Traditional Irish Pub & Live Music Venue for 200 Years: The history of MC McGrath’s Bar
Galway History//Galway Stories

Traditional Irish Pub & Live Music Venue for 200 Years: The history of MC McGrath’s Bar

Stretching back over 6 generations and 200 years, MC McGrath’s Bar has undoubtedly become a monumental part of Clifden’s lengthy history. With a dedication to their roots, the family-run original Irish bar offers visitors a place by the fire to rest their legs and savour a well-poured pint and toe-tappingly good tunes.

To get to know more about the legacy of MC McGrath’s Bar, we chatted with current owner Michael Carey.

Once you step in the door, you can’t help but be wrapped up in the cosiness of the authentic original Irish bar. The cosy lighting and two open fireplaces set the ambiance, with woody scents and the low crackle of logs burning. The layout of the bar has remained unchanged throughout the years, from the stonework to the Parana pine that Michael’s grandfather put in during the 60s. If you have a chance to muse about the bar, we highly recommend it as you’ll soon discover loads of interesting additions to the bar’s décor that each have their own story. The wheel above the fireplace originally from Breffni Builders in Westport was unearthed from outside the bar, a bodhrán that adorns the wall carries Michael’s family coats of arms, the Honda 50 motorbike that Michael used to ride to school and a plethora of pictures that depict the story of the Carey and McGrath families from down through the years. Notable photographs include Paul McGrath who won the All-Ireland Championship 1989 as part of the Cork Senior football team and his father Connie who had won the Railway Cup in 1948. Paul’s son Paul also went on to win an All-Ireland in 2000.

One of Clifden’s oldest family-owned bars, Michael Carey’s family has always had its roots in Clifden. In 1818, his great grandfather helped to plaster Clifden Castle, and the McGrath family were part of the Darcy estate. When the castle eventually fell into disrepair, slates from the castle roof were salvaged and now can be found tiling the roof of MC McGrath’s Bar.

For Michael, taking over the ownership of MC McGrath’s was the obvious choice. He had known the bar his whole life and grown up in it, even when he left Clifden over the years to work in America and Germany, he always knew he would return as Michael explained; “I love it. I’ve worked all over the world, I have many opportunities of moving but Clifden is home, it's where the heart is. “

People from all over the world come to MC McGrath’s Bar to experience the high quality traditional Irish music. Edward F. Crawford, the previous US Ambassador to Ireland, became friends with Michael years before he was sworn into his role. Michael laughingly recalled; “we were sitting in the bar one night drinking and he said I think I’d like to be ambassador to Ireland, he loved it [Ireland] so much, -I was laughing at the time -and two years later he brought me over to play [at his swearing in ceremony].”

After growing up with a musical instrument in hand, once he had taken over the bar Michael knew music would be instrumental to the bar’s way of life. The Carey family had always been musical; Michael’s father Peter, played in Ballynahinch Castle for over 35 years. Michael himself had been a regular performer in EJ Kings. Michael, his brothers and his father all play together whenever they get the chance, their go-to song is Sweet Sixteen by The Fureys as it is his father’s favourite. Over the years, Michael has played with and met many recognisable figures including Sharon Shannon, The Wolfe Tones, Matt Molloy and Brendan Gleeson, he also met Paul Harrington in the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel shortly after winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids, (be sure to keep your eyes peeled for their photos with Michael on the bar wall!)

Open 7 days a week with live music from 9-11pm every night, this is one location that visitors to the West of Ireland should experience. Regular local performers such as Pat Coyne, Kevin Homes, Conal Flaherty and Sam Carey, guarantee that the legendary musical nights that MC McGrath’s is famous for, never changes. For more information on MC McGrath's tap here

Photos by Boyd Challenger

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