity of a musician. I had a young family and previous to that I was in ill health. It scared me a bit. I was having too much of a good time, I think, and I got tuberculosis and ended up in Peamount Hospital for a stint.

“I came off the fast lane, had a think about things and decided it wasn’t fair on the family and changed my ways to a certain extent.”

“I thought, if anything happened to me again, the family would have something to fall back on and that was the reason. It put another string to the bow, if you like.” 

The pub itself was an old establishment having been in the McGing family since 1896. When Molloy set his sights on opening a pub, he decided to start his search in Westport. He didn’t know many people there, but he had a strong affinity for the town. He started searching for an authentic old pub.

I just looked for an old-fashioned pub. While I may not have had any experience in the pub business, I did have a lot of experience on the wrong side of bar, if you know what I mean. Travelling around the world and drinking in different establishments around the world, I said, ‘We really do have very important feature in Ireland with the traditional pub’. It’s a community thing as well as a drinking house. It’s something unique.

“As a traditional musician, I favoured the old dark comfortable corners that have the good acoustic sounds in them. I think my place has that.” 

He purchased the pub in 1988, stuck his name above the door and opened for business in May 1989. At the time, he says he had a romantic notion as to how it would all work. 

“I expected to have a nice quiet little bar with fifteen or twenty locals,” he says. But then it turned into a far bigger beast than he could have ever envisaged.

“From the get go, I thought, ‘Jesus what have I done?’ Thankfully my late wife took to like a duck to water. She was brilliant.”

He credits his late wife, Geraldine, and manager Seamus Geraghty with helping him keep the show on the road. 

“Between myself, Geraldine and Seamus, we created a triangle there. It was a good team and it worked.”

Over the past thirty years, the pub hasn’t really strayed from its roots. It doesn’t serve food with Molloy opting to leave that to the restaurants and hotels in Westport. Otherwise, it is as authentic as they come. 

“If you come in, you have to be prepared to talk to people. There are no pool tables, no slot machines, no televisions. Nothing like that.”

The only time the television gets turned on? When Mayo are playing, of course. 

 As one might expect, the pub has proved incredibly popular with tourists.

“It’s like the League of Nations sometimes in there,” he laughs. 

He admits that he was able to get some free publicity from playing in The Chieftains with Paddy Moloney regularly giving the pub a shout out on stage when introducing the band members.

“I’d inveigle them anyway into making sure to mention the pub,” he says. 

But it also attracts lots of locals so you find a “healthy mix” in there on any given night, he adds.

Molloy says “all sorts of strange, weird and wonderful people” have stopped in over the years with Vice President Joe Biden being among the most illustrious. 

“He’s certainly a remarkable man,” he says. “That was a great night.” 

Music continues to play a significant role in the pub with some sort of session taking place every night of the week, be it acoustic or traditional. 

“You could have bluegrass players in there. You could have a bunch of tenors or a choir from Germany and they’d lift the roof with one or two songs. You just never know. It’s that sort of place.”

As for the traditional sessions, Molloy himself regularly joins in and credits the other musicians with helping him stay sharp. 

“The musicians that play in there are really hot. And they keep my ass around the place. You daren’t get complacent. It’s healthy for me. It’s what keeps me tuned up.“

The pub will celebrate thirty years in business next year. Does Molloy have any plans to celebrate the milestone? 

I think we’d have to figure out something. Why ever not? The Irish don’t have to have a reason to have a good night.

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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