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'If someone comes in at 10pm, we can get them a box of nails': Borris' legendary pub and hardware shop

We talk to Michael O’Shea of O’Shea’s in Borris, Co Carlow.

Image: O'Shea's

“WE’RE NOT A cocktails pub,” says Michael O’Shea of O’Shea’s in Borris, Co Carlow. “We’re predominantly a pint of Guinness. If someone came in and asked for a fancy cocktail, I don’t know what we’d be able to do for them. I think our fanciest cocktail is probably a gin and tonic.”

Indeed, O’Shea’s in Borris couldn’t be a further cry from a swish cocktail bar. Instead it’s an old-style pub where wellies hang from the ceiling and a pint of Guinness won’t set you back more than €4.20.

“People come and they get three drinks. They hand you €20 and they ask, ‘Do I have enough money in that?’ and they’re going to get five or six euro in change,” he laughs.

The pub has been in O’Shea’s family for three generations. His grandfather took it over in the 1930s and it’s been managed by the family ever since.

Like most rural Irish pubs, it started out life as, well, a bit of everything.

“It was traditionally a grocery shop, pub, bit of hardware – all in the one room. You came in the front door and the grocery counter was on the left hand side, and the families and ladies were doing their shopping. And you’d go around the corner to the bar counter and the men were having their whiskeys.”

The grocery was taken out in the 1990s, but the family retained the shelving and counters and have kept the old layout of the pub largely intact.

In fact, they continue to operate a hardware shop from out the back.

“We still have a few elements – bulbs, batteries, emergency supplies,” explains O’Shea. “We do a bit of fishing stuff. We still have the hardware stuff so if someone comes in at ten o’clock at night, we can get them a box of nails or a few hinges.”

O’Shea describes the pub as a “banter and chat kind of pub”.

“There’s always good atmosphere and a good bit of banter. We have a TV and we show sport. We don’t have five TVs with racing in one corner and soccer in the other corner.”

It boasts a strong local trade and often welcomes visitors, particularly those who are in the village to attend a function in either the nearby hotel or in Borris House.

Indeed, the annual Festival of Writing and Ideas always brings in some customers of note. O’Shea recounts a night last summer when a woman approached the bar after closing time to ask for two pints of Guinness.

“I said, ‘I can’t, we’re finished.’ And she says, ‘Oh it’s for Roddy Doyle and Roger Waters.’”

Asked for his favourite feature of the pub, O’Shea cites the bar counter.

“It’s been there for probably 120 years. Bits of it are a bit broken, bits of it have been added on. It’s as smooth as glass from all the elbows leaning on it, the polishing and whatever it is. If the place was burned down tomorrow and that counter was to be lost, that would upset me most.”

But his real joy comes not from the material aspects of the pub, but from the atmosphere the customers generate.

My favourite thing about the pub is if you have a night and you have a group in, whether they’re locals or visitors or a mixture of both, and everyone’s having great fun – you’re smiling at the end of the night. Not from having a busy night or selling a few pints, but just from the atmosphere and the craic. For me, that’s the best part of it.

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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