End of an Era in Donnybrook

A tearful goodbye as popular Donnybrook pub closes

by Eoin Meegan

On 9th July past McCloskey’s of Donnybrook closed its doors for the last time. Situated in the centre of the village, and at the heart of the community, the pub will be a big miss. Run by popular Derry man Bernard McCloskey, affectionately known as Barney, or Mr Mac to locals from 1967 until his sad passing about 12 years ago, and since then by his son Brian, ably assisted by manager Tom Brady and Joe Connell. Macs was a unique establishment.

Every kind of gathering took place down the years in the pub under the Beamish clock; the annual Irish Cancer Society Fundraising Night being a standout, raising over €10k. As well as the anniversaries, engagements, retirements, birthdays – I held my own 50th there – Christmas dos, and countless parties; a couple even held their wedding reception there once! Particularly notably were the football and rugby matches, both internationals and schools’ finals, drawing huge crowds, with the inevitable scrum to get to the bar to procure that precious pint. It was also a popular place for members of the Gardaí from Donnybrook station to hold a retirement do, which everyone welcomed as it usually ensured a late pint or two! And of course in 1993 when Derry won the All-Ireland such was the excitement that it was rumoured that the pub didn’t close at all for a few days. But we won’t tell tales!

McCloskeys of Donnybrook (Photo: Rose Sunderland)

All notion of class or social difference disappeared as soon as one passed through its – at one time brown, then red, and lately navy – doors. Here plumbers rubbed shoulders with bankers and discussed affairs of state in an easy and effortless manner. Mr Mac’s genial nature, and his love of a good story, as well as his talent for telling the same, ensured that everyone was made to feel welcome, and loved dropping in. Rarely was he not to be found behind the bar, clearly his life’s passion.

Many bartenders faithfully served here down the years, including Lisa Harmon, Alan Hambury, now of the Stoneboat, Liam Fu, and many, many more too numerous to mention. I have to give a special mention to the late and immensely loved Mark McRae, who sadly left us far too young. The pub was always noted for the friendliness of the staff, all the way from the busy hands behind the bar to the lounge boys and girls who served so amicably on weekends and on busy nights. Special shout out here to friends Michelle and Helen, who always worked together, and also to Jonathan and Ruth. Sunday night always seemed to be a popular night for locals to drop in and chew over the latest GAA results with Tom, always in good form particularly when Cavan won! Or earlier in the evening to have a bit of banter with Joe and test his encyclopaedic knowledge on a wide range of topics.

While not a music pub as such, Macs had its fair share of entertainment over the years, including singer-songwriter Kevin Morrow who enjoyed a regular stint there in pre-Covid days. Tuesday was trad night when talented young musicians would turn up for an impromptu session. And going back even further I remember when wet boring Monday nights were transformed by the lyrical tones of the Dublin Welsh Male Choir who would get in a bit of practice time while quaffing a few pints. Well, those larynxes won’t lubricate themselves. Strains of Bread of Heaven mixed with a few ribald tunes would raise the roof. So it was fitting that on the final night the Donnybrook Strollers sang out the end of an era for this landmark pub. Originally supposed to close at the end of March, the pub got something of a stay of execution, but finally, and sadly, it closed its doors in July. So while uncertainty hangs over the future, it is hoped that post renovations the establishment will reopen once more as a pub and continue its long history of service to the local community. With the Hampton Hotel now also closed, and The Donnybrook (formerly Madigans) on a hiatus, Donnybrook is looking more desolate than ever. This great little village is in need of a good local, and McCloskey’s filled that role with style.

On the final night many old faces dropped in for a final libation and to say farewell to staff and friends alike. It was a night of mixed emotions, great sadness mingled with so many happy memories. When Brian was asked what he would miss most he said the customers, meeting and chatting with them, as it was they who made the pub. A moving and fitting tribute. Thanks to everyone I got to know over the years (sadly too many have passed on), many of whom I number as dear friends now. Let’s hope “Macs” will come back in some new form very shortly.

Very special thanks to you Brian, Tom and Joe, for the kind service and the many good memories. We will treasure them a lifetime.