This pub in Forster Street, Galway was founded with the proceeds of the San Francisco gold rush. Cormac O' Coinin was a ‘49er with gold in his pockets when he returned to Galway from the United States. The pub and grocery in Forster Street was not his first enterprise. Originally, Cormac ran a flourmill in Quay Street but that was destroyed by fire, leading him to set up his grocery and pub in 1872.
He chose well the location of his new business, known as Tigh Cormaic or Cormac's House, for it was the only pub immediately east of Eyre Square at a time when the square still hosted annual fairs and weekly livestock markets on Saturdays. It was also the last pub in Glaway for those leaving the city in the direction of Oranmore; as a result, Cormac's primary source of income was from farmers buying groceries and household goods after selling livestock or farm produce on the market.
In addition to the pub and grocery, the business had stables to the rear accessed via a stone archway, where horses, ponies, traps and drays were kept. Cormac was also a shareholder in the Galway omnibus Company and he may have kept some of the company's horses on his premises.
The large area to the rear of the pub was also used to keep pigs. According to family folklore, on more than one occasion, Cormac's pigs went hungry because he gave their food away to those who were begging for food on the streets, something that indicates that poverty remained high in Galway for decades after the Famine.
Following Cormac's death, the pub passed to his son Peter Rabbitt, who used an English-language version of the family's surname. In 1934, he made major alterations to the premises, increasing the drinking space by moving his family's living quarters upstairs. Peter ran the pub until his death in 1942, when his wife Sarah became licensee. Following her death, her son John was licensee for a number of years and played a major role in returning the family business to profitability. After John, the licence passed to his brother and current owner, Murtagh Rabbitt, in 1955.
Murty has seen major changes in how the pub was run. When he was young, the pub had an early morning licence to cater for those with market business in Eyre Square, with the pub's doors opening at 9am. In those days, the bar's floor had sawdust scattered on it to deal with the wetness and dirt brought ion to the pub on farmers' boots. With a livestock market in Eyre Square, the streets of Galway were much dirtier then than they are now.
As well as bottling Guinness, as a boy Murty was one of the first in Galway to bottle Smithwick's beer and he claims to be the man who first served Smithwicks to the Galway Chamber of Commerce.
During the 1970s, the range of goods sold by the grocery gradually decreased, with the pub no longer stocking bread after 1984, but loose tea is still sold there. The pub now also has a restaurant attached, serving traditional Irish food, and an off-licence opened in 1997. The pub is now run by Murty's son, John Rabbit, great-grandson of Cormac O' Coinin.
Extracts from 'The Story of the Irish Pub' by Cian Molloy, supplied with permission of the Liffey Press. For more information on the book check the Liffey Press website.