Ed Galvin is great for coming up with little trips, something off the beaten track, yet accessible. He spots something somewhere and throws out the possibility of a visit, a boy’s day out, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. If circumstances were different, we’d go further than a short trip, as we did last year, taking the train from Killarney to Carrigtohil/ Cobh and back again. Usually the trip will involve tasting a beer along the way, indeed tasting a beer somewhere is usually the focal point of his trips but not the sole reason. A change of circumstance is good for the soul, no matter how content you may feel. The benefit usually isn’t all that obvious till you actually do make the change of scenery, something wise Ed knew but I didn’t.
So it was with the Shanty Bar in Ballyfinnane. Ed and his long-suffering wife Pam, had passed it on numerous occasions on their way to Currans, a village outside the town of Castleisland, where they had friends. You’d only pass it if you took the back route, which of course appealed to Ed. The look of the bar appealed to him too and when I eventually got to see it, I could see why. This February, when he arrived over from Maine for his Spring stay, he suggested we pay a visit. Seemed like a good idea to me, I’d no idea of where he was talking about but such a trip into the unknown could only be fun. Old bars appeal to me, the Guinness always seems to taste better and usually they tend to be quieter spots, good for a chat. After a couple of weeks of talking about it, we settled on a Sunday in early April, why it took us so long I’m not sure, but it had to be a Sunday as its my only full day off. This particular Sunday used to be known as Low Sunday, as it’s the first one after Easter but I was on a bit of a high setting off on my adventure with Ed that evening.
Being the intricate planner Ed had phoned ahead asking about opening times. Not so long ago in Ireland opening times weren’t a consideration, just closing time. Nearly all bars opened at the same time, 10am Monday to Saturday and at Noon on Sundays. The trick was to find a late bar, one that stayed open beyond legal closing at 11pm, so your drinking time wouldn’t be curtailed. Those lovely sounds, the front door being closed while you were still inside, the curtains being pulled, lights turned off, voices lowered and of course, the clink of the pint glass being taken off the shelf, all treats lost with the extended opening hours of today. Because of a downturn in trade most bars don’t open early anymore, at least it’s not guaranteed and so its good practice to call ahead. With the assurance of Sunday opening at 4pm, we arranged to meet there at 5pm that evening. 5pm would give me the chance of getting my family day things done, dog walked, blog written, Freddie cuddled and I even made my dinner so it would be ready for when I got back.
Now Ed had only ever actually spoken of a bar outside of Castlemaine in a place called Ballyfinnane, on a road I’d never taken, but I did know where the road began. Ireland is quite a small place and Castlemaine is a town of only four streets so knowing were the road began is half the battle. Added to that I’m quite good at finding places once I know where to begin. That Sunday afternoon I set off along the road from Tralee to Castlemaine, giving myself plenty of time, not wanting to be late for the man. Arriving in Castlemaine I took the turning off to the left as told and started my lookout for this Shanty Bar. As Ed has written before, every bar in Ireland has at least two names, its actual name over the door and its nickname. My expectation was that maybe the original family name would still be over the door and the Shanty known only to locals. As a result I wasn’t too sure exactly what I was looking for except for the town land of Ballyfinnane. After driving along the road for a couple of miles, I was beginning to doubt my legendary sense of direction. Why hadn’t I looked this place up on Google Maps, maybe gotten directions from Ed, or even gotten the correct name? No bar, no nothing really except the usual Kerry farmland scenery and a few bungalows. There was a lovely looking Church of Ireland chapel on my left, which I made a mental note to visit some day, especially as it had the name of St Carthage, one I had never heard of. Then after maybe five or six miles I came to a cross-roads, a lovely old style one with straight defined roads crisscrossing and no white junction lines saying who had right of way or if you should stop at all. Neither was there a roundabout in the middle of the road nor rounded corners for a better view. No, a good old-fashioned crossroads with buildings on the four corners and one of those old finger signposts telling you where to go. Stopping, to check for traffic, I saw Ed on the other side, parked up in his little silver caar He got out, smiling at me as I crossed over, happy to see me and enthusiastic to get our little visit under way.