story of my pub

'Sit with a creamy pint and look at the wild mountains': The old-fashioned magic of Osborne's in Carlow

New life in an old pub.

LOCATED IN THE small village of Rathanna, Co Carlow and lurking under Mount Leinster’s shadow is Osborne’s, a pub that dates back to the Victorian era and continues to be beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Like many pubs of its ilk, Osborne’s was once a jack-of-all-trades establishment – a grocer’s, a blacksmith’s, a cobbler’s. They even operated a petrol pump, which is still visible outside. 

Eventually, the other businesses fell away and the family switched their focus to the pub. For many years, brother and sister duo Marie and Harry Osborne ran the establishment. In her old age Marie Osborne all but closed the pub, opening only for the annual Pattern Mass.

When she passed away, the opportunity arose for her grand-nephew Eric Osborne to take over the pub. At the time, he was working as an architect in London. His own family ran a pub in Clonegal, Co Carlow, but he had never considered entering the pub business himself.

His wife Catherine also grew up in a pub and he says they had all but sworn to themselves that they would steer clear of the business. 

But he was drawn to his grand-aunt’s pub in part because it was so intact. Unlike many other rural pubs, he says, Osborne’s had resisted the impulse to add an extension or a lounge when it was in vogue back in the 1980s. As such, the pub was pretty much exactly as it was back in the mid-nineteenth century with low, wooden ceilings and a cosy warmth to the place. 

In 2015, the couple returned home and reopened the pub. Three and a half years later, the pub is now back to being open four nights a week, which has allowed the young couple to retain their day jobs.

Eric has maintained his architecture practice and also runs a farm while Catherine works as a teacher. “Triple jobbing it,” as he puts it.

In addition to reopening the pub, the couple have also converted the adjoining storehouse into tourist accommodation that caters for up to twelve people, modeled on similar accommodation he had seen near the likes of Snowdonia in the UK.

Due to its close proximity to Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs, Osborne says the storehouse has proven especially popular with walkers and hikers.

They have also taken to selling sweets from old-school sweet jars from behind the bar and import Workshop Coffee from London. Something old, something new, as they say.

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The pub itself is small and intimate with capacity stretching to around forty-five a a squeeze, meaning two or three groups will create a buzzy atmosphere. 

A typical night in the pub will see visitors mingling with locals. The influx of tourists is positive for the village, says Osborne. Their positivity and enthusiasm engenders pride among locals and allows them to see Rathanna through new eyes.

That said, it’s not all about visitors and the pub continues to serve as an outlet for locals in the village. For instance, it regularly plays host to a local cohort of auld lads and their weekly card game.

It’s clear Osborne and his wife have breathed new life into the business while maintaining old traditions and remaining at the heart of the local community.

Asked for his favourite part of the pub, Osborne pauses and cites the smell of hawthorn burning in the stove and the pub’s surrounds.

“You can sit with a creamy pint or a coffee and admire the Victorian woodwork while looking through the front window to the stunning harsh landscape that rises up to Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains,” he says.

That juxtaposition between the calm of the bar and wildness of the mountains is one of the many things that makes this bar so special.

More: ‘We use the downtimes to repair’: How The Bulman Bar turned an ancient pub into a foodie haunt>

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