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Costello’s bar closes in Ballinrobe


Mike Finnerty

AS the story goes, back in 1956 Ballinrobe had a pub for every week of the year. Fifty-two of them were dotted around the streets and every one of them doing a decent trade.
Fast forward 60-odd years and this week there are eight public houses left in the South Mayo town.
The winds of change have swept around those same streets with pubs like Feerick’s, Staunton’s, O’Malley’s, Rabbitte's and dozens more disappearing without trace.
And last Friday night the door closed on Costello’s bar, a famous and historic hostelry that has been trading with the family name over the door since 1909.
A huge crowd turned out to show their appreciation to the proprietor, Martin Costello, and all the members of his family who did their ‘apprenticeships’, worked shifts and held the fort in the ‘nicest bar in Ballinrobe’ down through the years.
Martin took over as owner of Costello’s bar in 1990, and over the last 28 years put his own stamp on the place in his own quiet, astute and impressive way.
A former Gaelic footballer and rugby player with Ballinrobe, as well as a talented musician, Martin Costello’s love of sport and music, as well as keen interest in current affairs, meant that he could hold court with everyone and anyone who pulled up a stool.
And the same went for most of his staff who served behind the bar over the last two decades — including young guns like Kieran Concannon and Jack O’Toole who were both among the team on duty last weekend.  
The large numbers of people who were present last Friday night underlined just how strong the bonds were between the owner, his staff, his bar and his loyal customers.
Another Martin Costello opened the premises on Abbey Street in Ballinrobe 110 years ago, before the baton was passed on to his son, John Joe, who made a great success of running a profitable shop and bar that brought customers in from all walks of life.
John Joe’s son, Seán Costello Snr, and his wife Carmel then followed in those footsteps during the 1970s and 1980s, and along with their family, continued to run a successful business that more than held its own during the hard times in rural Ireland.
All of their children served their time in ‘Costello’s’ at one stage or another, gathering glasses when they were old enough to know the drill, before graduating to active service behind the counter when hitting the legal age to do so.
Two of Seán and Carmel’s sons, Seán Jnr and Fintan, also cut hair at the back of the bar during their teenage years — before both went on to work professionally in the same business.
Niall, Sinead and Brian (who emigrated to Sydney, back in 2001) also earned their corn in the family bar during their school holidays, and at weekends, and continued a proud tradition that endured until last weekend.

Local institution
The hope locally around Ballinrobe is that somebody will step in, take over, and try and make a living for themselves on the premises.
But, regardless of what happens in that regard, ‘Costello’s’ as those of us who grew up and live in Ballinrobe knew it, is gone forever.
A place where so many of us went to celebrate the milestones in our lives — like 18th and 40th birthdays, engagements, births, deaths and marriages, discussed our Leaving Cert results and rang in the Millenium, saw Ray Houghton score against Italy at the Giants Stadium in 1994; and watched replays of all those All-Ireland finals that Mayo played in.
Not to mention the summer evenings or dark winter nights that were spent there with lifelong friends, sometimes when we hadn’t a care in the world or other times when the weight of the world was on someone’s shoulders.
It could have been after playing a match, to see a live band, or in this writer’s case back in 2008 — to pick up a cheque after winning the Ballinrobe GAA lotto!
And then there were the lads and ladies who played poker, pool, darts or whatever game was en vogue in a particular decade. ‘Last Man Standing’ often took on a life of its own too!
But while last Friday night marked the end of an era in so many ways, it also marks a new beginning for Martin Costello and his family.
We wish him well, and say thanks to him, his parents, and their parents, for helping so many people to make so many great memories in an establishment that was given a ‘five-star rating’ by the legendary, Pub Spy, in the Sunday World back in 2008.
High praise indeed.