Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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

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Somers
Clogh, Co. Kilkenny

When Eddie Somers died in December 2007, his family pub closed its doors after eighty years of distinguished service to the mining community who lived along ‘the Ridge’ between Castlecomer and the Carlow – Kilkenny border. The pub stands at the top of the hill in Clogh, close to a thatched cottage and a stone trough from which mules drank water a hundred years ago. Above the door is one word: ‘SOMERS’. The plum-hued letters have been hanging there since Eddie’s father Richard purchased the pub from the Walsh family in 1927, two years after the mighty Castlecomer coal seam was discovered. Richard had served as an apprentice barman in Roscrea and Portlaoise after the First World War and reckoned he was well-suited to running a pub of his own.

The third of six children, Eddie was born in a room above the pub shortly before Christmas 1931. He learned to read and write at the local school but, at the age of 12, a bone infection caused his kidneys to fail. ‘I was handicapped all my life but I always worked’, insisted Eddie. ‘I was never idle’. His first job was alongside his mother and father, cleaning taps, bottling the stout, keeping ‘contrary’ customers in order. When Richard died in 1954, Eddie’s mother took over. The daughter of a Guinness cooper, she ran a tight ship until her own demise in 1988, when Eddie stepped up to the mark.

Whether Somers pub will ever open again is not known. This is how it was in Eddie’s day. A buzzy alarm rang when you entered. The main bar was a purely functional space, albeit decorated with pretty wallpaper. The floor was tiled simply because that’s easy to mop. Customers either pulled up a stool or a bench or sat up at the bar itself. Nothing had changed in forty years. It was spotless. A stuffed fox beheld all and ‘is nearly as old as myself, snared the year my father was married’. On the main wall was a poster of the Kilkenny Cats, Ireland’s foremost hurling team, and a dartboard. ‘We would have twelve or fourteen playing darts in a big way until maybe 20 years ago’, says Eddie. A ‘Tap Room’ to the right featured a piano, upon which Eddie’s mother would play, and a fireplace. It was designed for dances and for women who ‘wouldn’t want to be seen’.

When Eddie first started at the pub, ‘there was nothing only coal characters here, horses and carts, and all miners’. Most of them were from mining stock for as far back as their pedigree would go. They were hard men who worked 45 hours a week deep down in the dark, wet tunnels, hacking at the seams. In the winters they saw no daylight until Sunday. All they drank was bottled Guinness. ‘They’d come here every Thursday, drink three small ones [bottles] and take six large ones home to have, one a day, with the dinner. I’ve lost twenty men like that in the last twenty years. They’ve all died now’.

Eddie Somers was a classic example of the 20th century Irishman. Strong on tradition, dismissive of spongers, loyal to the Fianna Fail party. He never found time for a wife or children. He was a regular mass-goer. ‘Faith is all I have. I don’t see any better option and it never done me no harm. You won’t get a smooth run in life’. He was also a passionate supporter of Kilkenny hurling. ‘All my life, GAA got me out of all trouble. It kept me talking sport instead of more local things’.

Eddie became intimately acquainted with the local community through working in insurance, first alongside his father and subsequently on his own. Health insurance was a high priority with heart failure and emphysema common among the miners. Later they acted as money-lenders, enabling families to cover expenses of funerals and first communions, or to purchase a Stanley cooker and tiles for the kitchen floor or outside toilets ‘when the water came’. He learnt to be accurate early on. ‘Father would always be a little careless. Maybe without his glasses, a few pence would be missing here and there’. Eddie, blessed with an in-built abacus, was always double checking the sums in case they were asked to explain to ‘the city lads’ who were waiting for an excuse to ‘make a show of you’. ‘I made a resolution; they’ll never make a show of me. If I made a mistake, I’d tear it up and start again’. His eyes shone when he talked figures, shillings and sixpences, percentages and additions and, above all, logical ways to increase one’s money. ‘It’s all about management’, he counselled.

When Eddie retired in 1988, he had nearly 400 customers. He sold the business on and then, with tremendous sadness in his heart, emptied the press where he kept all his hand-written records and ‘destroyed’ them all. ‘It was the only way. Once they were gone from me, they were out of mind’.

The mines might have closed but Eddie could still draw a crowd until the end. ‘The priest comes in of a Saturday night. We’d have no bad language here. An odd ‘feck’ but you wouldn’t mind that’. The customers converged at the bar to talk about matches past and coming soon. They were an honest crew. ‘No credit. No boldness. No nothing at all’.

During the 1960s Eddie and his father also ran a hackney service, escorting past emigrants of Clogh to and from the ferry in Dublin. ‘You’d be in the North Wall at 7 o’clock when the boat come in. It was interesting work. It kept you in contact with people’. The same reasoning was behind his daily opening of Somers. ‘For the first time in 52 year, I haven’t any paper work’, he explained, a few months before his death. ‘This is only a small pub. I keep it going, just for the company now. But who knows, maybe they’ll find another seam a hundred years from now and it’ll all start over again’.

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CONTENTS

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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