MORRISSEY’S in Abbeyleix is not just one of the oldest pubs in the country but it can now lay claim to being the best public house in Ireland.
Last week, the famous watering hole scooped two prestigious accolades − the all-Ireland Pub of the Year and the Leinster Pub of the Year − at the Irish Restaurant awards.
It previously won county, regional and national titles under current owner Tom Lennon in 2004.
The premises was originally a thatched single-storey house and it opened in 1775 as a grocery shop/shebeen.
The building was commissioned in 1875 by Edward Morrissey, grandfather of the legendary William J Morrissey, who ran the pub from the mid-1920s until his death in 1982. Known as Willie Joe, he was a famous local character. The saying goes that Willie Joe was so deaf that one effectively had to order a drink with a pen and paper.
When Willie Joe died aged 87, the pub passed to his cousin PJ Mulhall. As well as being a tea, wine and spirit merchant, he was also district manager of the local First National Building Society, an auctioneer, the local undertaker, a 100-acre farmer and head of the local tourist industry.
In 2002, the pub was bought by Carlow man Tom Lennon. Tom began his working career as an engineer and only switched to the bar trade 20 years ago, when he purchased a public house in Market Square, Portlaoise and renamed it Barmonday’s. Five years later, he purchased the Abbeyleix premises and in 2003 bought another public house in Dublin Street, Carlow. All three premises now bear the name EJ Morrissey’s.
Speaking after the latest awards ceremony, Mr Lennon said he was delighted that the Abbeyleix premises received such high recognition.
He said that about 40 people are employed in his three premises − nine of them in Abbeyleix.
The proprietor said he felt at home the first time walked into Morrissey’s in Abbeyleix and has purposely kept its distinctive olde world charm and atmosphere. He said that he has also tried to bring the same type atmosphere and layout to his other two premises.
Mr Lennon said he has never felt the need to go the way other pubs have gone and has withstood modernising his bars. He said that those who come into his pubs can associate with some of the oddities that line the shelves above the pew seats and pot-belly stove … items such as Jacob biscuits, Fry’s and Carbury’s chocolate advertisement signs.
“Even down to the smell,” said Mr Lennon, “15 years on and I can still get that same timber smell. It’s just one of those places. I can honestly say that it’s a gorgeous pub”.
As well as a tourist stop-off, the pub is used as a hub for corporate meetings. It’s also a locals’ pub that welcomes traditional music sessions.
Mr Lennon said he intends holding a celebratory weekend with a barbecue, music, food and entertainment in the coming weeks to celebrate the latest awards.