Historic Cork pub with links to Tom Barry, de Valera and an IRA officer re-opens

As it reopens its doors after Covid, CHRIS DUNNE visits a historic Cork pub and finds out how the family who own it spent lockdown
Historic Cork pub with links to Tom Barry, de Valera and an IRA officer re-opens

Bill Barrett of Barrett’s pub in Killeady.

SUPPING that elusive draft beer that eluded us for so long during Covid in the newly-refurbished outside area at Barrett’s pub in Killeady, you might raise a glass to its glorious history.

“Freedom fighter Tom Barry officially joined the IRA here, Éamon de Valera slept one night here under this roof, and one of the owners was an IRA intelligence officer during the War of Independence,” says owner Bill Barrett.

That surely deserves a toast, along with the fact Bill, his wife Charlotte, and their son, Davy, can now trade again. Nobody can recall it closing before in its chequered 200-year existence.

“We did as many projects as we could during lockdown,” says Davy. 

“We pulled all the stops out for re-opening.”

Bill and Davy have indeed been busy, creating a beautiful seated patio area where hot pizza is served.

Davy has another important project to get ready for, a wedding to Ashley in August. Will he be on the other side of the bar that day?

Davy laughs.

“We’re getting married in Kenmare, but ‘the Afters’ are on here the next day for family and friends. It should be a good day. It’ll be a wonderful occasion — and it is a bit of good news to share!”

The earliest record of Barrett’s Bar in Killeady, Ballinhassig, is that it was the location of the birth of William Barrett in 1819, according to William’s great, great, great grandson and current owner Bill Barrett.

“The pub is obviously older than that,” says Davy, who inherited a rich patriotic legacy. “But that is the earliest we can go back because that is the only date we can prove

“I am nearly sure the William Barrett of 1918 was my great-great great- great grandfather,” adds Davy.

The history of the Barretts would take a bit of delving.

“It’s all so far back, it is difficult to work out.”

The pub has been handed down from father to son in an unbroken line spanning several generations, and is now in the hands of Davy, 35.

He says: “We know Tom Barry was here in the pub when he formally joined the IRA in 1919. 

"He was a very prominent figure who was involved in the Kilmichael and Crossbarry ambushes. Tom’s wedding picture is here in the bar,” adds Davy, pointing out a photograph on the wall next to one of Michael Collins.

“My great-grandfather was an intelligence officer for the IRA in the War of Independence and de Valera slept here in the pub in 1924.”

The family pub harboured everyone travelling the road.

“We think it started out as an inn for travellers,” says Davy.

His mother, Charlotte, worked full-time in the pub while rearing sevenchildren under its roof.

“I was like a marathon runner!” says Charlotte. “I was flying around.

“It was a seven-day, 24 hour job,” adds Charlotte who was born to be behind the bar, meeting and greeting people with a smile, and with a word for everyone.

“I worked weekends too, taking a Monday or a Tuesday off.”

Tom Barry’s wedding party at Barrett’s pub in Killeady 100 years ago, in 1921
Tom Barry’s wedding party at Barrett’s pub in Killeady 100 years ago, in 1921

Did she realise what she had signed up for in 1982?

“I met Bill on a blind date,” says Charlotte, laughing, adding of her hectic time as a mum and bar worker. “I’d often be ironing school uniforms at 2am. I’d stay up after closing time to give the babies their night feed and do a few jobs before I went to bed when I got a few hours sleep.”

She ran on adrenalin and a love of the trade. “I’m paying for it now,” says Charlotte, 62. “I’ve loads of pains and aches!”

She began her marathon journey with Bill at a young age.

“Mary, Bill’s sister, set me up for a date with Bill. On that particular night; I got cold feet and I made up an excuse to meet up another time so I asked Mary to re-schedule the date. Bill wanted to go for a drink and then go on to a nightclub. I wasn’t so sure.”

Bill was in the driving seat.

“When I arrived to meet him at the car on another night, I loved him instantly,” says Charlotte. “I liked what I saw. We talked all night!”

Charlotte has the gift of the gab.

“I couldn’t stop chatting! I don’t drink. Bill and I became great pals. We got married young.”

They became great parents to Billy, Lisa, Davy, Linda, Jessie Marie and Kevin. “We had no television!” jokes Bill.

They had plenty of love and plenty of enthusiasm for their joint venture,Barrett’s Pub.

It was the pub with no beer for well over a year when Covid struck.

“We’re well stocked up now,” says Davy, rolling out the barrels to store in the cold room. Since June 7 it’s been mad busy!”

Charlotte loves being busy.

“I was so bored during lockdown when we were closed,” she says. 

“I wondered how we’d manage. How would we all make a living?”

She roped her husband in to the great outdoors. 

“Bill and I went gardening together!” she says. “We really enjoyed it.”

Charlotte always looks on the bright side of life. 

“Now we both have a new interest,” she says.

“The only time we ever got a knock on the door when we were ever closed before was on a Good Friday!” says Charlotte who always has an open door.

“In all our years; we never before remember the pub being closed.”

Charlotte is thrilled to have the doors open again. 

“I missed everybody so much,” she says. “Our customers are our friends. We love swapping stories. They are all different.”

“We are optimistic for the future of the rural pub. It is like a home-from-home.

“We’re all in it together,” she says about her family and fellow vintners. “It’s great to be back!”

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