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One of the most famous and oldest pubs in Ireland, Moran's Oyster Cottage was saved thanks to a spontaneous act of generosity, a wild salmon and a ‘thank you' party.
Moran family records date back to before the end of the 18th century and the pub has been in the Moran family since at least the late 1700s, when a man named Danial Moran married Mary Neiland. Her family owned the weir and may have been selling alcohol and other provisions before Daniel's arrival.
At the time, Kilcorgan was more or less the same size as it is now, with 14 houses. In its heyday as a port serving the fertiliser and fuel (seaweed and turf) markets, this tiny village had four pubs that regularly overflowed with people.
The Morans enjoyed a good living from the pub for over a century as it was passed from father to eldest son. After Daniel, the pub passed to Thomas (born 1811), then to Michael (born 1830), to Thomas (born 1870), to Michael Moran (born 1907) who is still alive at time of writing.
The family followed the custom of naming first-born sons after the boy's paternal grandfather. But this generation's Thomas Moran died and the current licensee is his brother Willie.
In the 1930s, Kilcolgan became a ghost town when new roads allowed freight to travel by lorry along the north and south Galway coasts. The port was redundant, with the only income being provided by small scale salmon and lobster fishing and work on the state-owned oyster beds. There are 700 acres of oyster beds off Kilcolgan harbour and, because of their national economic importance, to avoid pollution there has been very little development in the village.
One by one, Kilcolgan's three other pubs closed down as publicans decided that paying an annual licence fee was not worth the effort. According to Willie:
‘By the 1960s, the bar wasn't trading at all. All that was in it was a bottle of Guinness, a bottle of Sandeman and a bottle of whiskey'. In 1960, he was offered £1,000 for the licence - half the price of a new house! But he wouldn't sell. The licence had been in the family so long and he didn't want to be the one to let it go.
‘It was about this time that my father was out salmon fishing on the river when a student named Al Byrne, up on holiday from Dublin, said to him, ‘I would love one of those fish, but I couldn't afford it' and my father made him a present of the salmon there and then. Al Byrne went on to become very big in Guinness's. He was down in Clarinbridge on company business in connection with the Oyster Festival, where Paddy Burke, the publican in Clarinbridge, said to him, ‘I must take you to this little pub in the middle of nowhere'. Paddy took Al to Moran's bar and as soon as Al walked in the door he recognised Michael, who had given him the salmon years before. There and then Al announced, ‘At next September's Clarinbridge Oyster Festival, Guinness's will hold its private party here, we'll arrange a keg'.
Moran's were to provide the food and did so using local oysters and brown bread baked by Willie's mother Kathleen. In the Guinness party were journalists who went back to Dublin to write how they had found this ‘unspoilt pub'.
‘It was then that the penny dropped and we moved to providing seafood,' says Willie. ‘My mother used to bake 20 tins of brown bread every morning. While we have expanded the menu to include oysters, wild salmon and prawns, my big secret is ‘keep the menu simple and do it well'. We now employ 12 full-time staff all year round and 50 in the summer. The downstairs of the old cottage is now part of the pub, with two of the old downstairs bedrooms now used as snugs.'
‘We got another big boost thanks to the IDA (industrial Development Authority) who brought over a New York Times journalist, R.W. Apple, in the 1970s to write about the potential of Galway as a site for American multinationals to build factories. They took this journalist for lunch here and when he went home, he wrote a front page article about Moran's of Kilcolgan all over the states and it really put us on the map, people would arrive here with their press clippings! A whole range of celebrities have eaten here, from Paul Newman to the Emperor and Empress of Japan.'
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.