Turtle Bunbury

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Vanishing Ireland

Tom Frawley (1920-2014)

Publican - Lahinch, County Clare

‘If priests were allowed to marry, they wouldn’t have had half the number of scandals.’ When Tom Frawley makes his point, he does not slam his fist on the bar. He says the words with quiet certainty. He has thought the matter through thoroughly and he knows he is correct. Besides which, the bar is his so why would he want to go and bang it.

Tom has been pulling pints in County Clare for seventy-seven years. He watched the first one settle when he was nine years old. The pub in questions is named Pat Frawley for his father and occupies a discreet position in the seaside village of Lahinch. It has been operational since 1880 and came into the Frawley family when a great-aunt married the original owner. Tom’s mother inherited and ran it until her death in 1961 when Tom, her only child, took it on.

Forty-five years later, the octogenarian bachelor keeps a simple bar. It is a place for quiet indulgence and brief philosophy. Although we are told by others that Tom has a fine voice, he claims to be wary of musical sessions getting underway in his bar. ‘Music draws a crowd,’ he warns.

There is a solitary tap for Guinness. Every other type of drink comes out of a bottle. When he started, the Guinness came by train from St James’s Gate. It was kept in wooden barrels that often leaked so the stout had gone rotten. Fortunately, Guinness were always good for a refund. One thing Tom does not serve is póitín. He says there is good and bad póitín. ‘Some people get a kind of madness,’ he says, ‘and if you drink water the next day, you’ll get drunk again.’

He says the price of stout and whiskey stayed the same from 1920 to 1939. The pint was always nine-pence. Whiskey was ten-pence a half glass. ‘The word “inflation” was never heard of until the war. Then things got dear and they got dearer ever since.’

Tom’s one trip outside Ireland was a pilgrimage to Lourdes. That was in the days when the Catholic Church reigned supreme in Ireland. Although he would not consider himself a deeply religious man, he is nonetheless concerned for the fate of his faith. Its rapid decline became apparent to him when he attended the funeral of a popular priest in Limerick not long ago. He was astonished to note that of all the robed clerics that followed the hearse, not one was under fifty years of age. ‘It’s the same all over Ireland,’ he says. ‘New people aren’t coming forwards.’

That is why he thinks the Church should update its thinking on marriage. ‘It might mean those that went away from the Church would come back again,’ he suggests. It is only a matter of time before the Church will be forced to give in on the subject. ‘And they will have woman priests too!’ he concludes. ‘I have heard that discussed here umpteen times and ninety-nine per cent of people I know say priests should be allowed marry.’

Then again, he wonders was the collapse of the Church simply an inevitable consequence of prosperity? ‘When people are poor, they are closer to God. When they are rich, they forget about him.’

Tom Frawley passed away on 16 September 2014. He was laid to rest at Kilmacreehy Cemetery in Lahinch.


Click here to see a full list of persons interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland project.