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On Monday evening last, The Bridge Bar, an institution in Ballyhea for a century, closed its doors.
To my shame, I contributed to its closure.
I was never much of a drinker, but for decades, in the company of friends, neighbours and extended family, I enjoyed weekend pints of the best Guinness to be served anywhere.
Over the last few years, the tightening of the drink-drive allowance has put the death-squeeze on rural pubs.
A taxi — out from Charleville to The Bridge, then the roundabout back-roads to my hut in the hills, then back to town for the driver — was €15 one way, not much of an option when all you’re having is a few pints.
Make a taxi-driver of my wife? No, not my style. And so, like many another, I stopped going to The Bridge, stopped going anywhere. I’m the poorer for it, having lost touch. I’m peripheral, where once I was among those at the core of this fine community.
You see, the Bridge Bar wasn’t about alcohol; it was the beating heart, the ethereal soul of the parish, a place of inter-generational sharing and bonding, where mortality and immortality met, the dead recalled to further enliven the living in an atmosphere of conviviality, of shared laughter and song. Hosted by the genial Kennedy clan — Donie, his son and daughter, Trevor and Yvonne — it was in the Bridge we celebrated great parish victories, there we waked our dead, there we toasted our new-born, there we witnessed the coming-of-age of our youth.
Today, it’s closed, as are The Harp, and Herlihy’s, the three rural pubs that served this parish when I was a youngster. Tonight, we can all sleep safer in our beds, can’t we, knowing all those drink-drivers are now confined to their rural homes. 2014, another notch in Gay Byrne’s belt in his great vision for Ireland. Welcome to it.
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