Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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


Brennans – The Criterion Bar

Main Street, Bundoran, Co Donegal.

Tel:+353 (0)71 984 1810

Nan and Patricia Brennan were born in a bedroom above the bar that their grandparents opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1900. The sisters have lived here all their lives, taking it in turns to serve from behind the pitch pine counter. Their grandparents called the pub ‘The Criterion’, after the noun meaning ‘a standard by which something can be judged’. Genuine traditional bars are hard to find in 21st century Donegal but The Criterion can certainly be judged as one of the few premises unsullied by the advent of modern times. ‘This is my sort of pub’, concurs an elderly Cork holiday-maker, supping on a stout. ‘It’s one of the few places where you can have a conversation and hear yourself think’.

Nan and Patricia started working here after they left school. ‘When we were small we were always in and out and running about’, recalls Nan. In 1947, the sisters helped their parents give the bar the robust overhaul which dictates its present day interior. Classic chairs and sturdy tables made by Arnott’s of Dublin meander gracefully over a cheerful Navan carpet into the deliciously wallpapered parlour and lounge area. Everything is immaculate, traditional, unfussy, simply inviting customers to take time out from the seasonal mayhem of the streets outside.

A dozen stools roll along the wooden bar counter, behind which a pair of 30-gallon Jameson barrels are set into the wall. Patricia indicates the brass mixers and hydrometers used to water the full-proof whiskey down so it was acceptable to the Customs officers; ‘I could do it with my eyes closed’, she laughs. Shelves rise to ceiling height, stacked with well-polished glasses, rare bottles of whiskey, soda siphons, gleaming mirrors, brass cartridges, copperware and stuffed birds. Patrons rest their feet on a brass pole formerly located outside the pub for tying up horses. On the back wall, an aerial view of the verdant island of Inishmurray depicts the weather-battered rubble of a monastic settlement destroyed by Vikings 1200 years ago.

Built in 1823, The Criterion began as a guesthouse for the growing number of well-to-do’s arriving in ‘Breezy Bundoran’ to investigate just why the culture-loving Earl of Enniskillen had built his summer residence here on these raggedy Atlantic shores. By the time the Great Northern Railway arrived in 1866, the lively seaside resort was hailed as the Brighton of Ireland.

As with so many Irish towns, the ambience went downhill when the railway departed in 1957. The marching bands ceased marching and the gorgeous red and green train station was felled. By the early 1980s, the town had regained some of its gung ho prosperity, aided by a bright neon amusement strip. But, for many, Brennan’s is a delightful original, frozen in time.



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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