Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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


Mary Kennedy’s
Callaghane Bridge, Co. Waterford

What shall we do with a drunken sailor, earl-eye in the morning?

The answer to certain regulars in Mary Kennedy’s pub is obvious.

Heave him by the leg in a running bowline, earl-eye in the morning.

‘Drunken Sailor’ is probably the most famous of the traditional sea shanties to survive from the 19th century. Such songs were devised to help sailors achieve strenuous tasks like hoisting a sail or hauling in an anchor. The rhythm of the shanty songs enabled the crew to synchronise their movements, whilst simultanously imbibing them with a useful sense of good cheer and rum-fuelled optimism. The shantyman opened each verse; everyone else bellowed back the response.

In 2004, Mary Kennedy was asked whetehr she might open the back room of her small country pub as a practice venue for the nine-member Hooks and Crookes. The shanty group was formed in 2005 to entertain those gathering in Waterford to witness that summers’ Tall Ships Race. Before long, they were performing at similar events from Newfoundland to Brittany. Every Monday night, the Hooks and Crookes meet at Kennedy’s for unaccompanied practice, acapella renditions of ‘Sailing in the Lowlands Low’, ‘Blood Red Roses’ and such like.

Mary Kennedy’s pub is to be found in a long, single storey farm cottage some 5 miles south of Waterford City. Six elegantly shuttered windows and a series of pretty flower baskets break the monotony of the cottage’s sallow, rendered walls. The roof is handsomely thatched. Flanking the cottage at either end stand the rubble-stone outbuildings and hay sheds which Mary’s brother still uses for the family farm. Although a ‘house and gardens’ can be seen on this site on mid 18th century map, these buildings appear to date to the 1840s.Mary and her block-layer husband, Ambrose ‘Amby’ Daniels, live in a new house to the rear.

The Kennedys were farmers from the Straits of Clashmore on the south coast of Waterford who settled by Callaghane Bridge in about 1855. The family lived in rooms at either end of the cottage but, by the 1880s, they were using a large room at the centre of the building as a shebeen. It would seem the lady of the house generally looked after this establishment. Mary’s grandmother, Mary Jo Kennedy, certainly ran the show while her husband Nicholas kept his mind on the farm. Nicholas and Mary Jo had a large family but many died young. Of the survivors, Peg succeeded to the pub while her brothers Nicholas and Robbie took on the farm.

Mary Kennedy lost her mother when she was a child. As the eldest of five, she swiftly took on the mantle of responsibility, helping her father cook and cleaning up their farm cottage. In time, Nicholas sent his daughter to help out in the family pub. Peg had since passed away and Robbie, a bachelor, was in need of assistance serving drinks to the ever-increasing numbers coming to the pub. When Robbie died in 1979, Mary inevitably inherited the pub.

The pub presently consists of two rooms – a main bar, with red tile floors and pitch pine ceiling, and a back room where people play poker and the shanty singers practice. Seating options comprise of five rattan stools, a handful of bentwood chairs and two school benches running along the walls. Radiators concealed beneath the benches add to the heat emanating from a pebbledash fireplace. Light from a converted cartwheel overhead and a pair of shell lamps rebounds off copper coalscuttles and brass kettles. The walls are clad in tongue and groove to shoulder height, with paintings such as Vermeer’s The Letter and a series by Peter Reddin. By the entrance hang photographs of race horses from the locality such as Limber Hill (Cheltenham Gold Cup, 1956), Freebooter (Aintree Grand National, 1950) and, above all, Dawn Run, the most successful race-mare in the history of National Hunt racing. Charmian Hill, the mare’s owner, and her sons Jeremy, Oliver and Barton frequented Kennedy’s in the glory days. Kennedy’s thatch roof nearly blew clean off when Dawn Run completed the Cheltenham Gold Cup / Champion Hurdle double in 1986.

Traditionally Kennedy’s was a community pub where farmers and labourers from the parish came to drink and play poker and music and catch up on the gossip. Sometimes they came to fight. Fighting has, of course, been a phenomenon of the Irish countryside since earliest times. However, as Mary says, in those days people fought with bare fists rather than cowardly knives and lily-livered guns. She recalls many a brawl breaking out in the family pub. ‘Fellows were always turning the tables over’. Her crafty solution was to commission a local joiner to make three new tables with iron bases so weighty that you would need to sing a particularly vigorous shanty in order to tip it up.

Many country pubs in Ireland do not open because the families who own them no longer live there. The Kennedy’s still live next to their pub but do not open until the late afternoon because daytime trade is too sporadic these days. Nonetheless, Mary does her bit to promote trade, hosting the shanty sessions and the occasional pub quiz. She understands that for the pub to survive, she will probably have to make some far-reaching changes to the essence of the establishment. She does not expect any of her own children to take on the pub, encouraging them instead to make their mark in their own respective professions.

Heave-ho and up she rises, earl-eye in the morning.



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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