BY Claire Corrigan
THERE was great excitement throughout Mullingar when rumours began to swirl that after 15 years, much loved husband and wife team Liam and Mary Gilleran were to once again take the helm at No. 1, Harbour Street.
The bar is one with a long history and belonged to Liam’s family for thirty years before it was sold in 2002 and subsequently changed hands several times. “Dad bought the bar in 1972 from a good friend of his called Ben Joe McCormack and he had a pub across the road where Brendan Kerrigan is now, from 1960 to ’72 before that.”
The pub’s history goes even further back and Mary reveals she and Liam have photos taken in the 1800s which show the original bar front. “There were lots of owners here right throughout the twentieth century like the Raleigh’s, McCormack’s and Corcoran’s who have a huge history in Mullingar because Broddy Corcoran was a vet and his sister Mary Kane was married to Corporal Kane who was stationed in the Army Barracks. They used to always drink here when I was a kid. I didn’t know who they were until I got older and I’d find the old Guinness bottles out the back with the name Corcoran on them.”
While Liam didn’t officially join the business until 1986, he was always on hand to help out from the age of 12 years old, packing shelves, sorting bottles and mopping floors. It was then he developed a deep fondness for the trade. “When I was a kid I remember my Dad in the ‘60s in the back of Kerrigans. It was all cobblestoned and there was a shed and I remember seeing my father bottling Guinness. All the pubs at that time had ‘Bottled by’ whoever the publican was on them. I have a mirror here behind the counter saying bottled by William Gilleran that I got put up.”
Liam and Mary decided to leave the bar business in 2002 which saw them both take on different roles. “I started working for GE Money doing car finance and then Mary opened up Mulberry Way, the coffee shop. I thoroughly enjoyed it but to be honest, I missed the bar game.”
During a visit to Mary’s father’s grave in Wicklow the pair discussed what they wanted to do next. “We decided to approach Stephen Cosgrove about the possibility of buying the bar and luckily, he agreed to sell it to us.”
Mary and Liam met in the Lake County Hotel on Pearse Street in 1990 and it wasn’t long before they became the strong unit they are today. “I liked him because there was a bit of rogue in him I suppose,” Mary recalled giggling. “There was a bit of a rogue in both of us,” added Liam smiling. “We hit if off straight away.”
When word started to spread that the popular couple were to reprise their roles as owners of the pub, locals were eager to find out more. “There were lots of people hearing rumours and we couldn’t say yes or no because we didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up but when we knew for sure, we were absolutely delighted to tell everyone. Standing behind this counter brings back so many memories for me. It only seems like the blink of an eye since I left,” Liam smiled.
Talking about the pub’s long and intriguing history, Liam said he can still recall the host of fantastic characters that would frequent the pub in his father’s time. “There were too many to mention- Fridge Graham, Jimmy Hynes, Billy Reynold’s father, Ernie Fenton, John Joe Bourke and all the Bourke family, Eamonn Troy, Paddy Kenny, Patsy Scally, Matt Coffey, Frank McCauley who has since passed away, and Dougie Gallagher. They were all in my father’s time and some of them have been back to wish us luck. Also an awful lot of people that we knew over the years are gone since we left so being back is very nostalgic.”
“One guy in particular I remember as a kid was Jack Hart who showed me the bullet holes underneath the slates where shots were fired back and forth from the Carey bridge down to here between the old IRA and the Black and Tans. He told me fascinating stories that he remembered in 1912 about a place called Grand Parade beside the Army Barracks where they held actual grand parades when the British came back from India. He remembered all the leopard and tiger skins and drums and walking behind the parade.”
The pub was also the haunt of several local musical greats including Liam’s uncle, Sid Aughey, who was in The Drifters. “He would come into the bar back in the early ’70s along with Joe Gilheaney, Jimmy Murray, The Swarbriggs and all the other showband crowd. As a kid, you didn’t think anything of it. They were all great characters, every one of them. They were fabulous memories!”
Liam fondly reminisced on his childhood friends who were also sons of well known publicans in the town. “When I was a young lad I used to hang around with Dermot Caffrey and Paul Fagan. Paul, the Lord have mercy on him. We all went to St. Mary’s together and while we went to different secondary schools, our friendship never diminished,” he said with a smile.
Liam’s son Billy is a member of the extremely popular eight-piece Mullingar brass band, Good Man Sheila, who are well known for offering their services free for a good cause. While Billy said he is very excited about the family taking over the bar once again, he said that they were not aiming at running it as a music venue.
“If we are doing music, it will only be the odd time; maybe if someone is having a party and we’re asked to put on music but we won’t be doing bands per se,” Liam explained.
Made for the trade
With his easy going nature, it’s not hard to see why locals are thrilled to see Liam back behind the bar. “ I find it humbling the support that we have received. It’s a great environment to work in if you lend yourself to it. I would talk to anyone and like to have a a bit of craic so I have always loved it. I just thoroughly enjoy people and I treat them as I meet them.”
Liam spent almost ten years as chairperson of the Mullingar Vintner Association and it’s clearly a role he relished. “I loved it because I’m very passionate about the pub trade, because I grew up in it and I am also very comfortable in it. I love meeting people and love stories and yarns and having the craic.”
The pub also has a long history as a GAA house and Liam said he greatly looks forward to rekindling that connection. “With Cusack Park just down the road, we would love to see that support back because we have great memories of that time. I really want to bring a GAA feel back to this bar because this was always a GAA pub and we need them and if we can offer anything, we will. The goodwill from them and everybody here in town has been incredible.”
Good Wholesome Food
Cook extraordinaire Mary told Topic she is currently readying the kitchen to cook up a storm in the next couple of weeks. As well as reintroducing all the old favourites, the accomplished chef will be adding a number of new items to the menu. “I started doing the food here in a little kitchen half the size of the one we have here when we first started out. I was doing up to 200 lunches a day somedays,” she laughed.
Mary will be drawing on the success of the menu at the very popular Mulberry Way and will be serving up tasty paninis, sandwiches and soups with plans for an all-day breakfast. “We’re going to open for food at around 9.30 in the morning and will be doing a traditional Full Irish Breakfast, Mini Irish, Vegetarian with the eggs prepared any way the customer wants.”
They will also offer several other choices including the ever popular “eggy bread”, porridge, homemade scones and homemade brown bread. “Lunch will include our homemade soup and we’ll do a really good Seafood Chowder. I’ll do all my own home cooked meats and make my honey roast ham here – there will be no processed food whatsoever. We’ll have a wide range of sandwiches on the menu or you can make your own sandwich on a selection of breads.”
For the bar, she said they would be sticking with a traditional pub menu. “We’ll have curries, stews, lasagnas and quiches. The fish will be bought from from the fish shop across the road and we will get the meat from local butcher’s Kyle Maguire’s – basically just good wholesome food at a reasonable price.”
During their time at Mulberry Way, both Liam and Mary took a Barista course and are now fairly nifty when it comes to creating the perfect coffee. “We have a good machine and we’re using good quality Italian coffee which is a nice medium blend. We used to have a lot of children come in especially for our drinking chocolate in Mulberry Way because we liked to go the extra mile with it so we’ll be serving that up here.”
She said the menu doesn’t differ very much from that of the Castle Street café and some old favourites will be making a reappearance from the pair’s first time around. “In the olden days one of my big sellers was an open sandwich which was made with homemade brown bread and salad with a choice of meats which I’ve put back on the menu because people have mentioned it to me. If somebody comes up with an idea and I think it’s a goer, we will try.”
She said they will also be making use of their newly renovataed outside area, which has been transformed into an inviting and charming space. “Once the garden is finished, we would hope to do barbecues. Come September, we will hope to be doing a steak and pint in the evening times. Just good wholesome food at the right price. I’ve had a lot of people coming up to me asking when the food is starting. It’s just a matter of getting a good team behind you,” Mary added.
While there is still a few finishing touches to be added, once you walk into the pub you can see that it has received a lot of TLC over the last month. From it’s new eight foot LED TV which will show all the latest action on BT Sports and Sky Sports to the muted and subtle colour scheme, it has all the hallmarks of a trendy Dublin pub without losing one bit of it’s heart. “There is still a bit to do and we have many fantastic pictures that we want to put on the wall. In the olden days it wasn’t open plan like the way it is now and all the furniture in the bar and lounge was very much the old-style fixed type. But the style of the bar hasn’t changed, the counter hasn’t changed, the taps, the pillar and they are the original windows,”Liam said.
Liam said that since they have reopened the reaction from the public has been exceptional and the positivity surrounding their return has been overwhelming. “This is still known as Gilleran’s Corner even though we haven’t been here in 15 years,” Mary told us.
“People are loving it,” Liam added. “There is a very sentimental feeling and there are great memories here and great stories. A lot of the neighbours have been in and all the young guys that I grew up with who would have seen me as a man in my late twenties when they were only kids of nine or ten. Richie Toal, Colin Watters and lots of other neigbours who have since left the street – Kevin Barry who was in with all the family the other day. His dad, Louis Barry, was great friends with Dad and we had a great day reminiscing. It really has been phenomenal The feel-good factor has been tremendous and people are genuinely delighted to see us back.”
Learned from the Best
Liam said he runs the bar the way his father taught him. “I was trained by the best; his attitude was always run a good house, have good drink and have common civility and always make sure that your customers are in a safe environment.”
“My father came to Mullingar as a young man in 1951 and he made massive friends here in town. While Gilleran was a new name in Mullingar in 1951, thanks to my mother and father, it is now one that is well known. They made such a great team and partnership. Behind every good man is a great woman and I wouldn’t be here without them because they were so supportive when me and Mary told them we were taking over the pub – I could see it in both of them and they were thrilled.
“Of course there’ll be times when we’re tired and worn-out but at the end of the day, you have to get up and make things happen for yourself and I’m married to a fantastic woman.My mother always said to me, ‘What is for you, won’t pass you’.
This article originally appeared in the Westmeath Topic dated Thursday, 4 May 2017.