Shebeen when translated means ‘a drinking place’ and comes from the Gaelic word síbín, which was a small mug measure of ale in Ireland in the 18th century.
The word conjures up images of dark secret bars where alcohol was sold to thwart attempts by the English to regulate and tax it, much to the disdain of the unruly Irish.
While you may have had to travel down many boreens to the wildest locations to get to the Irish version of a speakeasy, that looks all set to change thanks to an enterprising Clarenbridge man.
John Walsh came up with the idea of converting a dilapidated 30-year-old caravan into a mobile Irish pub.
But not just any watering hole, this pub is the real deal, just as cosy as any authentic snug which graces your favourite traditional pub.
When entering on a freezing cold November’s day, the Shebeen is so warm; the heating comes from a simple electric fire. It’s a welcome respite from the world outside, a world created by John thanks to a festival competition.
He paid €800 for the caravan to go to the Electric Picnic two years ago. It did the job nicely but when it came to trying to sell it on, he found he was being offered a fraction of what he had paid for it as one of the panels was falling off.
The following year the Electric Picnic was running a competition – to design a caravan which would become an installation in the festival trailer park. It had to be interactive and cut a dash among the organisers’ own unique creations which are used to host gigs and events.
“I thought this is the chance to do something with the caravan lying in the yard. I wanted to create an old style pub. There were 130 entries and five were chosen. Mine wasn’t one of those but we stayed going with it anyway as a project on Friday afternoons to unwind after the week.”
John is a cabinet maker by trade and had built custom-made kitchens with JW Design and for the last three years cleanroom furniture for pharmaceutical companies through his company Clinical Cabinets. He got his five employees involved in the project, which took six months to complete.
The interior woodwork is handcrafted in Irish oak, which has been stained and distressed to recreate a vintage feel.
There is used solid pine on the floor and the seats are designed to look old and well worn. Antique pictures, mirrors and carefully selected pub memorabilia which came from an old pub in Monaghan adorn the walls, which have been papered in traditional patterned wallpaper.
As well as an antique cash register and electric stove, gracing one wall is an old hurl with a set of false teeth imbedded in it. Outside the white polystyrene cladding resembles a white washed cottage, with the door the only thing remaining of the original caravan, which can open out to replicate the traditional cottage half-doors.
His interior designer Claire Finnegan picked out the furnishings “to give it the woman’s touch”. But there’s nothing womanly about this bar.
Behind the bar are two taps for draught beer or Guinness, which he can supply the kegs
The following is a vivid description of what The Shebeen aims to recreate: “The authentic Irish pub experience is not easy to define – it’s magical and warm, a cosy haven on a cold winter’s eve. It’s sipping on a pint beside an open fire, deep in conversation with people you like. It’s forgetting the world and escaping to a place where nothing other than the drink in front of you and the people around your table matter. It’s banter and laughs and fun and tears.”
The shebeen seats 14 and both windows fold down allowing drinks to be served through each window, giving extra counter space outside.
No licence is required provided drink is not charged for.
There is a complete music system inside allowing revelers to play CDs or connect iPads or iPhones.
It needs a power supply to run fridges, coolers, lights and sound system.
He tried the Shebeen out for a family birthday and it was a huge success.
The children were enthralled, adults behaved like kids as they pulled their own pints and by the end of the night it was the older men who had moved in to play cards to get a bit of piece and quiet from the young ones dancing to music outside.
Just two weeks ago, he launched the Shebeen on Facebook and already the bookings have flown in for the afters of weddings and parties. It can be rented for 24 hours from €750 for private events, more for corporate gigs.
Word of the Shebeen has already made its way to Boston where an order for a second Shebeen has been made. He is currently designing one which will be transported to America by St Patrick’s Day.
He plans to build up to eight next year, most of them bound for the US and Canadian markets where he will rent them out under a licence. He has taken out a trademark for the concept and is confident nobody will be allowed copy it.
“For the next one we’re building it from a new frame and chassis so there’ll be more storage and you can bring it anywhere as it will be very strong. We’re thatching it to make it look more realistic. The only thing that will give it away are the wheels.”
Not everyone will be thrilled to see this venture a success. His father Sean, who runs Walsh Crane Hire, has become a most loyal local.
“On a Sunday he likes to come down here with his friends for a few pints. It’s like a home away from home.”
Send us your hugs!
Now that family visits are allowed again, this is the week that grandparents have longed for – to see and hug their grandchildren again after over a year apart.
We’ve all endured a tough year – but this has been the hardest penance of all.
So if you’re meeting the grandkids this week for the first time in a long time, be sure to send us your happy photographs to email@example.com – so we can publish them online and in the pages of the Connacht Tribune or Galway City Tribune. And happy reunions!
Coroner calls for shared resource for unidentified human remains
The Coroner for West Galway has recommended establishing a shared database for unidentified human remains after the body of a Limerick man found off Inis Mór 25 years ago lay unidentified in Galway City despite his family’s tireless efforts to find him.
At an Inquest last week, Coroner Ciarán MacLoughlin said the family of Denis Walsh had their grief ‘compounded’ by this delay and said while his identification in January of this year had been as a result of advances in DNA technology, there had been at a ‘missed opportunity’.
Denis Walsh Jnr (23) disappeared from his home in Caherdavin on the outskirts of Limerick City on March 9, 1996.
In a deposition to inquiry into his death, his father, Denis Walsh Snr, described his son as having ‘never caused any trouble growing up’. He said he had ‘started to hang around with the wrong group’ at around 18 years old, which led to drug taking, and detailed how Denis Jnr been ‘in and out’ of psychiatric care before he went missing.
In the period directly before his disappearance, his father said he had been ‘getting on reasonably well’.
After he failed to return home on March 9, a missing person’s report was lodged with Henry St Garda Station in Limerick City.
The inquest at City Hall heard that Sheila Ní Shúilleabháin, Caherciveen, Co Kerry, had been holidaying in Kilronan in April 1996, and while walking on the beach on the morning of April 7, she and a friend discovered the partial remains of a body.
The remains were removed to University Hospital Galway for post mortem examination.
Mr Walsh Snr, who was in attendance at the inquest, questioned why nobody had contacted him or his wife, Mary Walsh after the body was found.
Reading from newspaper clippings at the time, he said it had been reported in the Tuam Herald on April 13, 1996, that the body was of a male with ‘neatly-cut brown hair’ – a description fitting that of his son.
Dr MacLoughlin, explained that the remains found were badly damaged. He said the part of the skull which would have enabled identification using dental records ‘was not present’.
Mr Walsh Jnr’s body remained at the mortuary in UHG for 18 years and was removed to a plot owned by the hospital at New Cemetery, Bohermore, in 2014.
Bereavement Liaison Officer Ann McKeown told the inquiry that a decision was taken to bury a number of unidentified remains, including that of Mr Walsh Jnr, in ‘individual coffins with unique identification numbers’ that could be used in the event of a positive identification.
Ms McKeown said she had accompanied Mr Walsh Jnr’s body to the cemetery, and that prayers had been offered by the hospital chaplain.
Reading a report from Forensic Science Ireland, Dr MacLoughlin said that efforts to match the DNA of the body found of Inis Mór in 1996 had failed in July 2008, March 2011 and June 2018.
DNA swabs were taken from the parents of Mr Walsh Jnr in February 2011 which were also stored with Forensic Science Ireland.
However, Dr MacLoughlin said these swabs had been used to search an Interpol database and that they had not been used to seek a match from the records of unidentified bodies found within the State.
“There was no requirement to look at the profiles in the lab. What happened was this was all done in Limerick, independent of us in Galway. I’m not sure they’d have known in Limerick what we were doing in Galway,” said Dr MacLoughlin.
A database for 20 unidentified remains was established in 2015 but it didn’t take into account existing ‘living profiles’ such as those provided by Mary and Denis Walsh.
“You were missed,” said the Coroner.
Mr Walsh Snr said at one point, Gardaí in Mayorstone, their local Garda Station in Limerick, had been contacted by police in Cornwall about a body discovered there.
“If police in Cornwall could contact Mayorstone, why in the name of God could Gardaí in Galway not contact Gardaí in Mayorstone.
“As far as I’m concerned, there is no contact between [Gardaí in] Galway and Limerick,” he said.
Dr MacLoughlin gave an open verdict, stating that it was impossible to determine a cause of death.
He recommended that a database of unidentified remains, to be stored at Forensic Science Ireland based at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, should be established and shared between every Coroner’s Office and Garda Station in the State.
He said advances in technology had allowed the laboratory in Dublin to identify Mr Walsh in 2021 using methods not available in 1996.
“But it took 25 years to get to that. I know for me, life goes on, but for you, it wasn’t like that,” Dr MacLoughlin told Mr Walsh Snr.
“For 25 years, you have thought of him; you’ve missed him at Christmas and at family celebrations. For 18 years, he was in the mortuary in Galway and for the next seven years, he was interred in Galway only 60 or 70 miles away.”
Dr MacLoughlin said he recognised that Mr Walsh Jnr’s family had gone to huge lengths to find their missing son and brother, and expressed his deepest sympathy to them for their loss.
Mr Walsh Jnr’s body was recently exhumed from New Cemetery and moved to the family’s plot in Limerick.
Preparing Connemara for influx of tourists
Facilities near beaches and popular tourist spots in Connemara need to be looked at as a matter of urgency before the tourist season gets into full swing, local councillors urged at their Area Meeting last week.
Councillors outlined some of the problems that had arisen during the ‘good weather weekend’ of April 24/25, relating to signage, parking, traffic control, litter issues and toilet facilities.
Fine Gael councillor, Eileen Mannion, said that given the ongoing situation with Covid, Connemara was going to be a very busy place during the upcoming summer tourist season.
“People do want to come out here; they make a big difference to the local economy; we want them to have a good experience; but we do need them to respect the local communities.
“When people go into Galway city, they cannot park where they like, so why should it be any different in Connemara,” said Cllr. Mannion.
Cllr. Tom Welby (Ind.) said that one of the first things to provide was basic signage as regards parking and traffic control. “There is going to be a lot of internal tourism this year,” he said.
According to Cllr. Pádraig Mac an Iomaire (FG), there were a lot of problems across beaches in the Connemara area relating to litter, toilets and signage during the fine weekend last month.
“In Spiddal for example, at busy times, there is a real difficulty with access issues and especially so in relation to the emergency services. Would it be possible to keep one side of the roadway here [Spiddal] free of parking?” asked Cllr. Mac an Iomaire.
Cllr. Tomás Ó Curraoin (Rep. SF) said that there were a lot of problems with camper vans in the Carna area leaving litter and rubbish behind them.
Council Engineer, Paraic Breathnach, said that the Council had the capacity to provide more signage, bins and portaloos, if the need arose, but added that parking and traffic issues were a different matter.
“We as a Council don’t have the teeth to deal with the issue of parking, camper vans and traffic control. That is very much a Garda matter,” he said.