The Long Valley: A pub with a history as long as its bar counter

It’s a pub with a counter almost as long as its history, a meeting place that has become as synonymous with the festive season as carol singing, traffic congestion, and mince pies.

Moynihan's Long Valley Bar, Winthrop Street, Cork in 1934

As well as its doorstep sandwiches, the Long Valley owes some of its fame to the celebrated Father Theobald Mathew, whose greatest effort — and greatest failure — was his attempt to bring sobriety to the city.

When Father Mathew established the Cork Total Abstinence Society in 1838 he probably was not surprised that a section of the city’s drinking classes saw it as a challenge.

It is unlikely, though, that Cork’s patron saint, whose grim statue still frowns down on revellers on St Patrick St, would have expected a full-frontal assault on his attempts to bring sobriety to the city.

Within a few short years, retaliation came in the form of a splendid new hostelry full of Victorian charm and eccentric clientele. Built on a site of a former post office stable, the Long Valley opened its doors on Winthrop St in 1842 and has been defying the Apostle of Temperance ever since.

One of the most fiercely debated pub quiz questions in Cork City is which pub is closest to The Statue. Patrons of the Long Valley insist it is the closest within weaving distance and it remains more in tune with the citizenry of Cork than the teetotal campaign ever was.

But, as anyone who has ventured through the stout outer doors and sidled along the wood-panelled entrance hallway to the wonders within or spied a friend in the corner snug will know, the Long Valley isn’t all about the drink.

Owner and ringmaster Peadar Moynihan ensures that the food, the service, and the genial staff are just as tempting, following a tradition established by his father, Humphrey, who died in 1994 and his mother, Rita, who passed away in 2014.

He is the third generation of Moynihans to run the bar. It was bought by Peadar’s grandfather, John, in 1927 and celebrates its 90th year under the family ownership this year.

The Long Valley has always been a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, with, near its entrance, a bevelled glass window displaying exotic wine, vodka, whiskey, and liqueurs, as well as small, cut-crystal glasses.

To the immediate right there is a hand-made frame showing an outline of the Great Cork International Exhibition of 1903 which was held in the Mardyke.

The snug is, in itself, a shrine to craftsmanship, with its etched windows and silver pewter door knobs. It even has its own diplomatic table, a stoutly built piece of furniture that was once the property of the American embassy in Dublin.

It was shipped to Cork in the 1930s on foot of plans to open a consulate in the city, but these were abandoned and the table found its final resting place in the Long Valley.

In the cavernous main bar, the bomb-proof wooden counter remains unchanged from when it was installed. From fore to aft, beautiful hand-crafted tables, a stucco-styled glass panel partition, floor tiles almost as thick as the Valley’s famous sandwiches, and a men’s toilet partially open to the elements complete the picture of a place apart.

The late Humphrey Moynihan of the Long Valley Bar, pictured with brothers John Ring and Charlie Ring from Blarney Street in 1987

The large table halfway down on the right is from the Celtic, a White Star Line ship that ran aground off Roche’s Point near Cork Harbour on December 12, 1928. Among the works of art on view is a fine bust of the composer Freddy May by Cork sculptor Seamus Murphy.

That visual assault is accentuated by the staff, who move behind the bar, pouring pints for parched university students and constructing those skyscraper sandwiches at lunchtime for office workers from the South Mall.

As poet Theo Dorgan once put it: “It would take a strong man in the full of his health with the help of three small children to munch through their mouth-watering sandwiches.”

The undisputed historian of the Long Valley is Jack Lyons, an erudite regular and confidante of Peadar.
We share reminisces of his student days of the 1970s and mine in the 1980s when Humphrey and Rita reigned supreme behind the bar.

To both of us — as to most other customers — they were Mr and Mrs Moynihan. In return, according to their custom, clientele were either Mr, Mrs, or Miss. First names were reserved for family and close friends.

Mrs Moynihan was never Rita and even the most truculent customer observed this social etiquette or suffered a period in purgatory.

Humphrey had his eccentricities, among them a propensity for playing gramophone records of German military marching songs while occasionally helping students with their essays.

I remember on one occasion his attempting to explain to me the intricacies of quantum mechanics, using slops from my pint as a blackboard. It was one of the best tutorials I ever had.

Patrons in The Long Valley, Winthrop Street Cork in the run-up to Christmas 2017. Pic: Larry Cummins

Humphrey was a bit of a showman and always made an entrance, wheeling his bicycle through the entrance to the safety of the alcove at the end, then divesting himself of a long overcoat to reveal his uniform — a white starched butcher’s apron.

Like his wife, he had his standards and would always insist on good manners.

“I’ve actually been barred from the Long Valley twice,” says Jack Lyons, “once during the early 70s when I got too big for my boots and called a pint using the name Humphrey.

“Mr Moynihan peered down the bar towards me over his spectacles and, leaning across the counter enquired of me: ‘Did we go to school together?’ ”

Jack got the message, along with his barring order.

His second? “That was when Mrs Moynihan saw the need to cut off my Murphy supply when, disorientated, I began to sip from someone’s pint of Guinness.”

Mrs Moynihan was probably wearing her white butcher’s coat at the time, a custom her husband adopted in the 1950s when he took over running the bar from his father.

In her witty book, The Bushmills Irish Pub Guide, Sybil Taylor reveals the origin of the butchers’ coats as Humphrey explained it to her. “Oh yes, well,” he nodded and grinned, “I saw a New York bar on the television, where they all wore the white coats with black aprons. I thought it looked good. It’s a Victorian custom — goes with an old-fashioned bar. People like it.”

That tradition has mostly gone but new ones have emerged, including a weekly poetry event called Ó Bhéal (word of mouth) which features guest poets and an open mic held every Monday night in The Hayloft Bar, above the Long Valley.

It was originally a cocktail bar with its own concoction called The Gorillia.

“The mixture was phenomenal,” says Jack, who tells a great yarn about one night in the 50s when the late president Erskine Childers, who at the time was the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs, attended a reception at the Imperial Hotel.

“When it was over he still had a thirst so headed over to the Long Valley followed by an entourage of some 30 people. He got into the bar just before closing time but at some stage around three o’clock in the morning with everyone still being served there was a loud rap on the door. Two guards walked in demanding to know why all these people were still drinking well after closing time.

“The notebooks came out with the customary lick of the pencil as they proceeded to write down names of those ‘Found On’.

“Humphrey saw what the guards were about to do and walked over and said to the two of them: “Right. If you’re gonna take any names here buoy you can start with the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs — he’s over there.”


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