Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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


Lahardane, Co Mayo

Leonard’s Pub stands in the small village of Lahardane, midway between the towns of Crossmolina and Pontoon. A patchwork of conifer plantations, brown-green bogs and sheep-speckled pastures runs eastwards towards the shores of Lough Conn. The soaring slops of Nephin Mor ascend to the west.

The story begins in 1897 when it was built as a two-storey building guesthouse by a gentleman called Cadden who sold it to the Durcan family during the 1920s. In 1943, Laurence Leonard, gave up his career at McIntyre’s wholesalers in Belmullet and bought the pub. His wife Molly Kearns worked in Joseph Murphy’s hardware store in Ballina. The Leonards duly opened a grocery section, offering sheep farming families from the community a useful array of tea, sweets, boots, shoes, hardware, seeds, wine, spirits and beer.

Twenty-three years after he took on the pub, Laurence passed away leaving Molly with seven children, ‘two lads and five girls’. ‘She was a busy woman’, says J.P., her youngest child, who came home from Blackrock College, Dublin, to help his mother in 1976. When Molly passed away in 2006, J.P. and his wife Helen succeeded to the premises. The Leonards now live above the pub and have a son and three daughters.

Although Leonard’s is one of the few ‘originals’ left in Mayo, the family-run pub has been almost entirely renovated over the past nine years. ‘All that was left of the actual building were the four walls’, says J.P., with considerable feeling. ‘The whole place was banjaxed. So we started from the ceiling and worked our way down. We had to fit in new paneling, new stair-boards, a new ceiling, but everything was put back exactly as it was… well, nearly everything’. An impractically small snug with its own private fireplace was incorporated into the main bar. The beauty board his father put behind the bar was too much of a dust magnet to remain. The cement floor was replaced with sturdy flagstones.

The principle room is a broad, mustard-hued enclave, with flagstone floor and a tongue and groove ceiling. The structure is just as it was in Larry Leonard’s day – a long bar counter on the left, a shorter grocery counter and shelves on the right. Much of the ‘new’ woodwork has a suitably antiquated provenance. All three pitch pine counter tops were salvaged from Belfast Harbour. The paneling around the fire place came from an old school in Massbrook and the main entrance doors from a derelict hotel in Swinford. The original sash windows were either renovated or reconstructed by Carrabine Joinery of Ballina. Local carpenter Jim Fahy was on hand to build the grocery shelves and sliding door cabinets. Helen Leonard added the overhead lamps and came up with the idea of installing a wheel from an old hay-cart into a port-hole, adding a contemporary twist.

Resting on one shelf are the carefully kept ledgers of Laurence Leonard from the time he purchased the pub in 1943 until his death in 1966. ‘I’m afraid his son isn’t as neat’, says J.P. ‘But if you look at that, you’ll see there was no messing with Larry’. The ledgers chronicle every transaction made in the pub from linseed oil and hydrated lime to legs of lamb and bottles of stout. The 1945 ledger shows how the Mayo farmers not only sheared their sheep twice in twelve months but also made more money on the second batch. The wool was dispatched to London and used as stuffing for bullet-proof jackets.

What makes Lahardane’s particularly interesting is that, unlike so many former shop-bars in Ireland, the pub still functions as a grocery and hardware store. The shelves are not simply stocked for the aesthetic benefit of tourists. They carry vital household items, cosmetic goods and foodstuffs. The salty bacon might no longer hang from the ceiling hooks but the slicer on the counter is still used daily to cut ham.

To the left of the pub, the old stores where Laurence kept his animal food, gas bottles and briquettes has been converted into a new wing, containing toilets and extra room to cater to the spill-over from local wakes. Leonard’s is a popular spot for funeral goers because one of J.P.’s other careers is to that of parish undertaker. J.P. has been dressing the corpses since he was a young man. The hearse, discreetly parked outside a funeral home to the right of his pub, is called out for business some forty times a year. A box beside the pub door lights up to notify passers by of details as to precisely when the deceased is to be laid to rest. Being so in touch with the concept of death gives J.P. a zest for life. And, with Nephin Mor rising behind him, he stoutly maintains ‘it’s a lovely life’.



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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