END OF AN ERA Luke Carney closed the door on his pub and restaurant on Abbey Street in Ballinrobe for the last time last week.
BALLINROBE lost an institution last Friday when Luke and Kathleen Carney called ‘last orders’ after nearly 27 years in business.
Over three decades, the couple behind Carney’s Bar & Eating House formed deep ties with the local community from their Abbey Street premises.
Whether you came once a year for the fishing, had just spent the afternoon prodding a beast’s backside in the mart, celebrated a retirement, engagement, birthday, communion or confirmation, the welcome was always the same.
Whether it was a gang of hungry racegoers or the Ballinrobe Musical Society cast, whether you came in weekly, monthly or only for special occasions, you could always be guaranteed of a right good meal and a céad míle fáilte in Carney’s.
“People found coming to Carney’s that they always met somebody they knew,” Luke Carney tells The Mayo News over tea on their second last day of trading.
“There was always a great atmosphere, camaraderie, chat, whether you came once a year, ten times a year, or 40 times a year. The same welcome was afforded you here.
“I suppose looking back there was great nights, great days, but there was great people, and that’s what made it.”
At one point in the 20th century, Ballinrobe had a pub for every week of the year.
By 1996, there were still very few pubs serving food and alcohol.
That began to change in March of that year when Luke and his wife Kathleen bought the pub that was then known as Seán Feerick’s.
“We felt it was an opportunity, so we begged, borrowed and stole, and we started at a time when there wasn’t an awful lot of money,” Luke recalls.
“Food, while it wasn’t as big as what it is now, the pub was still a place you went to drink. Our idea coming here was to concentrate on food. It takes a while to build it up, but I must say it has been 27 wonderful years in the industry. I’ve no regrets looking back on ever going into this business.”
Those happy years on Abbey Street also bore plenty of challenges.
First came the smoking bans and drinking driving laws which changed the entire culture around socialising.
Then came a crippling recession, followed by a pandemic that saw Irish hospitality alternate between half-open and fully closed for nearly two years.
No sooner had that storm abated in early 2022 but another one brewed in the form of crippling energy bills.
But Luke and Kathleen Carney rode it out with a smile on their face, a loyal customer base and dedicated staff – some of whom have been with them for over 20 years.
“We worked as a team, it wasn’t me and Kathleen,” explains Luke “We did what had to be done and everybody just came along on board and everyone was part of the team. We didn’t employ managers. I wasn’t a manager, I worked the same as all the rest of the staff.”
Today, the same people that first visited Carney’s in carry cots are now back carrying their own children through the famous red door.
“We were invited to weddings as a result of the friendships we built up with our clientele,” Luke says.
Since word spread of their closing, the Carneys have been inundated with cards from locals and well-wishers who have come to know them over the years.
Likewise, Luke hasn’t been able to cross the street without being stopped by a thankful parent of a child who spent a summer waiting on tables in their restaurant.
But after so many years at the heart of Ballinrobe, Luke feels now is the right time to sell up and call it a night. Not through financial difficulty or ill health, but on his own terms.
A lot of tears
“To be honest, there has been a lot of tears this week,” he says.
“People have been in; those are people who’ve become friends along with customers. So I’m lonely, sad. But at the same time, I’m going out with good health and I’m hoping to get another number of years of good health.
“I’ve no big plans to go travelling the world or do anything like that, but to have a bit of time with the grandkids, be able to go to a match and not say ‘I’ve to be back in for work’. Just the freedom.
“I will definitely miss the people because they’ve been so much part of our life for 27 years. You just cannot turn off from interacting with people
“People have been good to us, and very, very good to us over the years. And I hope we have been good to them and that we gave them something back,” he adds.
The Carneys will miss the people of Ballinrobe, but the people of Ballinrobe will miss them equally so. Abbey Street will be a poorer place without them.