Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

 
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Published Works

The Irish Pub, Turtle Bunbury & James Fennell (Thames & Hudson, 2008)

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Geoff’s Bar
Waterford City

The devil in the corner’ was how one publican described the television in his bar. ‘I took it away one time and they all gave out to me’. The simple fact, we are told, is that 21st century drinkers need the visual stimulation of a television in order to enjoy the whole pub experience. It does not necessarily matter if the volume is on. Indeed, many pubs choose to have a radio relaying completely different information to that suggested by the flickering plasma screens above the bar. Few can doubt that televisions destroy the ambience of a pub. Yes, there are certain sporting occasions when such destruction might be merited. But such occasions must be occasional. They cannot dominate. In all too many instances, the hypnotic screens remain defiantly on, day and night, seriously hampering any chance of creative conversation by the poor souls perched along the bar.

There are those who argue that showing matches on television brings in the money. That may be. But those who want to make money by less perfidious means would be well advised to look at Geoff’s in Waterford. This family-owned pub is the most successful in the city. At weekends, queues form outside its doors. The pub can accommodate 750 persons at maximum capacity. By day the pub doubles as a café and wholesome meals are served through until the evening. And there is not one television in the three-storey building.

The reason Geoff’s is so popular is probably because its eponymous owner has been so successful at maintaining the essence of the grocery bar which his grandfather, Geoffrey Power, founded here on this site over a century ago. Back in 1906, the pub’s location was just about perfect. Every day, crowds congregated in the Apple Market just outside its front door. Less than two hundred metres away was the Stand where all the jarvey cars gathered to collect and deliver passengers from the city’s hinterland. The British army stationed a garrison in the nearby barracks.

Right through until the 1960’s, the pub could count on a high quota of farmers to occupy the counter stools. Geoff’s mother Eleanor recalls how they would arrive in from the countryside, park their carts around the Apple Market clock, and present her husband Michael with a list of their desired goods. They would then sit down and have a drink or two while their groceries were boxed and loaded up onto their carts. By early evening, the sing-songs were in full flow. It wasn’t just farmers either. One of the regulars was Major Redmond Cunningham, MC, a veteran of the Arnhem campaign who frequently met his friends in the bar to play cards.

By the time Michael Power passed away in 1977, much of Waterford’s lifeblood had moved away from John Street towards the Quays. The Apple Market had largely dried up and the farmers now did their shopping in supermarkets. However, hope came home that same year when Michael’s second son Geoff returned from Dublin to take stock of the situation. His plan was to stay in Waterford for a year and then move on. He has been there ever since.

One of Geoff’s first steps was to remove the Formica counter tops, beauty boards and black and white Dunlop tiles, thus returning the bar to its original timber and slate finish. He also evicted the dartboard and the television. In time, he extended the bar into the grocery section. And for the next three decades he and his team set about converting the bar into its present incarnation, simultaneously breathing new life into this part of town.

Somehow, despite the enormity of the space and the hotch-potch nature of its furnishings, Geoff’s still feels like a genuine old world bar. You could imagine a press-gang slipping in to heave your drunken corpse onto a man o’ war. One enters past the original plate glass sign into a vast emporium of the old world – dark woods, slate floors, a veritable orgy of sofas, tables and chairs veiled beneath ecclesiastical partitions, peeking through balustrade railings, sprawling merrily up spiral stairwells. Every piece of furniture, from floorboards to the innermost reveals, seems to be different. In the main drinking area to the back right are tables of every shape and size. Long rectangles. Big squares. Small circles. Wide ovals. One table, known as the United Nations, can seat fourteen. Seating is likewise an assortment of sticklebacks, long benches, church pews, sturdy armchairs and slick stroll-back dining chairs. Walls are bedecked with gilded mirrors, classic advertisements, stitchwork quotations, bawdy prints, photographs of Powers family members from earlier generations, a Robert Ballagh’s Campbell Soups print, a magnificent billboard poster for the 1993 Fleadh Mór Tramore.

Shelves and dressers appear at unexpected moments, laden with vintage ports, ledger books, headless statues and memorabilia of the Waterford Instrumental Society. The bar counter occupies a square at the centre of the premises; its timbers salvaged from an old bank. Indeed, most of the furniture has been salvaged – banisters from the old Grenville Hotel, panels from the Barton’s old quayside merchant house, signs from nearby draperies and outfitters that have since closed, Douglas fir floorboards from a mill in Graiguenamanagh, chunky slate flags came from an old pub in Portlaw upon which rough-shod tanners once stood.

Not everything is as it seems. Tony Cullen, the chief carpenter at Geoff’s, taps a splendidly ornate Elizabethan arch above him and whispers the word ‘medite’. ‘I’ve often felt most good design comes from accidents’, he confides. Tony is a part-time set designer for Waterford’s Red Kettle Theatre Company. As such he has learned not only how to work to limited budgets, but also how to trick the passing eye. Many ‘antiques’ scattered through the pub were created for a performance of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’. Tony’s theatrical bent reaches its apex in the latest extension, added in 2005, incorporating part of an old laneway running directly beneath the old city wall.

Geoff’s is a large pub, comprising the original grocery bar, an old bookshop, a small printing factory, a medieval laneway and a back-yard. It’s likely Geoff will continue to expand his empire in coming years. As his mother Eleanor says, ‘he has the business’. ‘It’s an ongoing project’, concurs Tony. ‘which means we’re never going to finish. The plans will be drawn when the job is done’.

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CONTENTS

1. The Concept.
2. On the Road.
3. The Chosen Pubs.
4. Conclusions.
5. Personal Qualifications.

6. A History of the Irish Pub
.
7. Acknowledgments.

8. Media Coverage.

9. Bibliography.
10. Places to Stay.

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