Ashe's has been a licensed bar since 1900, but like many traditional Irish pubs, originally it was a licensed grocery. It was founded in 1850 as O'Connor's drapery and general store, with the founder, John O'Connor, a local businessman, taking out a spirits grocer's licence shortly afterwards.
According to Kate Ashe, great-great-grandniece of John O'Connor, originally alcohol sales were very much ‘a sideline', provision of alcoholic refreshment being secondary to the other business interests.
When John died in the late 1870s, his wife Mary continued running the shop for four years before passing on the deeds and the licence to her nephew, John Kennedy, who was born in America and had returned to his parents' ‘old country.' In 1926, John Kennedy retired and handed over the business to one of his three daughters, Hannah and her husband James Gregory Ashe, the bars name being changed to Ashe's.
As well as running the pub, James was a manufacturer of soft drinks and he also became an agent for Guinness. Indeed, the Ashes are still the local distributors of Guinness products for the whole of the Dingle Peninsula.
James' son, Thomas Ashe, who had been born on the premises, took over the licence in 1941 and ran the bar with his wife, Kate. They converted the drapery section of the store into a new bar and their kitchen into a lounge, simply replacing the Aga cooker with a fireplace. The lounge still contains all the original kitchen cupboards.
Kate was licensee of the bar until she passed on the running of the business to her son Thomas in 2001. She has documentation outlining the history of the premises from 1881. According to an old rent book from that time, John Kennedy paid a ground rent of £2 annually to the local landowners, the Moriarty family. The Ashes continued to pay ground rent until Kate and her husband bought out the lease in 1946.
The bar had become famous in the area during the early 1950s in part because of Thomas' success in sport. He played for Kerry in the 1953 All-Ireland final and also collected a number of Munster championship medals. An even greater spotlight was put on the pub in 1970, when one day the film director David Lean walked in, bought a pint and told Kate that he was going to be making, ‘a big film', in the area. Kate says: ‘I didn't believe him when he said that, I thought it was the drink talking!' However, later that year, Lean began filming Ryan's Daughter and the cast and crew made Ashe's their local, with Kate becoming the caterer for the movie.
‘There weren't many cafes opening Dingle at the time,' says Kate. ‘I remember one of the crew came in when I was cooking Irish stew. David Lean asked if the cast could have some and before I knew what was happening I found myself making soups, stews and sandwiches for the whole time they were filming.'
Kate was not star-struck at meeting Robert Mitchum and the other cast members however, because Gregory Peck's mother was a member of the Ashe family and Gregory had previously visited the bar for a pint.
Dingle had always been a prosperous town because of its fishing port; however, since the filming of Ryan's Daughter, the town has become a popular tourist destination. Kate says long-distance members of the Ashe clan from America come into the bar because of the name outside. Kate has recently passed on the running of the bar to her son Thomas, but she still pops in to help out when things are busy. ‘I have to,' she says, ‘the older generation still like me to pull their pints!'
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.