Patricia Brennan’s memories of Bundoran

This week the Vintners Federation of Ireland (Donegal Branch) had their annual dinner dance in the Great Northern Hotel and honoured Patricia and her late sister Nan Brennan of the Criterion Bar on Main Street for their service to the pub trade in Bundoran and County Donegal.

Bundoran Tourism Officer Shane Smyth sat down with Patricia to chat about times gone by and how Bundoran has changed over the years.

Memories of Bundoran

Shane Smyth with Patricia Brennan

Shane:              So you were quite young when you came into the bar trade, but of course you’ve been here all your life, and you lived here all your life, and your parents had the bar.

Patricia:           Fifty five years ago last November Nan and I were behind the counter serving, and we enjoyed every minute of it because if you didn’t love it you wouldn’t enjoy it. It was just tough going because those times everything, the bottling took place and still was then in the draft come in I think it was in 2008.

Shane:              Not until then right?

Patricia:           Well, in cities, yes. But, I’d say it might come in before that, but I can remember just to that far back, 2006 or 2008. Then it was mostly draft with the different times it changed. Bottles were done out nearly except there was still a lot of people liked the bottle of Guinness, the bottle of beer.

Shane:              Off the shelf.

Patricia:           Off the shelf, yeah. No, no such things as putting in coolers. Then the bottling finished the wholesaler. You had to buy it from the wholesaler, and it came there so that did away with the bottling store then. But still there was plenty to do because we still did table service in the lounges up until age crept in.  Well I think it was the way the young people and that, after the certain generation. I don’t know what year it happened, but all of the sudden it stopped. There was a few that still wanted table service in the lounges.

Shane:              And anybody who’s been here, of course, will know that’s what the bells were for.

Patricia:           Yes and they still work believe it or not.

Shane:              I believe it.

Patricia:           Yeah, so then that stopped, and still we had a lovely crowd when each year, I suppose, people began to enjoy no music or no television, and I think that was really the thing that made the bar.

Shane:              It was quite unique and still is.

Patricia:           Yes. Still is and still needed because conversation is so lost really. We used to laugh when the young family would come in and the young people would say, mommy we can’t stay here. There’s no Wifi.

Shane:              So going back to when you started. The bar opened 1900, and that was your grandparents?

Patricia:           Yes.

Shane:              And then it was your parents?

Patricia:           Yeah, daddy and mammy, Jim and Mary Brennan, and mammy, as I say then, she had it until she died in ’61, and then daddy had the pub in his name. He give it over to put in Nan’s name, and then just a few years ago the two names were on it, Nan and mine. Now it’s mine, and now it’s just finished in the 30th of September. I did it for a year after Nan died, and I said now it’s my turn to retire.

Shane:              And it’s nice that your dad’s name is still over the door as well.

Patricia:           It is. It is. It was Ward’s name, my grandfather’s name and grandmother’s name over the door, but you didn’t put up, even though daddy and mammy were here and had the license in their name, the name didn’t go up until one of the letters would fall off. Yeah and then you could take down that.

Shane:              Now anybody who seen any of the t.v. shows that have been featured in or any of the movies or whatever they’ll all know and we all know that the bar hasn’t changed much at all, if at all since it was opened.

Patricia:           No it hasn’t only that the counter got worn that much that it was disintegrating, so we decided we’d put a new teak top on the oak front, and it’s there today. A lot of people said, oh we should have stools with backs on them, but we went round in the two snugs, you sat up straight. There was no … which is hard to do.

Shane:              I know even it wasn’t until recently you got the till, wasn’t it?

Patricia:           Oh yes, yes. So it was only in the past few years because people wanted receipts, and they didn’t want it written out, which we often did on a bit of paper. If someone came in and wanted to keep a note of what they had or got. Then, of course, the latest then before we closed everyone wanted a card machine, and I said

Shane:              You drew the line there?

Patricia:           I drew the line so then, as the accountant says to me, you’re the luckiest person in the whole of Ireland because you won’t have to bother with all this new laws.

Shane:              The bar has been here for a long time, 118 years. It would be 119 years this year if it was still open.

Patricia:           It is, it still is.

Shane:              Well, it’s still here, yeah.

Patricia:           Yeah, the license. You get the license for the following year, so I still have the license for 2019.

Shane:              Talk to me though about Bundoran. You would have seen some enormous changes in the time over the years.

Patricia:           On the main street alone there was a shop in every nook and corner, and there was all various shops. It was lovely, and now there’s not one. In every house there was the families living on the main street.

—Shane:           What about the people that come into the bar? I know from the stories of old, more kind of the men were in at the start and the women weren’t really coming into bars or?

Patricia:           Yeah, there was. It was all men. Well, they were all working class people, which was lovely and then you had, in the evening, with the trains and all that, people would come up the back and have a few half-ins and bottles before they go home. Yeah, it was, and then, I suppose it was beginning to change around the ’80s. You could see there was more and more people of every kind coming in. It was still though, it was grand. We still kept it up to the standard we hoped for.

Shane:              The criterion?

Patricia:           Yes.

Shane:              Lately through there was a lot of younger people.

Patricia:           Yes, that happened, I suppose, well, when the surfing began to get big. The surfers, they used to, when they would go into places, but they find out if they came into the lounge, they could take all the chairs and tables and put them down in the middle of the floor in the lounge and talk to one another. That’s what really you could see that they came out and brought in their own drink, but they left everything back in its place. People used to say, how have you trained all these people to bring out their glasses and their bottles and everything and leave everything? I used to say, maybe it’s because old age has crept in around the corner with us.

Shane:              You mentioned the trains earlier on. Of course, the big change in Bundoran was 1957 when it left, and ironically on the 30th of September was the final day of the train and the final day of Brennan’s. You’d remember that kind of time. Was it devastation for town?

Patricia:           It was. When you think of 12, 14, 16 trains come in every Sunday.

Shane:              Full.

Patricia:           Packed. They’d be there, and the last train would go out around 8 o’clock. The crowds around, it was unbelievable. People had that one day out and that was it. They enjoyed it. Then, of course, there when they announced that year the trains stopped, and in the bar, the bottling that year was the same year we bottled our own Guinness and everything. That stopped. We used to rack our own whiskey, Jameson, and that stopped. Whatever that was about that year, everything seemed to come to an end. The amount of families that headed for England for America and some of them never came back. It was a sad day.

Shane:              But the town picked itself up I suppose,  slowly but surely.

Patricia:           But it took a long time. Then, of course, with the supermarkets, they have made a lovely job where the trains come in and that, but it would have been beautiful to keep the structure that was there. That was, yeah.

Shane:              Do you kind of have any huge memories that kind of stick out over the last number of years or anything special?

Patricia:           Yeah, I suppose. We always thought the weather was nicer then than it changes now in the summers although last summer was lovely, and that puts you in mind of it. I suppose really and truly it was that you never see the crowds now that you saw those days. We did for a few years, but people are going further although there’s not as many people now. A lot of people aren’t going abroad. They’ re staying and having two nights here and two night somewhere else dividing up and going around Ireland, which is lovely to see too.

Shane:              Well listen, we could talk, and I know we’ll have more stories and we will sit down and talk for a lot longer, but we wanted to talk to you this week particularly because yourself and Nan are getting honoured by the vintners this Thursday night, and most deserved for your wonderful service to the pub trade here in Bundoran and to the county. We congratulate you, and we wish you the best for your retirement.

Patricia:           Thanks very much. Thank you.

See our blog on the final night of Brennan’s here

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