Finding the Oldest Bar in Ireland

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A Visit to Sean’s Bar in Athlone

A series of unfortunate events lead us to the oldest bar in Ireland, which dates to the year 900 A.D. and possibly earlier. Athlone Castle is younger. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

A series of unfortunate events lead us to the oldest bar in Ireland, which dates to the year 900 A.D. and possibly earlier. Athlone Castle is younger. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

A series of unfortunate events lead us to Sean’s Bar in Athlone. Driving from Galway back to Dublin but willing to take detours should we see a reason to frolic and detour, we stop to get some gas. Unfortunately, my credit card will not work at the pump, so I go into what, to me, should be the accompanying service station to see if I can pay cash. It is not a service station; it is another business entirely. Fortunately, a fellow who works there is used to clueless tourists not understanding that unmanned gas pumps are allowed in Ireland, and we are just out of luck as far as getting this one to work. But he lets me know there is another station—with an attendant—a bit down the road.

The church in Athlone is busy on the day we happen to be there, and the castle is closed, so we find our way to Ireland's oldest bar. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

The church in Athlone is busy on the day we happen to be there, and the castle is closed, so we find our way to Ireland’s oldest bar. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

We putter along a bit down the road, manage to obtain gas (‘petrol’ on the Emerald Isle) successfully, and then notice a castle sign on the road. Intrigued, we decide to try to find the castle. No, we have no real idea where we are going except to know that generally we are headed back toward Dublin.

ISO Athlone Castle

In the meantime, it seems we are heading to Athlone Castle. By the time I figure this out, our GPS tells us to turn left over the River Shannon—except that the castle is right in front of us. We swing right to try to park by Saints Peter and Paul Church, but apparently it is a religious day (we are here on a weekday), the church seems to be doing a good business, and the only available space is far too narrow thanks to the line-clinging of the drivers who parked on either side.

So we putter down the hill, find a space, then walk up to the castle to discover that it is not open. We snap a few pics to commemorate our less than rewarding field trip. Heading back to the car, we are trying to figure out how to get back to the highway since our GPS seems to be a bit confused right now. Not paying attention, I swing my arm to point out that the street we are on goes just one way—and I almost poke a man walking down the hill behind me.

Ever wonder what a 900-year-old bar might look like? Sean's Pub in Athlone is more than a millennium old. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Ever wonder what a 900-year-old bar might look like? Sean’s Pub in Athlone is more than a millennium old. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

 

Talking to Strangers

Fortunately, he is able to laugh off the mishap of this inattentive tourist and apologizes to me for not noticing my bright pink hat and stepping out of my way. He then suggests that we check out Sean’s Bar, which is just down the hill from where we are standing. It’s about 10 a.m. on a weekday, and I wonder why we want to go to a pub right about now.

“It’s the oldest pub in Ireland,” our new friend tells us. “It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some say it is the oldest bar in the world, but they only have records going back to the year 900.”

A Record-Breaking Pub

The oldest bar in the world? Time for a Guinness of our own! We head down to the bar, and are surprised to find other patrons there already. The interior looks like an old, old bar would, with low ceilings and a working fireplace. On the wall is a sample of the wattle-and-daub used to make the walls of this place originally. We once again are transported through time with a pint and a good story.

What I like most is that the pub was present before the castle was. Apparently, people needed to cross the River Shannon and then would stop for a drink. And then they needed some protection—hence, the castle and the church up the hill.

Sean’s Bar, Main Street, Athlone, County Westmeath

Saints Peter & Paul Church, Barrack Street, Athlone, County Westmeath

—Lori Tripoli

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