Closure of McAuliffe’s Bar….another blow for rural Ireland.

Simon and Pauline McAulliffe with granddaughter Kate O’Kelly outside their pub that they closed down due to Covid 19 in Dromin.

McAuliffe’s Bar in Dromin, East Limerick has been in operation since 1945. Dick McAuliffe and his brother travelled to Dromin to see a farm of land with a view to purchasing it. They stopped off at a local bar en route. After seeing the farm, they stopped off once again to visit the bar and decided to buy it instead of the farm. A great family story for the McAuliffes, who have been working there since that time. Dick’s son Simon inherited the bar in 1986 and he and his wife Pauline proceeded to raise their two children, Grainne and Richard live on the premises and work there up until last week when they were forced by circumstances to regretfully close their door for the last time. This is not just a blow for the family, but for the community at large. During the past fifteen years, the biggest decline in the number of rural pubs has been in Limerick. For Pauline McAuliffe, this was her livelihood. Her husband Simon also worked at the bar, as well as being employed elsewhere. They paid their taxes and did their VAT returns, (Ireland has the second-highest overall alcohol excise tax in the EU) paid ridiculously high insurance costs, even while the premises was closed at the insistence of the insurance company, the high cost of rates to the local authority, and their electricity bill was €400 a month. A Covid payment simply could never cover the cost of their bills let alone allow them to live. Wages from Simon’s full-time job had already been subsidising the business. “This year just put the final nail on the door, we just can’t keep going,” Simon said. “We might be dealing with only a handful of locals, we can’t cook for them, the HSE would insist on putting in a kitchen and that could cost up to €15k.” More than 70 rural pubs closed their doors for good in 2018, according to industry analysis by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI).
To understand the implications of the closure, the role of a local rural pub in a community has to be understood. Rural pubs are a significant part of regional Ireland and play a crucial role as community meeting points in rural and isolated parts of the country. According to recent research conducted among 400 publicans by DIGI, more than three-quarters (77%) said their business plays an important role in providing a place for local people to come together for family occasions and other events. Pauline told me that their pub provided a venue for full commentary after GAA matches, pub quizzes for local organisations, family parties, and other events that are part and parcel of a small locality. For people who live alone, it can often be the only social outlet available to them and very often, consuming alcohol is of the least importance.
“It’s heart breaking for us,” Pauline told me. “At the start of lockdown, we sat outside having a coffee and people pulled up in their cars, just for a chat. We’re devastated. Our way of life is gone. In some ways we’re very lucky because our children are now adults. This bar put them through college. While they were at school, they worked here part time to make a few bob.” Grainne, Pauline’s daughter told me that her Mom is devastated. “This place was her bread and butter.” Pauline believes that this could be the beginning of the end for many rural pubs. The industry was on the decline before Covid and it’s impossible to see how they can survive this pandemic and the restrictions that have been put in place. “We’re just one of hundreds it’s going to happen to,” she said tearfully. “The Government must look at doing something for rural pubs….we’ve been compliant all along, paid our dues and did everything we could to keep going.”
Richard O’Donoghue TD told me that the divide between Dublin and rural Ireland is a wide gaping crevice. “I’d like to see some of our Dublin TD’s visit rural communities to get a grasp on what life is really like here,” he said. “Most rural pubs are not making big profits…we’ve no problem keeping a social distance and in fact, due to a dwindling population, we’ve been distancing for years. We have seven rural parishes in the area without pubs. The local pub is the last thing left standing in rural communities. Post offices, shops, creameries are all gone. In Dublin recently, Prime Time reported that 20 pubs in Dublin were investigated, and only four were compliant. This wouldn’t be an issue for rural pubs….there’s only a few punters there anyway,” he said.
Dromin Athlacca posted on Social Media “It is without a doubt a very sad day for this parish seeing Simon and Pauline closing their pub at Sherin’s Cross in Dromin. At one time there were 5 pubs in our parish. McAuliffe’s Sherin’s Cross, Paddy McAuliffe’s near Trinity Well, Kenny’s, The Corner House, Pa Riordan’s. These pubs were the life and soul of our parish. Different age groups went to different pubs. They were a place to celebrate, a place to weep and a place to have a good argument but above all else they were our social media of the time. They brought all corners of the parish and outlying areas together and people knew what was going on and no one lived in fear of being alone. We would like to wish Simon, Pauline and their family the very best of luck in the future and thank you for the laugh and the cuppa when needed.”
A sad day indeed for the McAuliffe Family and undoubtedly a sad day for rural Ireland. Maybe it’s finally time that our government realised that vast swathes of the country exist outside of Dublin and its surrounds. We bid a sad farewell to McAuliffe’s and wish the family the best of luck going forward.