Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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


Gartlan’s Bar
Kingscourt, Co. Cavan.

You’ve been sitting there since my grandfathers time’, says Paul Gartlan.

Aye, we’ve been coming here a long time’, concurs 70-year-old Dick Cassidy.

Once a day, regular as clockwork, hey?’ adds Johnny Browne.

But not as long as old Paki Gargan’, points out Dick.

Paki was brought in here the day he was christened’, explains Paul. ‘And he drank here till he died aged 94. He put nearly a century into the place’.

Gartlan’s is a traditional grocery bar, nicknamed the Hypermarket by its regulars. It has hardly changed since Paul’s grandfather George Gartlan first opened it in 1911. ‘Well, we’ve dusted it once or twice’, admits Paul. The doorbell jingles as you enter, prompting those seated at the bar to about turn and give you the once over. To the left, the shop occupies an open-side room, its tightly-packed shelves stocked with brillopads, tissues, Barry’s tea, sugar, sardines and other non-perishables. Newcomers tend to drift down to the kitchen chairs and foot stools in a sitting area to the left. This is where musicians assemble on occasion, their feet tapping on the old tile floor, their pints balanced on window ledges between a Regentone long-wave radio, a kettle, an oil lamp. Pretty flowers clamber from small reed baskets hung from sash windows. The back wall is lined with poems and ballads etched by local literati, immortalizing wonderful nights. Photos of the local Muff Fair hang alongside a wheel from a Thin Lizzy, the first Ford Model-T car that came to Ireland, and a collage entitled ‘Paul has that Special Effect’ depicting ten customers in various stages of self-induced narcosis. People can watch television in additional, smaller room at the back of the building.

George Gartlan and his brother John already ran a pub in Bailieborough called The Cusack Stand but George needed to diversify. Hence, the acquisition of the lease on this 17th century thatched cottage in Kingscourt. George’s wife Rose Marie Mulvanny came from Carnaross in County Meath and helped manage the business over the next four decades. Their four children were born in the building and taught how to bottle beer and clean pipes from an early age.

When George Gartlan died in 1946, his fifteen-year-old son Jim succeeded. Jim ran it for 63 years until his death aged 76 in 2007 when the business passed to Paul, the eldest of Jim’s three sons.

‘And look at the shower of hoors I ended up with’, chuckles Paul. ‘In all honesty, I could have committed murder and got a lighter sentence. If you had a view from this side of the bar, believe me, it’d scare you’. Like his grandfather before him, Paul is a big man with an easy laugh. Like his father before him, the 44-year-old was born in the pub. He recalls helping his grandmother bottle beer as a toddler. ‘You’ll get your mineral when you’ve drunk your bottle of stout’, she’d say. ‘I pulled my first pint when I was 6 and I drank my first when I was 5’. At the age of 7, Paul drank two fresh bottles ‘and I had to be carried out of the house’.

They used to call me Noddy at school’, he says. ‘At roll call, they’d say ‘Gartland’ and spell it out. I’d say “No D” and so they called me Noddy’. Before he returned to Ireland, Paul worked on building sites in London and Germany. Back in the pub, his father was the absolute boss. ‘Until he died, I was like a mushroom. Kept in the dark and covered in shite. When the whole lot was left in my lap, I was lost and, only for that woman over there, I’d still be lost’. The woman he points to is his better half, Sharon Sheehan.

The shelves on the back-bar are stacked to the ceiling with bric-a-brac from another age. There’s an element of the fantastical - horns for summoning princely chariots, gourds for poisoning step-daughters, padlock keys for giant treasure chests. There’s also plenty to baffle future generations. A savage-looking mole-trap from America. A hook for unbuckling carriages at the now abandoned Kingscourt railway station. A tobacco knife for cutting the plug. A powder-horn for measuring cartridge strength.

In the 1940s, George Gartlan purchased a field and quarry southwest of Kingscourt by Muff Rock. This is where one of Ireland’s oldest traditional fairs takes place every August. The Muff Fair is considered an unofficial bank holiday for everyone in South Monagahn and the adjoining counties of Meath and Cavan. Farmers and traders from all parishes assemble with their Connemara ponies, Arab stallions, raggedy cobs and nimble-footed donkeys. Boy scouts strut purposefully down roads that echo with the sound of hand-slapping deals. Jim Gartlan was one of the key players behind the fair for over fifty years. His payback comes every year in the shape of a large corrugated barn, converted into a licensed pub and dance hall for the afternoon, where all the fairgoers gather to celebrate the magic of Muff. As well as music, there are keenly fought battles of pitch n toss and skittles, a rudimentary version of the game which involves hurling a stick at skittles. The barn is owned and operated by the Gartlans. ‘You wouldn’t want an early start next morning after the Muff Fair’, counsels local grain trader Richard Pringle.

Gartlan’s is a pub with hearty conversation at its core. Whiskery men in Tommy Makem jumpers wheeze with laughter at each others wisecracks. Their fathers were men who walked amid cabbages and potatoes with horse, carts and whitethorn stick. Kingscourt’s history dates to those dark days when Ireland was a raging beast, perpetually at war with invaders and with itself. The town was named after the defeated King James II spent two nights in nearby Cabra Castle on his retreat from the battle of the Boyne. Today, the busy market town hosts the powerful building supplies company Kingspan group and the Gypsum mines. There are so many newcomers in town that old timers are unsure whether to greet the people they pass on the pavements. ‘It’s gone up a bit in the world since I left it’, says Dick, a recently returned émigré. ‘There was one time it was a very poor part of the country. Now everyone’s building big houses for three or four hundred thousand pounds’.

At such times as these, it is important to have a publican who takes his role seriously. Paul Gartlan makes his visitors feel wanted. He provides them with good drink and considerable humour and, with Sharon behind him, he is to be commended for maintaining the very essence of a traditional Irish pub.


Gartlan's closed in 2013 and its rapid decline was a source of grave concern. However, in October 2014, the Anglo-Celt reported: "Padraig and Sheila Smith, have announced they have completed the sale of Gartlan’s bar and hope to carry out the restoration work and refurbishment and are “hopeful” to have it reopened some time in 2015."



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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