Wednesday, January 21, 2015

AMERICAN moviegoers have pulled up to the counter of some of Carlow’s best-known pubs.

M O’Shea’s in Borris and PF Smyth’s in Newtown both feature in the award-winning documentary, The Irish Pub, which has garnered rave reviews in the USA.

It’s believed a book on traditional Irish pubs by travel writer Turtle Bunbury, which contains photos by James Farrell, led to producers seeking out the pubs.

“There were probably 20 pubs featured in the film. They had different themes in the film. There would be one theme about the design, a theme about its character and a theme about its history. We featured about three or four times in different snippets,” said Michael O’Shea of M O’Shea’s.

Michael runs the pub with his mother Carmel and sister Olivia.

Carmel appears in the film to talk about the unique pub. It has been in the family since 1934, when Michael’s grandfather Michael established the business. When he passed away in the 1980s, Michael’s late father Jim and Carmel took it over. Michael and Olivia came on board in the ’90s.

M O'Shea's as featured in the Irish Pub documentary

M O’Shea’s used to operate as a shop and hardware store in the pub for decades. But the businesses are now divided, with a Centra shop based out the front and a hardware shop at the rear of the premises.

“In the pub, we still have old hardware on the walls and we still have bulbs, batteries, torches and candles to sell at the bar. You’ll always get people coming in who need that sort of stuff.”

Feedback about the film has been great and foreign tourists have even visited the pub after seeing the film. “It kind of reinforces the importance of the traditional pub; that they are still preserved and people are still interested in them to a point where there is a film made,” said Michael.

The film has had narrow distribution compared with your average Hollywood blockbuster. It predominantly plays in arthouse cinemas and independent film festivals. Michael pointed that those who saw the film probably had to go out of their way to do so, suggesting a significant interest in the subject.

Pubs have changed over the years. The modern pub is a different breed from M O’Shea’s and certainly from PF Smyth’s, which was built in 1821.

Is it difficult to continue to operate as a traditional pub?

“It’s not. People want that traditional approach. The customers we have would be a mixed bunch,” said Michael. “They want the traditional pub; they do not need the mod cons of the modern pub. They are happy to have the timber counter and stools.”

The E Butterfield pub in Ballitore is also featured in the documentary and prompts one of the most memorable lines in the film. The pub still has its original flagstone floor from the 19th century and is completely uneven. “You’re alright coming in, but you have to watch yourself going out,” comments one quick-thinking patron in the film.

For more information about the documentary, log on to

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By Michael Tracey
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