The Widow Murphys is one of those pubs left untouched by the crass extravagances of the Celtic Tiger leaving it spectacularly equipped to cater to more austere times. It sits almost forgotten at the Cord Cemetery side of Thomas Street beside the cruelly named Prospect Avenue, the dark humour no doubt of some sarcastic Victorian street planner.
It only takes a short time to notice that songbirds don’t gather on its gables. Virgins (male too) cross the street on sight of it, as if trying to free themselves from the pull of some maleficent magnet. A vacuum of sound cloaks the pub, pierced only by the squawks of outsized crows and the residual squeals of tom cats beaten in sacks long ago. Horses spook on approach and old wives tell tales of funeral carriages been drawn by droves of goats to the old cemetery.
The locals themselves don’t think any of this odd, far from it. You’ll believe anything when you’re told it as a child – Navan is spelt the same backwards, God exists, Vikings wore horned helmets – and most folk born in and around the Widows never leave. Chances are, if you see a grown man breastfeeding in public, he’s a reglar.
With this in mind, The Faa Side filled its pockets with garlic and headed idin for a pint of plain.
I had been there years ago, recently pubicked, to watch a football game. A supressed memory of gulping a warm and flat fun-sized can of Carlsberg suddenly began repeating on me as I stepped over the threshold, like a throat full of copper pennies and fear.
The change in atmospheric pressure is instant. Your ears pop and the walls bend ever so slightly inward. But the first real evidence that all is not well are the twin Kepak jerseys hung proud like all seeing eyes. Close inspection reveals that they were neither taken down nor covered over during the ethnic tensions of July 2010 – proof if proof was needed of an underlying malevolence.
You can never quite shake the feeling that the Widow Murphy’s is a sentient being. The question is, what type of being? The most common speculation among those who have passed through is that it is either some kind of shape shifting vampire hybrid or a banished dark lord from a long forgotten religion, licking its wounds and building up its strength before moving back to Cavan.
A glance at the many old paintings and photos on the walls confirm a long held suspicion that the barman is far older than previously imagined.
There he is, like some Yellowbattered Dorian Gray, muzzleloading a Cromwellian cannon above the Dale, holding sausages outside a 1920s butchers, deep in conversation with the German ambassador in 1944, blackballing Shanks at a Fianna Fáil convention in the early 80s; as youthful then as now, condemned to a hellish eternity of people mistaking him for a bus driver or a needy Movember narcissist.
Reglars hunch on stools supping pints of death and keeping watch over the door by the bar, subconsciously moving to protect it whenever a stranger edges close. The old print bingo machine sits lonely in the other corner, like some sort of counter balance, drawing prying eyes away from the special door.
For the local historian, the walls are a veritable treasure trove. There are pictures of the Newfoundwell men who used walk out the country for fun and come back carrying tinder and smiles. One whole wall is dedicated to Irelands’ patron saint of loose Catholic women, JFK. The only cleaning product in the men’s toilets seems to be bleach.
Those clocks beer companies use-id to send pubs can be seen dotted around the place, telling the time from somewhere else, perhaps from a time when the pub rang out with the sing songs of the mill men who’d come in for pints before, during and after work.
On the positive side, there is a decent pool table with no sticky pockets or pushy locals ruining your enjoyment by challenging you (Barney Macs). And crucially, none of the cues have been splintered from innocent comments misheard by the wrong ears.
Should you tire of constant horse racing, a selection of VHS tapes sit by the telly. Most of them are but dusty remnants of a bygone age when the video van man was king. A pirated copy of Jumanji still in its photocopied sleeve, 1992s WWF Royal Rumble with the tabs broken off, the pilot of Songs of Praise: Nobber Nights missing from its cover.
“Don’t bother with them,” warns the unageing barman. “The barn scene from Glenroe is stuck in the machine.”
And this is what makes places like the Widow Murphy’s great. Playing on a loop is that famous Glenroe scene of Miley getting frisky with Fidelma in the hay. This is the one vice the auld lad has that escaped the pleasure cull that started with the smoking ban. It serves as a valuable societal valve, sating the primal urges of pre-internet age bachelors unused to the recent Celtic Tiger trend of watching pornography in private.
Around here, services like these are integral parts of a close knit community and are as important an issue, on a societal level, as the closing down of rural post offices and bus routes.
A final verdict? The Guinness was good and schtrong. I would encourage anyone to stick their head in for a quick pint. I just stayed for the one but I look forward to going back. I need to find out what is really behind that door…