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Ann relishing the reopening of O’Neills

A VERY homely and comfortable bar, O’Neills in Newmarket on Fergus has been in Ann McNamara’s family since 1900.

Having come through wars, recessions and storms over the years, Ann was determined that Covid-19 wouldn’t finish off the business. Not on her watch.

” I don’t know how many people used to ask will it open again, but I said that after 120 years in the family, I wasn’t going to be the one to close the doors. I do my best to accommodate our regulars, and that’s what I love to be able to do,” she said on Monday, one week on from its reopening after six months.

Looking from her home across the road at the locked up pub was difficult, and she’s delighted to be back. “It was unbelievable, we are 120 years in business and for the first month or two it was a grand break, but after that…”

As is the case with many rural pubs, she knows most of the customers and most of them know each other too. She describes the pub as “a big happy family” and she says the regulars were delighted to see the doors open again. “They were thrilled to bits, all of the customers, they couldn’t wait to come back, to have a chat and a bit of company. They had cans at home, but it’s not the same, there’s nothing like sitting down and having a bit of a chat.”

Inevitably, a visit to the pub is quite different to what it was in the first couple of months of the year. “You have to restrict it to the tables when people come in. When it’s full I close the door, it’s easier that way rather than refusing people or telling them I can’t serve them because I’ve no table for them. Once they see the door closed and the house full, that’s it.”

Every year at Christmas the bar hosts a gamble, that it would be packed for, but this year that’s not a runner.

Ann says the pub could accommodate nearly 30 people, but if customers arrive on their own or in smaller groups it goes down. “It varies. If you come in on your own and take a table that means I can’t put anyone else at the table with you. You could sit 25 to 30 people if they all come in groups, but if they come in singly that reduces the number.”

With 11pm closing time now, customers generally arrive a little bit earlier.

The first few days after reopening were busy, but some of the regulars were a bit hesitant about going out at the weekend. “We deal with a lot of older customers and I’d say they were nervous about coming out at the weekend, because the youth is always out at the weekend. The weekend was quiet enough, but the early part of the week was excellent.”

Anne’s customers used to enjoy the finger food she’d serve and she misses giving it to them. “The only thing I miss is the finger food, I can’t do finger food for them! They were giving out to me last night, where’s the apple tart. I said it’ll cost ye nine euros now if ye want apple tart!” she laughs.

As it stands now she is delighted to be able to cater for her customers and hopes it can continue, despite a number of Clare pubs having had to close recently. “They (the regular customers) missed the company of their friends coming, they wouldn’t meet many people, some of them. Hopefully it won’t come back again, that we’d be closed down. It’d be great if we could keep it going as it is at the moment.”


Owen Ryan

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.