M. Finucane, Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, Ireland.
(068) 43 243
Ballylongford (Béal Átha Longfoirt, means “anchorage ford mouth”, in Gaelic) is a small village near Listowel, in North Kerry. The village is situated at the top of a creek off Ballylongford Bay on the tidal estuary of the River Shannon, on a coast road between Tarbert and the seaside town of Ballybunion.
The Shannon forms the natural northern boundary for Co. Kerry. To the north of the Kingdom lies Co. Clare . The only crossing for miles is the Tarbert ferry along the N69. This 20 minute journey across the estuary to Killimer, Co. Clare saves an 85 mile detour.
I came to Ballylongford our first time in Ireland thirteen years ago. As I mentioned in a previous post Julie and I were touring down the West coast from Donegal and the weather had been horrible.
It still was in Ballylongford. We had come off the ferry, were looking for a B & B for the night and a guidebook recommended one in Ballylongford. That suited us as to the north of Ballylongford on Carrigafoyle Island, was a castle and anchorage of the same name which was on our to visit list the next day. For centuries, Ballylongford must have shared the political, military and religious fate of this castle and the nearby Franciscan Lislaughtin Abbey.
We found our digs; sorted our Labrador with a walk and food and then went off in search of nourishment ourselves. I can’t remember where we ate but remember afterward suggesting a quick pint in Finucane’s and ending up stopping until near closing time, chatting to an Irish couple travelling the West Coast but in the opposite direction to ourselves. Several pints of the black stuff later and I had forgotten all about the crap weather of the previous three/four days. It was just a wonderful atmosphere.
Now if you can find a better example of a perfect Irish local’s pub, then not like me, you’re Irish. M Finucane’s to me is to traditional rural Irish pubs what I guess Kerry is to Gaelic Football. Just far enough away from perfect to remind you we are all human, but so close you’d be mad to go anywhere else for the craic and a decent pint. The pub opens only in the evening but if my limited visits are anything to go by; I guess it is frequently packed.
The present owner Michael Finucane III inherited the pub from his father Michael Finucane II, when he died in 1982. The name over the door therefore has not changed for a long time.
Michael has done much or little since; it depends which way you look at it, to ensure the pub remains unchanged. An overhead shelf runs around the room, groaning under the weight of tobacco-stained footballs, whiskey jars, tumblers, brass lamps, ash plane canes and fishing nets. Cheerful leather stools assemble along the pine finished bar servery and miscellaneous oddities hang from the ceiling.
Michael’s great-uncle originally bought the drapery bar in 1898 from a passionate young man, Michael O’Rahilly, known simply as The O’Rahilly, who was born upstairs in the pub in 1875. His father Richard had inherited the pub and was known locally as a real entrepreneur, apparently even owning the first refrigerator in Ireland. His son however had little interest in the business, sold it on and became one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in 1914. During the Easter rebellion of 1916, O’Rahilly was gunned down on Dublin’s Moore Street, becoming the only leader of the uprising to die in action. A life sized portrait of the republican leader still hangs in the bar.
The pub inevitably became a stronghold for Republican get-togethers during the formative years of the new state. Later on customers formally sat at the bar and drank a pint or two while their tailor proposed different colours and cloths. The rise of superstores in the 1960s brought an end to the drapery section of the bar and the grocery section had a similar fate a decade later. Nonetheless, Michael ensures the pub remains a visual delight as well as central to the life of the surrounding farming and fishing community.
In addition to Michael O’Rahilly, Ballylongford has also been the birthplace of two other famous Irishmen, Horatio, later Lord Kitchener who was born here in 1850 and Brendan Kennelly, one of Ireland’s most popular poets and novelists, born here in 1936.
There is a festival celebrating Kennelly’s work each August featuring poetry, workshops, literary and other events. Kennelly’s Bar in the village, his boyhood home, remains popular with locals and visitors alike.
Michael is one of the powers behind the Brendan Kennelly Festival and also a host of other local activities to include as Chair of the Ballylongford Bay Oyster Growing Association the local Oyster Festival.
By the way the oysters farmed around Ballylongford for the past 30+ years are Pacific oyster, indigenous to the Pacific Ocean and not native oysters.
Since that first visit to Finucane’s in 1997 I have returned just twice, in 2006 and again recently when I had to travel to Liscannor Stone, in Doolin, Co. Clare, from our holiday home in South Kerry. It is a fair detour off the N69 but well worth it and I made sure my trip warranted an overnight stop. Even after four years away I still felt like I was coming home.
My earlier 2006 visit coincided with the start of some division in the local community; those for and against a recently submitted plan for the proposed development by Shannon LNG , in relation to part of the Company’s land bank at Tarbert-Ballylongford along the Shannon estuary. For Shannon LNG, an Irish subsidiary of the American giant Hess, is proposing to build here a €400 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal.
The conundrum is that whilst the project has the potential to make a real difference to long term energy costs as well as delivering significant economic and employment benefits in North Kerry and to secure Ireland’s long-term supply of natural gas, there are massive environmental considerations.
Michael Finucane was and still is an avid supporter of the plan. He sees the creation of employment and economic activity as of paramount importance to this area of North Kerry which historically has seen little benefit from the former Celtic Tiger economy and as he says “you can’t eat the scenery”. And also according to him it will have no effect whatsoever on his beloved Pacific oysters.
Whilst planning permission for the terminal was granted in 2008, the fight to stop it still continues and it is not yet a given that it will ever be built. Whatever happens I doubt for one minute it will change the ambience and timelessness of Finucane’s one jot.
As for our next day’s visit to Carrigafoyle castle; we didn’t even get out of the car; the rain was horizontal and of the type that soaks you through; so much so I remember our Labrador couldn’t even be bothered to get out. The castle is located 2 miles N of Ballylongford in the channel between the mainland and Carrig Island and is accessible across a raised path of stones liable to be submerged at very high tides.
So to this day I have still not seen the castle proper but read that although wrecked by a series of bloody sieges, it remains a remarkable castle. Cleverly located between the high – and low -water marks on the shore of the Shannon Estuary, it comprises a large tower built towards the end of the fifteenth century by the O’Connors of Kerry. The tower was protected on the landward side by two bawns extending into the water and enclosing a small dock, so boats could sail right up to the castle.
The castle, now a listed National Monument, stands almost 30 m high and its battlements apparently provide stunning views of the estuary.
The O’Connor’s held political sway from this strategic base which allowed them to “inspect” ships passing to and from the port of Limerick. Thus “taxation” and smuggling were their main sources of income.
Thus the castle is well worth a visit; but if you do go there just make sure you combine it with a visit to Finucane’s.