September 5th 2014
On Monday evening last The Bridge Bar – an institution in Ballyhea for over a century – closed its doors. The shock as word spread – this isn't like a death in the parish, this is death in the parish, death even of the parish, of one of its vital organs. To my shame, I contributed to its closure.
I was never much of a drinker but for decades, in the company of my own family, of good friends, good neighbours and very often, our extended families visiting from various places, in The Bridge (as it was universally known) I enjoyed a few weekends pints of the best Guinness to be served anywhere.
Over the last few years the tightening of the drink-drive allowance has put the death-squeeze on rural pubs such as The Bridge.
A taxi – out from Charleville, to The Bridge, then the roundabout back-roads to my hut in the hills, then back to town for the driver – was €15 one way, not much of an option when all you're having is a few pints.
Making a taxi-driver of my wife – no, not my way. And so, like many another I stopped going to The Bridge, stopped going anywhere. I'm the poorer for it, losing touch, peripheral where once I was among those at the core of this fine community.
You see the Bridge Bar wasn't just about alcohol; it was the beating heart, the ethereal soul of a parish, a place of inter-generational sharing and bonding where mortality and immortality met on a regular basis, the mighty deeds of the never-dead recalled to further enliven the living in an atmosphere of conviviality, of shared laughter and song. Hosted by the genial Kennedy clan – Donie, his son and daughter Trevor and Yvonne – it was there we celebrated great parish hurling victories, there we waked our dead, there we toasted our new-born, there we witnessed the coming-of-age of our youth.
Today it's closed, as are The Harp and Herlihy's, the three rural pubs that served this parish when I was a youngster. Tonight we can all sleep safer in our beds, can't we, knowing all those drink-drivers are now confined to their rural homes.
2014, another notch in Gay Byrne's belt in his great vision for Ireland, another great victory for those oblivious to the destruction of the people of rural Ireland. Welcome to it.