Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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


12 Leinster St, Athy, Co. Kildare

On 2nd July 1903, twelve motorcars came hurtling down the narrow streets of Athy in the closing stages of the annual Gordon Bennett Race. Amongst those who might have watched Belgian’s ‘Red Devil’ Camille Jenatzy thunder towards victory was William Scully, a 38-year-old businessman from Timahoe who had opened a grocery-bar on the town’s Leinster Street earlier that year. Perhaps, as the petrol clouds dissipated, he turned to his Galway-born fiancée, Mary Finucane, and wondered aloud at this ever-changing world.

A few miles away, in Stradbally, Mrs Mary Shortall may have also observed the passing of the motorcars. She might even have allowed her two small nephews, Jim and Michael Clancy, to sneak a glance. Their parents, John and Kate Clancy, hailed from the coalmining terrain of Clogh in Co. Kilkenny but had died of pneumonia within nine days of each other in October 1893.

Shortly after Mary Shortall’s death in 1901, young Jim Clancy secured a job as a shop assistant in William and Mary Scully’s pub. By 1911, the 18-year-old was packing boxes of soap, sugar and tea for his cloth-capped customers. After William Scully’s death in 1938, Jim purchased the pub from his widow. Jim ran the pub with his wife Maureen for nearly forty years until his death in 1976. The name above the door remained ‘William Scully’ as a mark of respect to his mentor. It was changed to ‘Clancy’ towards the end of the Second World War. And that’s what it’s been ever since.

It seems somehow astonishing that Ger Clancy, the sprightly gentleman who now runs that same grocery bar, is the son of Jim Clancy, born in 1894. But history is forever playing tricks with time. Ger has been involved with the pub from an early age but managed to escape to America in his youth and had dreams of becoming both an accounting millionaire and an international rugby player. Shortly before his mothers death in 1996, Ger came back to help run the pub. He has been running the show with his wife Breda ever since.

Ger is a passionate fan of the old style Irish bar. As such, he and Breda have done much to bring the pub back to its original Edwardian state. The exterior was repainted in the traditional combination of signal red, black and white. Assisted by Eddie Rice, Ger stripped the panelling and bar of all paint and like overcoats, save for a useful red Formica sheet on the bar counter. They then varnished the entirety with a black Burmese teak finish. A floor of Chinese slate was laid over the original cracked tiles. William Scully’s original grocery shelves remain in position although that aspect of the business faded out after Jim’s death. The old ledgers rest beside an old railway lamp presented to Ger by his father-in-law. Number plates collected by Ger from every one of the United States are juxtaposed between photographs of heroic sportsmen, folk musicians and beloved patrons past. On other walls hang newspaper clippings, play-bills for the abandoned Grove Cinema, old posters for Snuff and Woodbines. Along a spacious corridor painted in a retro diamond fashion by artist Paul Hughes, hangs an ancient rattle, last wound up to maximum effect when Kildare won the All Ireland in 1928. The beer garden incorporates the old bottling area and stable yard where traders kept wool supplies back when Athy was the largest market town in the area.

Thom’s Directory of 1926 records forty-one ‘wine and spirit dealers’ in Athy. By 2007, that number had fallen to sixteen. To stay afloat, you need to be different and that is where Clancy’s has a trump card. In 1964, Jim Clancy evicted all the dusty old bags of maize from the grocery’s storeroom and reopened it as a music room. Nearly fifty years later, Clancy’s is considered one of the great music pubs of Eastern Ireland. The weekly ‘seisun’ now takes place in the old sitting room where Jim and his card-playing friends used to play 25’s from half nine in the morning. Ger remembers being regularly summoned to this room as a boy and dispatched to the bookies across the road to back a horse. Every Thursday night, somewhere between twelve and fifteen musicians now congregate here. They play fiddles, bodhrans, flutes and mandolins, and sing songs about long-gone tyrants, rising moons and rose-peppered valleys. ‘A lot of the older people live for Thursday night’, says Ger. ‘We’ve lost a good few of the older guys who used to play in the last five years but we have plenty of new players to keep it going’. The tobacco-stained walls are pasted with scores from songbooks, classical and traditional. The audience sway upon scruffy benches and assorted chairs, tapping their heels on the wide-plank floor and allowing their voices to join in with the repetition of each rousing chorus. Many have heard tell of these nights and travelled from a considerable distance. The sound of music occasionally rebounds off the oil lamps and Superser heater and dark overhead rafters and reels into the rest of the pub via a useful hatch made from the timber of old school desks.

Clancy’s is that rare pub where music and sport compliment one another. ‘It was always a sporting pub’, says Ger who captained the Kildare Minors when beaten by Tyrone in the 1973 All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Originally it focused on GAA but, with Ger an avid rugby player, that brought in a rugby crowd too. Horse-racing is also a regular feature. ‘And now since we’ve all got too old to play sport, its gone to golf’. The pub’s team is the Loose Porter Golf Society, named for an expression Ger heard an old man use for draft beer. ‘It’s loose in the keg as opposed to bottled’, he explains.

Ger is unconvinced that any of his four teenage daughters will take on the pub. ‘Being brought up in a pub is like being brought up with bees. You run away from it. When they were young, they enjoyed it. But how can you study for your exams with this racket up above?' To make life easier for them all, Ger relocated his family to the outskirts of town in the spring of 2007.



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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