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'We all have itchy feet': Why The Sky And The Ground is an old-style pub that's always changing

The Wexford institution shares its story.

WHEN THE BARRON family first purchased the vacant pub on Wexford’s Main Street, it was quite literally a shell of its former self.

Formerly known as The Kingdom, the pub had burned down and all that remained were the walls. In 1996, Johnnie and Nuala Barron bought the pub and set about rebuilding it from scratch.

“They rebuilt it entirely,” says daughter Enya Barron, who was a small child when her parents took over the pub. “I remember running around building sites and stuff like that.”

The family set about recreating a traditional pub, partnering up with a local builder and going to great lengths to acquire old furniture and signage. As a result, customers often think it’s older than its years. 

“A lot of people when they walk in, they think it looks older and that it’s been there longer,” she says.

Not only did they rebuild the pub, but they renamed it. The story of how the pub got its name differs depending on who you ask, says Barron.

“There’s a romantic story about where the name came from, how all they could see was the sky and the ground,” explains Barron. “That’s a story my Dad likes to tell but my Mam thinks it’s a bit cringey.”

In reality, she says the pub’s name was actually inspired by a song of the same name by local singer-songwriter Pierce Turner. 

 

Since The Sky and The Ground opened in 1996, it has continued to grow and expand. What was once a traditional pub with a front bar now has a number of moving parts, including a side bar and beer garden.

“We’ve kind of gone over and out and up and around,” she says of how the pub has grown. 

“There was a butchers next door, which they bought and it’s now our side bar. Our beer garden would initially have been very small – just a yard – and then they bought the abattoirs that were behind the butchers.”

So a lot of our beer garden would have been an old abattoir.

Additionally, they used to operate a restaurant upstairs, but decided to stop serving food altogether in favor of opening another smaller bar specialising in craft beer.

“I opened it when I dropped out of college six or seven years ago,” says Barron. “My parents were like, ‘If you want to do something there yourself, do it,’ so myself and my brother opened the craft beer bar about six years ago. That’s a different feel. It’s quite European.”

It, too, has evolved and broadened its focus beyond craft beer to include gins and whiskeys.

“We have a hundred plus whiskeys and sixty gins,” she says.

“My Dad in particular is very interested in bourbons and we have a really interesting bourbon collection – a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t probably see in any other bar in the country,” she says. “There’s probably a smaller collection of whiskeys than some other whiskey bars, but it’s a bit quirkier.”

That’s not to say they have abandoned craft beer. The pub still has thirteen beers on tap including hometown heroes Yellowbelly, who Barron credits with helping to popularise craft beer in Wexford.

“I think people are more conscious about what they drink and they’re more interested in drinking better quality across the board, whether it’s spirits or beer,” she says. “In our bar, it’s fairly balanced between the craft beer and spirits side of things.”

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The pub is a constant work-in-progress, says Barron. The family regularly change things up to keep things interesting for customers, she says. 

“Our whole thing is trying to create a stimulating environment for our customers so that even if you’re only coming in for a drink by yourself, there is stuff to look at,” she explains. “Every time you come in you’ll spot something different.”

Case in point? 

“My Dad got a load of old snooker tables from the old snooker club up the road and we built benches and partitions out of the old snooker legs,” she says. “We’re quite resourceful in terms of reusing things and repurposing things.”

It’s this willingness to embrace change that Barron loves about the pub so much.

“I love the fact that my parents are so open to new ideas,” she says. “We all have itchy feet so we’ll paint the front of the bar and a year later we’ll say, ‘Oh we’re a bit bored of that’ and paint it again.”

I think my favourite thing about the bar is that it’s constantly moving forward.

More: The Easter Rising holdout where a Leinster captain pulled pints: The incredible history of the Swan Bar>

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Amy O'Connor

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