Walk into just about any Irish pub and you will most likely find at least two of the following; Guinness on tap, dark wood paneling, and a fireplace helping keep the regulars and pop-ins warm. There are potentially thousands of such pubs across Ireland, all with their own unique charm, but, there is only one that has been around since 900 A.D.
Welcome to Sean’s Bar. Located in the town of Athlone, which is a 90-minute drive due west from Dublin, Sean’s Bar is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland, especially after its claims of being the oldest pub in Ireland were accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records back in 2000.
Despite its worldwide fame, and the fact that it’s nearly packed daily during the summer months, the charm of Sean’s remains intact due to the fact that nothing much has changed over decades (or, perhaps, centuries).
"The pub itself hasn't changed at all over the years," Declan Delaney, the manager of Sean's Bar, told Business Insider in an interview in 2016. "The building is a protected structure so any alteration to the main bar is forbidden."
The History Of Sean’s Pub
According to legend, Sean’s Pub was originally called Luain’s Inn. The story goes that, around 900 A.D., an innkeeper, Luain Mac Luighdeach, would help travelers get across the waters of the nearby River Shannon before any bridge was ever built. A town grew up around the crossing point, becoming Athlone, and Luain’s Inn remains to this day, now as Sean’s.
The pub’s more-recent history is well documented. Sean Fitzsimons bought the pub in 1968 and began much-needed renovations. Repairs to the walls of the pub soon revealed that they were made of “wattle and wicker” that dated back to the ninth century. “Old coins which were minted by various landlords for barter with their customers were also found,” according to the pub’s website. One section of that renovation remains on display in the pub and is itself a major attraction.
The pub has become quite famous both locally and internationally for its whiskey selection. The history here dates back to the sixth century, and the early origins of distilling. According to Sean’s Pub, distilling began in the area around Athlone in many of the small monasteries along the River Shannon.
On the walls, you’ll find old photographs, artifacts, as well as the actual letter from the Guinness Book Of World Records confirming Sean’s as the oldest pub in Ireland. You’ll even find a record of every person who has ever owned the pub, including pop singer Boy George who owned the bar for a short time in 1987.
Visiting The Pub (And Enjoying Its Brews)
History aside, Sean’s pub is exactly that: a pub. On tap, yes, Guinness, plus a wide selection of Irish and international beers. The old, dark wooden bar, the open fireplace, and the old floors covered in sawdust lend themselves to exactly what you would expect an Irish pub to look and sound like. Yes, it would not be an Irish bar without a traditional Irish band playing here -- nearly every day and night.
From the outside, the pub appears to be a small place, but once inside, it opens up nicely and has even more room on the back patio, where you’ll find a large beer garden.
The pub has recently begun to sell its own beer and whiskey online. 900 AD is a traditional lager, brewed for the pub by O’Hara’s Brewery. Sean’s Bar Irish Whiskey, and its second release Clonmoacnoise, are both available online. For additional inspiration, consider:
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