Wed 28 Jul 2010
In a place like Los Angeles, most Irish bars try especially hard to capture the essence of a real pub in Ireland. There are the dark wood accents, the Guinness on tap and the thick-accented Irish bartenders (or at least struggling actors pretending to be Irish). It’s a bit like the theme restaurants at Disneyland; while they’ve manage to capture the look and feel it lacks the spirit of a true Irish watering hole.
There’s probably no Irish drinking establishment more authentic as the auld country pub in Ireland, and I’m lucky enough to have found one where I’m becoming a semi-regular [cue the theme song from “Cheers”]. The place is Mathews, which is bewilderingly pronounced “Mat-te-tis” and it’s an old pub in the middle of tiny Collon village, about a 15-minute drive from my place. On any given Friday or Saturday night, I know that my friends Bushman and Richella will be behind the bar, and that at least a few people I know will be wearing holes into the old barstools. On the weekends there will be some choice covers (think Garth Brooks and Air Supply) performed by a well-meaning and painfully earnest musician and by the end of a long night there might be a drunkard or two being thrown out on his ass by James, the barman you just don’t f*ck with.
What I love about country pubs and especially Mathews is that people of all ages come here. From 18 all the way up to probably 90 years old, everyone mixes together and enjoys the craic – as they say. My friend Sinead’s mom is always there on Saturdays and Sundays, sipping her vodka and white lemonade. Her husband Niall is there every night for his three pints. There are the young fellas with their cheap gold chain worn over their upturned shirt collar (not a good look, lads), the older women in their Sunday best ready for a few pints after mass and the odd elderly pervert who needs a slap on his groping hand. Country pubs don’t discriminate based on age, but if you’re a stranger you may get a few suspicious stares and a moment of tense silence when you first walk in.
The pub itself has all the characteristics of a well-worn Irish tavern. The enormous, dual-sided wooden bar is marked with beer stains and faded patches from years of elbow grease. Pints of cascading, inky Guinness settle on aluminum drains under the beer taps. The clinking of freshly-washed glasses plays against a symphony of patrons’ chatter, both of which grows louder as the night wears on. There are low tables with cushioned chairs sectioned off by partitions of frosted glass and wood, perfect for containing hushed gossip. The pool table has seen better days but still attracts a steady stream of players, all anteing up for a shot at a few quid.
Of their recent visit to Ireland, my sister and her husband said our night at Mathews was the highlight. We were a gang of about 20 or so that night and I’m pretty sure the pub stayed open a bit later than usual for us (then again, I did have a lot to drink so who knows?!). That’s the thing with country pubs; sometimes the clocks magically stop ticking and the drinking continues into the wee hours. But you didn’t hear it from me.
If the Mattock Rangers have a match or if Louth is playing, there will be a sea of red jerseys in Mathews after the game – win or lose. In Collon, it’s the place to celebrate victories and drown sorrows and you can be sure there will be support from the patrons either way. But it’s not always crowded in here. If a local has a wedding out of town half the village will be away for the celebration, which means a slow night for Mathews. Or during the summer a good few folk may go away for bank holiday weekends, leaving plenty of seats at the bar. As my friend Sinead always says, “We’re just a wee little village!” And the heart of this village, like Rovers Return in Coronation Street, is Mathews pub.