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PJ Guerin (The Kingfisher) of Castleconnell, Co. Limerick

Exterior of The Kingfisher. Photo: James Fennell.

For Paddy Guerin, coaches have never been far from mind. His father and grandfather were coach-builders from Limerick City. With a few essential tools and their own bare hands, they could make ‘anything on wheels – tub traps, hearses, floats, carts, carriages, you name it’. As a young man, Paddy himself collaborated on the making of the last stagecoach for the President of Ireland. His entire bespectacled frame shifts excitedly as he explains the intricacies of the job. However, as cars became more commonplace, Paddy tired of the sport, closed down the business and bought himself a pub.

In 1815, Carlo Bianconi, a young Italian print-seller living in Ireland, single-handedly revolutionised the island’s transport system when he established the first regular horse-drawn carriage service. Within a few years, Bianconi inns and coach houses were to be found along virtually every main road in the land. In 1978, Paddy and his new wife Mary Beacom purchased one of these former coach houses. It stood in Castleconnell, a pretty fishing resort near Limerick City, on the banks of the River Shannon. At its peak, the village had eight hotels offering cool linen sheets and weighty woollen blankets to the well-to-do who came here with tackle and rod. The local economy boomed until the 1930s when the new Ardnacrusha dam dramatically reduced both the levels and the flow of the river. Fishing went into decline and today there is just one hotel, a former convent, now principally used for wedding receptions.

Paddy was not the first publican in the family. ‘Edward Lane’, the name of his mother’s father, was emblazoned in marble letters over a large premises in Limerick City’s Milk Market. Edward was ‘the last of the big league tailors in Limerick’, says Paddy. His premises also contained ‘a pub with big high windows’ and a fishing shop.

It was fishing that brought Paddy to Castleconnell. When he was ‘only a small lad’, a family friend by name of Peter O’Callaghan took him on the first of many adventures up the Shannon, pointing out the wildlife as they passed, a Whooper swan here, a kingfisher there. Paddy’s fascination with nature extends into his pub, home to a fine collection of stoats, squirrels, mallards, pheasants, sparrow-hawks, kestrels and foxes, stuffed by local taxidermists PJ Kenny and Tony Griffin. Fortunately, despite the taming of the river, there remains a few explosions of rumbling rapids and leaping cataracts that appeals to salmon. On one wall hangs a remarkable salmon, 24 pounds in weight, caught on a home-made brass spoon in 1999.

A squash racquet and a carpet beater frame a travelling priest’s altar from penal times, found in New York. Photo: James Fennell.

In a glass box above the main fireplace, four traditional musicians are at play on red velvet seats with fiddles, whistles and bodhrans. The figurines were designed by a French woman who called into Paddy’s pub one night looking for directions. She ended up staying four years. Each figurine represents one of the local musicians who gather at the Kingfisher on Wednesday evenings for a session.

You can still see the arches in the wall into which the Bianconi coaches reversed at night to unload bags and valuables. A trap-door in the ceiling provided the solitary access to the drivers bedrooms. The loops through which horses were tied up for the night are still on the back yard walls. In the 1930s, the pub passed from the Lee family to Paddy Scanlan, goalkeeper for the Limerick team that won All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championships in 1934, 1936 and 1940. The hurling legends Mick and John Mackey lived next door.

Paddy’s pub offers perhaps a dozen different seating arrangements, flowery sofas, quirky bar stools, upturned half-casks, railway benches, church pews, rough wooden tables, everything different. Paddy also converted the property into a place to satiate his appetite for collecting things. ‘I’m like a crow. I pick up things. Everything is borrowed, never given back or stolen’.

He is particularly proud of a three-tiered glass box with which he likes to test people as to the purpose of the items therein. These include a draw-knife for shaving timber, a tea-strainer, a nutcracker, a tie-press, a rifle cleaners and a gold-weighing scales. Fishing rods sprawl across the roof. In the back room, a massive butterfly cabinet takes centre stage while the shelves around are laden with old cash tills, donkey collars, bog oak carvings, fishing nets, photos of beloved drinkers and great catches past. Every light-bulb is daubed with paint to keep the ambience calm – ‘you don’t want to dazzle people but I tell them it’s to save electricity!’

In a small room out the back, Paddy has a tackle shop selling rods, flies and spinners, and arranges outings with resident ghillie Mick O’Doherty.

When not selling rods or pulling pints, Paddy is actively involved in trying to get the surrounding area classified as a nature preserve. It is a race against time; Castleconnell’s core is changing rapidly. ‘The village will double in size over the next five years’, he says. ‘There’s 1400 new houses under construction at the now. I have no problem with progress so long as it’s in the character of the village’.

A dining table with its mismatched chairs stands ready for stout, whiskey and playing cards. Photo: James Fennell.


Photo: James Fennell