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Dublin: 10°C Sunday 28 February 2021

'Like stepping into the 1900s': Morrissey's in Abbeyleix is a glorious time capsule

Like all good pubs, it started out as a grocery shop and shebeen.

STEPPING INTO MORRISSEY’S in Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, is like stepping into a time capsule with jars of sweets lining the shelves, currency pinned to the bar, and vintage cigarette advertisements populating the walls.

It’s a reminder of the way pubs used to be and, arguably, how they should be.

Morrissey’s started out life as a grocery shop and shebeen in 1775 before being rebuilt in the 1880s by its namesake Edward J. Morrissey.

The bar was family owned and operated until 2003 when it was purchased by Carlow publican Tom Lennon. “It was just a pub I loved, “he explains. “It was interesting, it was old. There was a lovely smell when you walked in the pub.”

The pub has a rich history and has been at the centre of life in Abbeyleix for the best part of two centuries. “The original owner that was here was an undertaker,” explains Lennon. “He was also an auctioneer, an insurance agent and he sold tickets for the Titanic. There were tickets for the Titanic actually bought here.”

(Lennon says there were tickets for Titanic displayed in the pub, but that was before his time.)

Lennon was keen to preserve the pub’s old charm and has largely left it as it was. Among the pub’s vintage artefacts are old Jacob’s biscuit tins, a fixed speed bicycle, a Fry’s chocolate display and a grocer’s scales.

It’s like stepping into the 1900s.

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There’s even a pot belly stove for when things get a little bit nippy.

What differentiates it from other pubs, however, is the fact that it’s the real deal as opposed to a recreation. “The place is original,” explains Lennon. “It’s kind of haphazard in its shelving. Things are a bit crooked. You can’t make things like that.”

As a result, Morrissey’s enjoys a healthy tourist trade, attracting tourists from all over the world. “We do well out of the American tourists, French tourists, German tourists,” says Lennon. “Asian tourists are especially fascinated with it.” Sure, wasn’t it hailed as “extraordinary” by Lonely Planet?

But it’s not just tourists that nip in and out. It’s also quite popular with wedding parties, particularly with those being held in Castle Durrow. (“They’ll come in between the church and the afters.”)

Over the years, a number of well-known faces from what Lennon terms the “RTÉ jetset” have darkened its door, including Gay Byrne. Arguably its most well-known customer, however, was the late John Hurt.

“He was a regular here,” says Lennon. “He was living in Athy at the time. He was an interesting man. A lovely man. He loved the place.”

It still has its regulars, though. Lennon says the place serves as a “nerve centre” for the town. “It’s a little bit like a dispensary. Local characters come in and there’s always a little bit of news,” he says.

In fact, he says that journalists from national newspapers and radio stations will often call the pub if anything happens in Abbeyleix to get a sense of what’s going on.

Earlier this year, Morrissey’s was named Pub of the Year at the Irish Restaurant Awards. Since purchasing the pub, Lennon has opened two other pubs named Morrissey’s in Portlaoise and Carlow, helping ensure that the pub’s legacy is carried on elsewhere.

But nothing can beat the original in Abbeyleix.

It is a very, very, very special place. It’s one of those properties that’s just special. Anyone who walks in is fascinated with the place. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘It’s a dirty old kip.’ It speaks to your memory.


About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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