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Thursday, January 18, 2018

How Ballinlough Co. Roscommon Changed Irish Pubs History

Between Ballyhaunis and Castlerea is the small Roscommon village of Ballinlough that has played a huge part in creating the landscape of the present day Irish public-house business. The licensed trade in the latter part of the nineteenth century was changing rapidly, a century of famine and revolutions but had also seen an increase in the numbers of pubs, alcohol abuse and the often associated violence with the excesses in consumption. Licenses had increased due to the ease in obtaining one only necessitating an application to the Quarter Sessions of the local courts, the support of two local magistrates, £10 (in Dublin £30) and the licence was yours even if you or your dwelling was unfit to sell alcohol to the public. The strange anomaly of the laws was that the fine for serving diluted beer in your £10 licensed pub was fifty pounds.

By the turn of the century changed came with a 1901 Act of Parliament outlawed the sale of alcohol to under-fourteens. A change in the method by which publicans were charged rates saw 557 pubs in 1899 Dublin close their doors. Especially in rural Ireland, the pub doubled as the grocery, the hardware or even the undertakers.

Ballinlough was described in the UK Parliamentary papers of 1843 as ‘a village with 45 houses, parish church and rectory, a dispensary, police station, a courthouse but no post office.’ In 1898 John Dillon MP attended a meeting in the village with the aim to set up a branch of the United Irish League but it was at a Temperance Movement meeting at the Rotunda, Dublin when Ballinlough was trust into the spotlight. The then chairman of the anti-drink Sir Algenon Covte cited Ballinlough as an example how far Ireland had sunk under the influence of alcohol. He said that
‘in 1901, 200 people live in Ballinlough with 8 licensed premises but in this year (1902) eleven new houses were built with nine of them applying for and being granted licenses including one that has remained unopened as the owner is still in America.’*.
It was Judge O’Connor Morris who granted the new licences including a licence to a local draper John Fitzgibbon who was a teetotaller. Many year later in February 1927, the then Justice Minister, Kevin O’Higgins said: ‘‘We know that the honorary magistrates over a long period of years flocked into the annual licensing quarter session and dealt out licences in the most casual and haphazard fashion without any real advertence to the requirements of the public, without any real advertence to the question of whether or not they were creating within this trade an excess and redundancy which would have evil social reactions within the country.’’

Following the highlighting of the issue by Covte and a growing public outcry, the British Government enacted the 1902 Licensing Act which tightened up the rules by which licenses could be issued to stop abuses of the issuing as had occurred in Ballinlough. The Act was the basis of Licensing in the new Irish Free State and still defines what a public house is and how a new licence can be granted.

According the 1901 Census there were 227 residents, six of them named as publicans Kate Frayne, Margaret Madden, Rose White, John Greene, Michael Madden and John O’Connor, there were four listed shopkeepers and in a town of 227, twelve locals listed themselves as shop assistants and two of the three listed bar staff were women. By the 1911 Census and cognisant of some negative publicity, these new publicans listed themselves as shopkeepers with only two Greene and O’Connor still calling themselves publicans. In 1911 the population had increased to 308 but there were now two publicans and fifteen shopkeepers also licensed to sell alcohol. Fourteen locals also listed themselves as shop assistants with over ten percent of the village now involved in one industry, the serving of alcohol.

But Ballinlough did have a police station and the force was very active in trying to keep this large number of publicans in line. Many found themselves before the same magistrates that had so generously issued their licences charged with various infractions. In January 1901, Kate Frayne was charged by Sergeant James Murray with having sold porter ‘to one Patrick Jennings who was intoxicated’, the case dismissed with a caution. Patrick Winston was charged with selling drink afterhours on January 31st 1901 and fined ten schillings while customer Thomas Heneghan who was not ‘an inmate, a servant, a lodger or a bone fide traveller’ was fined half a crown. Winston got away with just a caution a year later when he was charged with a similar offence. In December 1902, Thomas Tyrell was convicted of selling drink to an intoxicated person on the evidence of acting Sergeant McCabe. The customer Michael Frayne was fined five schillings with an extra one schilling in costs. In an attempt to stop an epidemic of afterhours selling in 1903 magistrates fined Michael Kelly £1 and warned about his future conduct. In September 1903 Roderick Donegan and Michael Madden were both convicted of having unstamped whiskey measures.

During the War of Independence in 1920, three IRA men Michael Glavey, Michael Kane and Pat Glynn, their local commandant, were killed by an RIC ambush as they attempted to burn down what they thought was an abandoned barracks. The village was recaptured by Free State troops in 1922 during the Civil War. Today the village is famously home to the Black Donkey craft beer brewery.  

*(Melbourne Advocate 1/3/1902)

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