For Sale: An Irish tavern in Scariff, Co. Clare, full of childhood memories, Irish history, and echoes of traditional Irish music royalty.
The Green Fields of France, Danny Boy, The Fields of Athenry and Spancil Hill – these are just some of the songs which made up the soundtrack to my childhood.
Sure, everyone has heard these ballads, whether in Carnegie Hall or McSorley’s Old Ale House, but I was fortunate enough to hear them live in my own home for the best part of my early years.
I grew up in The Merriman Tavern, Scariff, Co Clare, Ireland; a centuries-old stone building so steeped in history that it pains me to see it going up for sale.
Originally a grain mill, in the mid 1900’s my grandfather Sean O’Beirne (who ran a grocery shop next door with my grandmother Kay) had the initiative, to turn the beautiful structure into the first secondary school in the region.
Then President Eamon De Valera (who was born in New York in 1882) made his first speech in the area from what would become my parent’s bedroom window, as when the school was relocated, my father, Aidan O’Beirne (together with my mother Sile) transformed the premises again – the upstairs into a large, quirky and antique-filled home and the ground floor into one of the most important music venues of its time.
Decades ahead of the posse, my Dad used his hands to create the unique interior and his love of traditional music to find some of the most talented voices and musicians in the country. So consequently, throughout my childhood I thought nothing of watching the Chieftains, Christy Moore, or Clannad warming up for a gig, drawing pictures for Enya, giggling with Brendan Grace as he arrived dressed as his alter-ego, Bottler or singing along with Dubliners or the Fureys (who played their first ever gig at the Tavern).
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Most weekends were spent watching the performances from a secret vantage point overhead and the following day, helping my mother serve her famous fry-ups to the band members who usually stayed overnight.
Anyone who was anyone in the Irish music business began or enriched their early careers in my father’s bar, but sadly as they became more famous and commanded bigger audiences, fewer wanted to travel to our little town in Clare and so in the early 90’s my parents shut up shop and moved to London.
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A decade later, my parents returned as my Dad had dreams of restoring the Tavern to its former glory but the scene wasn’t the same, so they transformed the building again - this time into a restaurant. However, without the music, my father’s heart wasn’t really in it and he struggled to find the enthusiasm to keep it going.
Then tragically, just before his 69th birthday in 2015, my Dad suddenly passed away – leaving us bereft and shocked as we tried to come to terms with our loss.
The Merriman Tavern will always be connected with my father and while my mother doesn’t have the heart or the will to carry on the business, my siblings and I have our own lives to lead and quite frankly, couldn’t even begin to fill my father’s shoes, so it is with heavy hearts that we admit that the property must be sold.
But deep down we know it’s ripe for someone else to take up the reins and reinvent it once again – as a music venue, restaurant or even a teenage hang-out – the options are endless, particularly as a new holiday village has opened up close by with the potential of a wider customer base.
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The property, including my grandparent’s house (which my parents ran as a guest house) and former grocery store (which is currently being run as a fast-food restaurant and has a sitting tenant) will be sold, either separately or as a package.
Putting any family home on the market is a wrench, but saying goodbye to this one, which is so full of memories, is going to be very tough.
But it has to be done and the sooner we roll up our sleeves and get on with it, the sooner someone else will be able to give it a new lease of life.
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