Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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Published Works

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


The Sky and the Ground
Wexford Town

In 1995 Johnny Barron and his wife, Nuala, entered the townhouse where their widowed great-aunt had lived. Known as The Glen, the building was slowly collapsing, its timber walls riddled with holes, as if it had been the setting for some unbridled Wild West gunfight. As they walked through the rooms, Johnny’s eyes ran over the wainscoting and floorboards that had held firm, the stained glass windows that had somehow escaped the damage. When the Barrons attempted to enter one room, they found the door would not open. A screwdriver was summoned and the hinges removed. Piled high in front of the door was a mountain of magazines. Their late great-aunt, Kathleen Molloy, had been a travel writer for The Irish Times during the 1930s. The postman had known her well, delivering package after package of advertising brochure and magazine from publicity-seeking tourism organizations across the globe. She kept every one of them.

In his twenties, Johnny Barron went from Ireland to Wales approximately four times a day. His job was to look after the Duty Free section on board the Stena line ferry runs between Rosslare and Fishguard. One of the downsides of becoming part of the European Union was the abolition of the Duty Free in 1999. With Johnny out of work, he and his wife Nuala began to consider their options. ‘We took a fancy to open a pub’, he says. The Barrons were to be the first publicans in either family. Johnny’s forbears came from the coast near Tramore and descended from the Barrons of Burnchurch, Co. Kilkenny. Nuala’s family, the Beavers, came from England. Both their grandfathers had worked in foundries - Johnny’s outside Waterford and Nuala’s in Wexford.

In 1995, they purchased ‘The Kingdom Bar’ at the south end of the old Norman port-town of Wexford. It had been a pub at least since the 1890s when licensed to a James Cullimore and was sited in a part of town reclaimed from swamps by enterprising Victorian engineers. Directly behind the building was Stonebridge Lane, which presumably once provided a useful link to a once vital bridge across these vanished marshlands.

The Kingdom Bar had burned down two years earlier and lay derelict. Inspired by the work done on Geoff’s in Waterford City, Johnny and Nuala took it down and, incorporating a former butcher’s shop next door, built a brand new one in its place. 'We wanted a pub that had soul and atmosphere’, he explained. It is to their considerable credit that the Barrons have created a pub, full of soul, that even the most hardened pub spies would be hard pushed to identify as a 1996 creation.

One enters into a room that smells of the old world and seems to go on forever. There is nothing but dark wood, dim lights, vintage advertisements and rickety shelves groaning with curiosities. Much of this effect had been achieved through his aunt Kathleen’s legacy. Johnny salvaged the wainscoting, floorboards and stained glass from her house and placed it with meticulous precision along the walls and floors of his pub. He went through her vast collection of magazines, the one’s that hadn’t been destroyed by damp nd found some eighty-old style advertisements that appealed to them. He visited a church auction where bundles of holy pictures, each one framed, were being sold as a job lot. His chosen advertisements were duly framed and hung along the wooden panelling.

A red bench to the left leads around to a small snug of anaglyptic wallpaper decorated with bookmaker’s memorabilia and photographs of four generations of Barron forbears. A large poster for DWD Whiskey points to the atmospheric Heavens Above restaurant upstairs. A piano, manufacturer unknown, delineates the entrance to the main bar. Chipped enamel lampshades hang low over a counter, salvaged from Gaynor’s shoe shop, now capped by three discreetly assertive tap banks. London signwriter Martin Hopkins crafted the old style signs above shelves salvaged from an old chemist shop and fitted by Wexford carpenter Dennis Frayne. The shelves are now stuffed with Sunlight soaps, Jeyes flats and other ‘where are they now’ household names. ‘I don’t deliberately go out and try to buy stuff’, insists Johnny. ‘It’s just whatever comes to me’.

A saloon-style partition points to a brick wall in the far distance, hung with an old geographical map of Ireland. To the right, a marble fireplace dated 1864 powers heat into a series of private wainscoted enclaves, each one furnished with marble tables, games tables, stained glass panes and classic advertisements for Chivas Regal, Wills Gold Flake, Donard Dew Old Irish Whiskey, Tayto Crisps and other goods that promise ‘sweet harmony’. Few chairs match. The floorboards in this part came from an old malting house in Birmingham.

The Sky and the Ground is a musical pub with a Singer-Songwriter Club on Tuesday and traditional music on Mondays and Wednesdays. Among those who play regularly is 86-year-old fiddler Gerry Forde who, old timers take heart, started the regular Monday night sessions when he was 75’. The pub’s name came from the title of an album released by another Wexford musician, Pierce Turner, a relation of Johnny’s wife Nuala, memorably described by Hot Press as ‘Joyce with a voice, Yeats on skates’.

We get a very mixed crowd’ says Johnny. ‘Eighteen to ninety, right across the board’. He appreciates that a pub must make money to survive. He leases the restaurant upstairs and has landscaped a fine beer garden to the rear. Perhaps most importantly he has converted the former butcher’s shop into a Sports Bar, the solitary room with a television. ‘We built this pub so people could have a chat but if the lads want to watch sport, they can go in there’. Whether Johnny’s children choose to get involved in the business remains to be seen but the very fact that he has ensured the pub is proactive will certainly ignite their passions. All too often, it is where parents seem to be doing nothing to stay afloat that their children baulk and run. The Sky in the Ground is an excellent example of how to do something and how to do it right.



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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