The history of Ireland spans back centuries, Ireland or The Emerald Isle as we know it was first settled in 4000 BC, right around the time of the first Stone Age.
After the first settlers arrived and began farming the fertile land, the culture evolved over many centuries to form the country we know today. Many buildings in Ireland date back to ancient times, and have a rich history.
None older than some of the local pubs known as an ‘Inn’ or a ‘Tavern’ in days of old. These buildings were commonplace and some have survived many centuries and are still standing today.
But what is the real question we wanted to know is: what is the oldest pub in Ireland? Sean’s Bar in Athlone is officially the oldest pub in Ireland. However, it is not without some controversy because the Brazen Head bar in Dublin also claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland.
We will explain this controversy more in detail, as well as show you why Sean’s Bar is the clear winner of the title.
Oldest Pubs in Ireland
Over the years Ireland has almost become synonymous with pub culture. The residents of Ireland are famous for imbibing and brewing traditional Irish whiskey as far back as anyone can remember.
Owing to the Irish love of the strong stuff there have been many pubs, inns, and drinking establishments built in the country over the years.
These are welcoming places for people to meet, socialize, and enjoy good food, good beer, and good company.
Many of the pubs in Ireland are hundreds of years old, but some of the oldest:
- Sean’s Bar – 990, Athlone
- The Brazen Head – 1198, Dublin
- Kytelers Inn – 1263, Kilkenny
- Grace Neills – 1611, Donaghadee
- Morahans – 1641, Roscommon
- Gateway Bar – 1698, Cork City
- McHughs Bar – 1711, Belfast
- Johnny Fox’s Pub – 1798, Dublin
It is obvious that owing to Ireland’s long-ranging history, there are a large number of pubs and inns with dates spanning back over the decades. Structures date all the way from the 9th to the current century.
More than one of these buildings claim to be from old or ancient origins. The history of these locations is undeniable with records verifying the length of their existence.
However, the title of ‘The oldest pub in Ireland’ is much coveted and has been fought over in recent years between two different establishments.
The Brazen Head – The Second Oldest Pub in Ireland?
The Brazen Head has said for many years that it’s the ‘oldest pub in Ireland’ and still displays a statement claiming as such on its website. The building has a history dating back to 1198 and used to be coaching in for travelers to stop and rest on their journey.
Today it is still serving and entertaining guests and tourists that enter its doors. It has a recorded history of some very famous visitors over the years. Irish literary figures Brendan Bahan, and Flann O’Brien visited the location, and James Joyce often frequented the establishment and even mentioned the pub in ‘Ulysses’.
A quick visit to The Brazen Head’s website confirms its historic relevance. However, is it really Ireland’s oldest pub?
All evidence suggests that Sean’s Bar is in fact, the oldest by quite a number of years….
Sean’s Bar: The Real Oldest Pub in Ireland AND The Oldest Pub in Europe?
Regardless of The Brazen Head’s claims, and according to the good people at the Guinness Book of Records, Sean’s Bar in Athlone, County Roscommon is not only the oldest bar in Ireland, but the oldest pub in Europe dating back to 990 AD
As if this were not enough, there have also been attempts to determine if Sean’s Bar is the oldest in the world, but this is unconfirmed as yet. The Brazen Head dates back to 1198 – some three hundred younger than Sean’s Bar.
It’s not clear why there is such a hot dispute between the two locations, but you can bet the Guinness Record’s guys verified their facts before publishing the data.
Facts that were supported when an excavation at Sean’s Bar during the 1970’s revealed old fashioned wattle and daub walls dating back to the nine hundred. Old coins that were discovered during the same time are now on display at the National History Museum in Dublin.
According to records, the owners of the 2 establishments appeared on a local radio show to debate the issue. The Brazen Head eventually conceded when presented with the evidence dating Sean’s Bar to the nine hundred, yet it still continues to state that it is the oldest pub in Ireland.
In recent years The Brazen Head has started to shift is dialogue to claim it’s the oldest pub in Dublin. Even so, to the uninformed visitors and tourists coming to the Emerald Isle, The Brazen Head is still thought to be the oldest.
If the records are correct then Sean’s bar has been catering to customers for over 1100 years. That’s quite a phenomenal feat. For centuries travelers, patrons, and tourists have entered the doorway of Sean’s Bar seeking refreshment.
The longevity of the pub’s history appears to be corroborated by the long-standing owner’s records.
Since Sean’s Bar opened, which incidentally used to be known as ‘Luain’s Inn’, it has maintained records consistently on every person that owned the property. Starting from the present day and listing owners all the way back to the tenth century.
The documents verify the bars consistent operation, sale, and transfer, from one owner to another across the centuries. At one time Sean’s Bar even had a celebrity owner with Boy George, the ex-frontman of popular 80’s band Culture Club, being the establishment’s proprietor for a short while in 1987.
Famous Visitors to Sean’s
As Sean’s bar has been around for such a long time it has played host to many famous people and celebrity guests over the years. Apart from celebrity ownership, actors, singers, sports figures, and celebrities have all graced the building at one time or another.
Many of these celebrities were attended to by the bar’s longest serving barman, Dinny Brennan, who has worked at Sean’s for over 35 years. Notable celebrity visitors include Larry Hagman and Linda Evans from the hit TV show Dallas. Actors John C. Reilly and Martin Sheen, and popular musicians U2 and Freddie Mercury have all frequented Sean’s Bar. It is also long-ranging spot with American tourists.
History of Luian’s Inn
When Sean’s Bar was first recorded it was under the name of Luain’s Inn. It was situated on the site of a river crossing where travelers would traverse the fast moving waters of the Shannon from one side to the other.
Luain Mac Luighdeach lived in the area and built the Inn, it is said that he would help travelers to cross the river and Luian’s Inn was born. The name of the city itself also stems from this time. The name Athlone was derived from ‘Atha Luian’ or The Ford of Luian.
The inns building was designed with a sloping floor as the Shannon was prone to flooding. When this happened, the angled floor allowed the flood waters to enter the building then flow out through the back. Today the floor is still sloping though the river tends not to flood so much these days.
Sean’s Bar Today
Presently Sean’s Bar remains a popular establishment, during busy season the pub can see up to five hundred visitors a day, that number rises to a thousand on the weekends. People beat a path to Sean’s to sample their famous Irish coffee of taste a traditional pint of Guinness.
Many of the artifacts uncovered during the buildings prior excavations are on display on the walls of Sean’s for visitors to see. The famous pub has an active music scene, presenting traditional live Irish music acts for customers to enjoy. Acts perform music and play Irish instruments such as fiddles, harps, accordions and Uilleann pipes.
Recently Sean’s Bar has started making its own signature brand of whiskey in partnership with the West Cork Distillery. Research shows that whisky originated in the area and recorded references can be found in the Annals of Clonmacnoise.
A book that was created during the sixteen hundreds covering Irish prehistory events and documents data all the way up to the early fourteen hundreds.
The process of whiskey distilling began in monasteries around the sixth century in Lough Ree, a town a short distance away from Athlone. Interestingly, the name ‘whiskey’ was derived from the beverage being referred to as “Uisce Beatha” or “Aqua Vitae”, the water of life.
Even though there are many historic pubs that are worth a visit in Ireland, and The Brazen Head still laying claim to being the oldest one in Ireland, the evidence does seem to support that the title officially goes to Sean’s Bar.
That said, both buildings have a rich and lengthy history and are both worth a visit on your travels.
But if you want to have the experience of being in the truly oldest pub in Ireland, head to the city of Athlone and pay a visit to Sean’s Bar, have a Guinness or an Irish Coffee, and sit in front of the warm fire blazing in the ancient open turf fireplace across the sloping floor. You’ll be glad you went.