THE flurry of flowers were still blooming on the upper landing and sitting room in the KLM bar, on the Lower Glanmire Road, when I visited its landlady Maura Hallinan, who turned 100 recently.
Born in the second decade of the 20th Century, Maura celebrated her milestone birthday on June 8, 2019.
“Somebody said it looked like O’Connor’s funeral parlour,” says Maura, with her natural good-humour, which is a common trait that scientific researchers found in studies on longevity among centenarians. Other traits included close family bonds and a strong work ethic.
Maura, who had six children, and who has eight grandchildren, cites hard work as a vital ingredient to longevity and ticks all the boxes. Well, maybe not all.
“I got so many scratch cards inside my birthday cards,” she says.
“I didn’t win anything big; only €30. But I’m still scratching!”
And she’s still glowing since the postman delivered a very important congratulatory letter from the President himself to 141, Lower Glanmire Road, Tivoli, containing a much more substantial sum than €30 — €2,540.
“I’m framing that,” says Maura.
The cheque, I ask?
“No. the letter!”
Did she do that before she went on the cruise to celebrate her 100th birthday?
“Ah, it was only a mini-cruise to Southampton!” she says, “But it was wonderful!”
Maura could write the formula for living a fulfilled happy life. The bar, KLM, she opened with her late husband Denis, in 1968, is still going strong, managed now by Maura’s daughter, Mary, and her husband, Fred.
“I don’t look at the calendar and I celebrate every day,” says Maura, who enjoys reading, knitting and watching sport on TV.
“I don’t encourage going to too many doctors either. I only take one tablet every day for my heart, and I only get a bit of trouble from my knees going up and down the stairs. So it is just lately I’ve given up pulling pints in the bar. But I still use the stairs. You’re supposed to do that for as long as you can to keep the joints flexible.”
Maura, trained by Guinness to pull the perfect pint, spent more than five decades on her feet behind the bar, so they have served her well.
“I loved bar work,” says Maura. “I loved the company. You were never lonely serving and meeting people in the bar. I met lovely people here down through the years.
“A lot of the old-time customers kept in touch, writing to me for my 100th birthday.
“The train drivers who stayed in Cork overnight were always great customers here. I got sent birthday cards from their wives.
“Often, of an evening, a sing-song would start in the bar with the Dubliners and the Cork lads competing with them, making for a mighty session altogether!”
THE LOVE OF HER LIFE
Maura wasn’t altogether sure about Denis Hallinan when she met him first.
“We used to have dances in our house back then,” says Maura.
“I’m from Ballincollig, born and bred, the middle of 10 children. Denis, from Curraheen, hung about with the local boys and he came to the dances.”
He was good-looking wasn’t he? The photographs never lie.
“Yes, he was very good-looking,” Maura agrees.
She played it cool.
“He hunted me!” she says.
Denis successfully wooed his love and the couple set up home in a one-room apartment in Sheares Street.
“We were happy as Larry,” says Maura, who always looked at life as an adventure, even going through a world war and sadly losing two babies.
“Denis was a plasterer, he worked hard.”
He also had a good outlook on life, like his wife.
“Denis said ‘we won’t be long here. I’m going to build my own house in Bishopstown.’”
Life changed suddenly for the optimistic young couple.
“Then the war came and lots of workers from Cork went to work in England when work got scarce here.
“Denis had to go too.”
The couple had four girls and two boys. Tragically, the boys died in infancy.
“Baby Denis just died in my arms one morning. Finbarr was in the Mercy when he was 18 months old. It was hard with my husband away working,” says Maura, recalling the sad time in her life.
“Nobody really knew back then what happened baby Finbarr.”
Maura, grieving for her deceased boys, craved to be with her husband. When an opportunity arose for her to join Denis in England and get a house near to his sister Lydia, life looked like it could be good again.
“We moved to Dagenham,” says Maura. “It was only afterwards we found out that so many other Cork people lived there because of the Ford factory. We made lots of friends and the girls, Kathleen, Lydia, Mary and Frances, went to a good local school.”
Maura got a part-time job in a cables factory.
“I did shift work making telephone wires,” says Maura.
“I was home for the children at 3pm. At the weekends we went to the social club in the pub across the road for a drink and the sing song.”
Were they happy?
“We were all together,” says Maura. “So we were very happy.”
But they were also keen to move home.
“Denis’s mother was still alive. We sold our house in Dagenham and we decided we’d like to buy our own business. I was never going to be the stay-at-home housewife!
“Being from the Southside, we never went down the Lower Glanmire Road, but as soon as I got talking to the customers when we bought KLM in 1968, it felt like home,” says Maura.
“The pub had been a bit of a dead duck. But we built it up over the years and we did well.”
How much was a pint back then?
“Two shillings and seven pence,” says Maura. Denis and Maura made a good team.
“We worked well together,” says Maura.
“We bought the garden next door for ourselves and Denis did it up. We had great neighbours. Custom was always brisk because we were on the main road and so near to the railway station.”
Did Maura take a drink?
“Never. Except one evening a funeral party came in and a man in the company bought a round of drinks. He added a brandy on to the round and he paid me. Then he left the glass of brandy on the counter and said ‘there you are. Sip that for yourself for the evening!’”And did she?
“It took me a very long time,” she says.
When Denis died unexpectedly in 1977 after a short stint in hospital, Maura found the time on her own very long. But she persisted, working long hours and developing the beloved business that she and Denis called after their three daughters, Kathleen, Lydia, and Mary.
“We couldn’t fit Frances in anywhere!” says Maura, laughing.
She knows laughter is the best medicine.
“There was no room for the F!”
There was always room at the inn for Maura’s friends and family.
“After Denis died, my customers were my family,” says Maura.
“They were loyal customers and they respected me. I never had any trouble. I enjoyed the laugh and the joke always. I loved my customers.”
How did Maura deal with awkward customers?
She laughs. Her eyes glint with the hint of devilment.
“I remember once, a gang of ‘undesirables’ came into the pub, outstaying their welcome,” says Maura.
“We closed from 2.30 to 3.30pm every day. After a few hours, I got a brainwave. I told them I was closing up because I had to go to a friend’s funeral.” There was always the smart alec about.
“One of them said ‘but you don’t look like you’re going to a funeral. You’re not dressed in black!’”
Maura soon remedied that.
“I went upstairs, changed my clothes, put on a black suit and dug out a hat. Now! I said ‘let’s be off’.”
And they were.
Maura was a great supporter of charity.
“ I decided to help out with the CF society. Kathleen’s boys suffered with CF. I was the Treasurer of the society for years. We did a lot of fundraising,” says Maura.
“Holding dances in the Metropole Hotel, running pool tournaments; everyone was very generous and worked together to raise funds for CF.”
CHANGES IN THE PUB TRADE
Maura has seen many changes in the pub trade over the years.
“I don’t agree with the morning after drink-driving testing,” she says.
“A man might have a few pints after the match on a Sunday evening and have to drive his truck for work the next day. If he’s tested as being over the limit he’s off the road and his livelihood is gone. I think there should be a bigger clamp-down on drugs. Drugs are a bigger danger to the public.”
Did Maura and Denis make a good living as well as a good life in the pub?
“We did well,” says Maura. “We were able to provide for our family. We always paid our bills and our taxes. Denis was never on social welfare in his life.”
HOW SHE KEEPS YOUNG
Does she eat well and indulge in the odd tipple?
“I eat often, but not big helpings,” she says. “In later years, I took a sweet sherry or a Babycham.”
And her soft skin?
“I put that down to Nivea Crème,” she says.
What else does Maura attribute to her long and happy life?
“I have my mother’s genes, she says.
“Being happily married was a good thing going through life.”
Learning to appreciate things is very important for a long and happy life.
“Enjoy the small things in life,” says Maura.
“And don’t beat yourself up complaining. That’s no use.”
The stairs won’t beat her either, she says.
“I’ll go up the stairs in my own time,” says Maura.
“And I’ll come down on my hands and knees if I have to!”
The scratch cards won’t beat her either.
“I am sure I’ll win something big,” she says.
Maura, robust and defiantly healthy, in reaching the magic number 100, has already won the biggest lottery in life.