In the dead of night, the butler made his way to the graveyard, eased open the vault door and struck a match to his paraffin lamp. The coffin lay exactly where it had been placed two days earlier. He set the lamp down, crossed to the casket and slowly lifted the lid. Grasping the woman’s hand, he began to remove the bejewelled rings. A large ruby ring, visible in the flickering light, resisted his strength. The butler produced a small penknife from his top pocket, inhaled deeply and set to work on the finger. The woman awoke and, in considerable pain, screamed loudly. The butler bolted into a nearby forest and was never seen again. The woman stepped out of the coffin, relocated her family and lived eerily ever after.
Such are the tales one is likely to hear when taking a drink in Annie McGinn’s pub in Newbliss, County Monaghan. The story has gained currency over the years and is now part of local folklore. The woman is supposed to have been one of the Murray-Kerrs who lived on one of the big estates outside Newbliss.
The pub was purchased in 1912 in trust for Annie’s father, Hugh McGinn, by his cousin Phil McGinn. Hugh was in America at the time, having emigrated there with the rest of the family, the McGinns of Rockcorry. His time in America served him well and he mastered the bar trade, running a pub in downtown Manhattan with his brother.
Soon after his return to Ireland, Hugh married Bridget Smith and settled down to run the grocery bar formerly owned by a Protestant family called Manley. Two special malt barrels he purchased from Edmunds of Dublin in 1912 rest above the bar to this day.
The population of Newbliss in 1912 was about 300. The Rev. Joseph Gaston of Drumkeen was the only person who owned a ‘mechanically-propelled vehicle’, a powerful motorcycle with which he was known to harrow a crop of oats in his glebe-lands. To the back of the pub was a forge where a nailer was based; he slept in a loft above the forge.
The pub sits on the brow of a hill adjacent to the crumbling remains of a barracks built for the Royal Irish Constabulary in the early Victorian age. Shortly before Annie’s birth in 1922, the barracks were occupied by the notorious Black and Tans, dispatched from Britain to suppress Irish rebels during the War of Independence. Annie recalls her mother’s accounts of these troubled times when the barracks constantly active with noisy drunks being confined to the lock-up and the coming and going of the soldiers in their vehicles.
‘She was a great woman’, says Annie of her mother. ‘A determined woman who would not brook any untoward behaviour or foul language in her pub’. Bridget died aged 92 in 1973, the years after her husband passed away at the equally respectable age of 93. Annie and her brother Michael then took over the running of the premises. Michael has now also gone to his eternal reward.
Annie has left the pub as it was in her parents’ day, small, warm, simply decorated. The only change has been the opening hours. ‘I used to be open from half-ten every day because there’d always be somebody. It was often someone just popping in for a bottle of porter after they’d gone to the creamery for milk’. The village was considerably busier then as the railway, closed since 1957, provided a lifeline for trade. ‘Those were the days! My old customers are all dead and gone. It’s all young people now but we don’t get many young people in here’.
Amongst her more intriguing customer are the miscellaneous artists, writers, musicians and other oddities attending nearby Annaghmakerrig, the retreat set up by the late theatre director Sir Tyrone Guthrie. Annie has served plenty of stout to such residents, often when they have literally just completed their magnum opus. She recalls Tyrone Guthrie, a tall man, appearing in the doorway one Sunday morning when she and her mother had just returned from Mass. He was in pursuit of a bottle of whiskey ‘for friends’ which, according to one near relative, was almost certainly his wife who enjoyed a drop. ‘Of course’, replied Annie. ‘He came right in after me, right behind the counter and put his hand way to the top shelf and took the bottle down’. Guthrie’s noble attempts to boost the local economy by establishing a jam factory were to unravel when a machine designed to screw on the jar lids malfunctioned. The jam arrived in shops across the USA covered in mould, with his handsome face emblazoned all over the label.
Annie is a contended soul in her diminutive village pub. She still retains her custom, small though it may be. She is never happier than when there is a line of customers along the bar and the banter is in full flow.
With thanks to Tom Crampton and Christopher FitzSimon.
Extracted from ‘The Irish Pub’ by Turtle Bunbury & James Fennell (Thames & Hudson, 2008).