Born in Ballinasloe in 1968 , Kevin, emigrated to London in 1989, he now lives in Surrey, with his wife and daughter. He works for the civil service. His parents – John and Nuala still live in Birchgrove.
It’s been just over a year since I was lucky enough to visit home. In February 2020 we had no idea what was to come, but here we are. I remember as we landed in Shannon, it being bitterly cold, as my old friend Dusty says “sure isn’t it 10 degrees colder here than it is in London!”In June of the previous year I had also made the journey home, on my own, to visit my parents, and to see how the town and surrounds had changed. There were some new additions on Main Street and work had begun on street enhancement. It was always good to be back, where the pace of life was healthier, and the stores have a choice of not just black, but also white pudding! A real fire and a bit of live music and I could not be happier, but things change and people move on, nothing stays the same.
Almost religiously, when I’m home, I pay a visit to Shannonbridge, the scene of many an energetic day and night during my teens. In the mid-eighties, with a new driving licence, and the keys to an old open-top Citroen Dyane, we would rendezvous at Stanton’s in Creagh and head east, through Culliagh and Cloonfad, past Coreen Woods and drive over the mighty river Shannon on a clattering wooden slatted bridge into the province of Leinster. It was pure escapism.
At the end of the Main Street, with the Blackwater Bog turf fed power station off to the right, stood J.J. Killeens pub, its unpretentious exterior giving no indication of the good times to be had inside. Now, visiting with my father, it looked and smelled exactly the same. He ordered a coffee and looked disapprovingly as I ordered an Arthur Guinness.
It was a place of two halves, in that it had two front entrances, one for the general store-cum-Aladdin’s Cave, and one for the bar. It was in the latter, under a huge black and white portrait of the actor George Brent, whose people hailed from nearby, that we used to sit and absorb this exotic atmosphere. We laughed, we drank, and we sang, along with equally excited Germans, French, Dutch and Americans, they were all there. They had come by cruiser, from Banagher, and beyond, in search of bream, rudd and tench that hide amongst the reeds of this mighty waterway. By day they would hear the corncrake crow from their bankside nests and wonder at the lushness of the grassland Callows.
The shop sold almost everything, fishing bait, Peterson Pipes, Ladies and Gents burial habits, groceries, and tobacco. On the counter stood the gleaming piece de resistance, the bacon slicer. It was entertainment on its own. Turf smoke drifted through from the bar and everybody, farmers and tourists alike, seemed affable.
The bar was dimly lit with hundreds of business cards and foreign currency from all over the world pinned above it. If you were lucky, Michael would take down a new puzzle and see if you could crack it, smiling away as you toiled to understand what is was used for.
I remember it being so busy that leaving your seat to go anywhere, meant squeezing and ducking past rows of porter, either settling, or being passed to thirsty patrons.
I don’t know if I preferred it more back then, than I did on my last visit, but it holds a special place for me, and while I know there will be lots of better stories about this little gem of a place, I wanted to share mine, before they slip away from me.
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