Death of Skryne publican, Mrs Mary O'Connell

Story by John Donohoe

Wednesday, 15th August, 2012 4:57pm

Death of Skryne publican, Mrs Mary O'Connell

Mrs Mary O'Connell behind the bar of O'Connell's pub on the Hill of Skryne.

Mrs Mary O'Connell, the proprietor of the renowned public house on the Hill of Skryne known as Yankee Connell's, passed away on Monday night, 13th August. She was aged 95 and had been in poor health for some time.

Mrs O'Connell, affectionately known as 'Mrs O', was a member of the Clynch family of Dunsany and married James O'Connell, the 'Yankee', in the early 1940s. He passed away in 1984. The pub, which features in Guinness television and cinema advertisements every Christmas, is popularly known as 'Mrs O's' or 'Yankee's'.

O'Connell's pub is one that is practically unchanged since the early 1800s, with a snug and fireplace, wood-panelled walls and a whitewashed yard outside. A whitewashed shelter for smokers acknowledges the no-smoking rule. The only modern contraption allowed was a pool table. Television broadcasts do not enter this establishment.

In an interview four years ago for the Irish Times's long-established businesses column, Mary O'Connell recalled arriving on the Hill of Skryne as a newly-wed.

"I came here with my husband, James, when we married in the early 1940s. He'd been living in New York but came back and that's where the Yank O'Connell name comes from."

She was born in Dunsany, "just over the road. My father, Peter Clynch, died when he was only 30 and my mother, Bridget, brought me up on her own. She was determined she wouldn't bring in another father for me.

"It was lovely to grow up in Dunsany. My mother and I were close. It didn't matter if the whole sky fell as long as we were together. Glory be to goodness but she was the best of mothers! I never wanted for anything."

With schooldays over and little work available in Ireland, she went to England to do nursing, but found herself lonely for her mother and came home. "I met my husband on the road soon after. Another girl and myself were coming back from playing tennis and he drew alongside us on the road in a car and stopped and we talked, anything for a laugh! There was no harm in it and I was well-tutored by my mother anyway.

"We met for about a half-hour that evening and, a year after, got married in Dunsany," she recalled.

James O'Connell's mother, Margaret, and sister, Helen, were looking after the family business on the Hill of Skryne, then a shop as well as a pub, when he and his young bride arrived, after a honeymoon touring Ireland, to live and work.

"We once sold everything here; veterinary needs as well as rashers, sausages, jam, bread, butter, tea - weighed to ration portions, cups, saucers, paint, wellington boots, tyres for bikes, meal of all description, every mortal thing. We delivered groceries four times every week, out in the cold and rain. It was unbelievable," she said.

The shop's business, in time, gave way to the supremacy of that of the pub. "The pub was the same then as now, too. The first day I went into the bar to work, I thought stout was served in a bottle on the counter; my husband had to teach me how to pull a pint. I loved working here as long as I didn't have to cook or sew."

She continued: "When he went to the Galway Races, he'd go to Lough Derg on the way. He fought for Ireland with the old IRA. He got medals but that's all he got!" One of his weekly missions was to the train station at Drumree to collect fresh kegs of Guinness."

Guinness has used Mrs O's pub in ads, and customers from around the globe have written thrillingly in the guest book provided by daughter, Marguerite.

O'Connells was also used as a film location by Neil Jordan, when he shot the pub scenes for 'The Last September', his adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's novel, and it featured in Turtle Bunbury's book on Irish pubs, along with Marmion's in Navan.

O'Connell's customers are "all very nice people", she recalled, saying that she had a few great people running the place with her, that she couldn't do without.

She remembered: "Brian Faulkner from the North, Paul Darragh from showjumping, Matthew McConaughey the actor, all sorts and all of their anonymities preserved. I think the world of my customers, they're the best."

Mrs O'Connell is survived by her daughter, Marguerite; daughter-in-law, Anne; grandchildren, James and Rachael, great grandchildren; son-in-law, George, and a wide circle of relatives. She was predeceased in September 2010 by her son, Tom, who was president of Royal Tara Golf Club.

Her remains will repose at Fitzsimons's Funeral Home, Navan, from 3pm on Wednesday 15th August, followed by removal to St Colmcille's Church, Skryne, arriving at 6pm. The funeral Mass is at 12 noon on Thursday 16th August, followed by burial at the Hill of Skryne Cemetery.

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