Kells Archaeological & Historical Society


Oral History


COLM MULVANY (born 1925)


Colm lives at Sycamore Avenue, Gardenrath, Kells. He grew up in Farrell Streetand worked in the Regal Brewery c1941, He was married to Philomena who passed away some years ago.



Interview with Colm Mulvany


DC:          This is Danny Cusack I’m here in 11 Sycamore Avenue in Kells on Wednesday 26th January 2011 and I’m talking to Colm Mulvany who used to work in the Regal Brewery.  So thanks Colm for agreeing to chat to us today, so we will kick off and you can tell us about how you started working in the brewery.


CM:         Well I went to work with my father.  He was the supervisor in the building of the brewery. I went to work with him to serve my time with him.  You know at the building of the brewery.  And then when it was finished, when it was opened, I was offered the job so I took the job in the brewery.


DC          And this was about 1941 – 42


CM         I was at the bottling


DC          At the bottling,


CM         That’s where I started, you know.  And then I worked at that for maybe a year or so.  And then I was an apprentice brewer


DC          So you moved from being a bottler to an apprentice brewer.  And would you say in a couple of words what your work entailed, what you like had to do on a daily basis.


CM         What I had to do?


DC          Yeah


CM         well we started work at eight in the morning and we worked till six.  That was a long day.  We had a half day I think on Saturday.  There was no full day on Saturday that time.


DC          The bottling and the apprentice brewer, did you find that easy work? Or was it difficult work.


CM         It was in kind of a way, because you know like the beer was so frothy.  Whether it was in my blood or what, I was the only one that could take the bottle of the siphon without it foaming over.  So that’s why I was stuck with that.


DC          You had a deft hand.


CM         Well yeah, nobody could touch it only me.  Because you know beer, especially when it is being bottled, it foams up very, very quickly you know.


DC          Now, not everyone because the brewery is so long gone from Kells now, hardly anyone will know where it was so, am I correct in saying it was down leather alley there.


CM         Usher, Ushers auctioneering or whatever.


DC          That’s where it was


CM         Yeah, leather alley it was called.


DC          So it was down where Oliver Usher’s business is at the moment.


CM         yeah that’s right.


DC          Was it a large building or was it a small building?


CM         Well it was small, well it was only a start, you know.  At that time Lager was very new in this country you know…and nobody was drinking it you know….Guinness and ale were the only two drinks that were common. You know.  Lager was new and people got it very hard to get into it you know.  The main suppliers were Finlars in Dublin.  There was the mineral water place in Carlow.  They were good customers and the Gresham Hotel.  Mostly hotels stocked it.


DC          So it seemed to be geared towards people who had money to spend and willing to break old habits.  Your average fellow in the bar or pub would kind of stick with his ale or his Guinness…  Wouldn’t he.


CM         Now there is more Lager drink that Guinness really.


DC          That’s all changed hasn’t it.


CM         That time is was new.


DC          It was a novelty.


CM         The only country was Germany or Belgium and all those countries…….It was going well at the start for a few years, we were bottling every day.  We were bottling 200-500 gallons a day.  That went.  Then the slump came you know and it went from bad to worse.  It went that bad that we were only doing bottling once a fortnight.   He applied for a …. At that time it was during the war and there were American troops in the north and they were larder drinkers you know.  That was there national drink.  He applied for a licence.  It was James Fitzsimons he was the man who owned it.  He applied for the licence and he wasn’t granted the licence to export it you know.  If he had of got the licence that time it would have survived.


DC          So as far as you were concerned, it was Fitzsimons??... to get the licence, it was the sound of the death now really of the brewery.


CM         It was really.


DC          I heard somewhere I don’t know if there is any truth in it that there was s bit of politics involved in the licence


CM         There was politics involved.  You see James Fitzsimons was a Councillor you know.  He was Fianna Fail. He had some kind of a row with Fianna Fail and he turned Fine Gael., there was politics involved.


DC          And of course it was 1945 and Dev. was in power at that time.  If you fell out with Fianna Fail you had no chance.


CM         Lamass was the minister for finance I think that time. 


DC          So it was politics that killed off the brewery really.


CM         At that time it employed about 12 to 14 you know.  But they had great plans for it you know.  They were going to build a brewery outside the town beside the Blackwater River… all that kind of thing.


DC          Who knows what it would have done for Kells if it had of gone ahead.


CM         It was the greatest tragedy that ever happened to Kells and I can tell you that.  Where would it be today?  There would be hundreds employed there.  Now that there is more Lager drank now.  And it was a lovely drink.


DC          Did you get to drink much of it….Or sample it?


CM         I’d say we often came out of it drunk!  But that was stopped.  We were young at the time I was only 15 or 16.  But that was stopped.


DC          You and your mates had a bit of a tipple...  sure why not.


CM         Well we used to sneak them out you know.


DC          It would be a bit of a dare


CM         Ah it was the greatest tragedy what ever happened Kells.  There is no shadow of a doubt about that.  And James Fitzsimons along with the shoe factory he was the next biggest employer.  There was 12 or 14 in the brewery.  The bakery, there was four bakers, there was six or maybe eight men delivering the bread out in all directions you know. He had a grocer’s shop and there was four or six employed there.


DC          Yeah he was a big employer in Kells.  Between the brewery the bakery and the groceries outside of the shoe factory.  The bakery lasted a bit longer of course.  That eventually went too.  Was it a good firm to work for?


CM         Of yeah it was of course.  I enjoyed it for the first few years. We often went down and … nothing and we were getting a wage for doing nothing.  He done his best to keep it open.



DC          So you wouldn’t blame him?


CM         Oh god no and I doubt if there is a half dozen people in the town who knows about James Fitzsimons.


DC          What happened to him after that do you know?  He stayed around the town didn’t he?


CM         Who


DC          James Fitzsimons.


CM         Well he went into bad health and died a young man… Didn’t he. And then his son he was doing the brewing; he was killed in a car crash.  And Godfrey he was a chemist but he wasn’t connected with the brewery.  And Colm of course he was kind of an outcast.


DC          So that put an end to that.  They weren’t going to keep it on anyway or try and resurrect it.  So all in all you were there for about four or five years.


CM         Well when I left it I went back to the trade. You know.  There was no future in it you know. Absolutely no future.


DC          So it closed down about 1946


CM         Well I couldn’t tell you cause I was gone out of it.  They give up brewing and then the started bottling for Guinness and other drinks.


DC          And the bottling was there for a while longer.


CM         If it had of taken off I would have a great future because I would be at the brewing.  I would probably be head brewer.


DC          Yes you probably would.  So you went back to your own trade.


CM         Yes back to my own trade.


DC          Which was what?


CM         Carpenter


DC          Carpentry and worked at that for the rest of your life?


CM         Yeah, well that time when the brewery opened, it was during the war and there was very little work in that line.


DC          You were just there for four or five years that time.


CM         Six years


DC          Yeah six years. There wasn’t any major industrial dispute or sort of trouble.


CM         Oh god no, not at all.  There was no such thing as unions that time.


DC          They weren’t heard of.


CM         They weren’t heard of as right.


DC          So you just knuckled down at that was it.


CM         Ah the wages weren’t great. I had thirty five shillings.  That’s what I started on.  Another fellow Gerry Skelly he was bottling with me.  We were the highest paid in it. All the rest were only a pound a week.


DC          Is that all and you were a pound and fifteen. So you were better off.


CM         A lot better off, at that time it was good enough really.


DC          Of course it was.  You were grateful for it.  Because most families at that time were grateful for what the boys and girls brought back, you know.  Once they had left school.


CM         He brought a fellow from England.  Clydesdale was his name to manage it you know.  He made a hames of it altogether.


DC          What was his failing or downfall?  Why did you say he made a hames of it?


CM         Well he just faded away and went back to England.


DC          Oh right and nothing more was heard of him.  You say it was sent to Carlow and Finlars and the Gresham and that did no one in the town ….


CM         Oh yeah in the pub, of they supported it alright.  They did.  Give them their due.  Every pub in the town stocked it.


DC          Well that was something anyway.


CM         Well it was local.  It caught on a bit in the town you know. I think it was eight pence, 8 pennies for a bottle.


DC          It doesn’t mean anything to me now?


CM         Do you not drink?

DC          Oh I do.  Eight pence and someone of my age… it doesn’t mean anything you know


CM         Compare eight pence a bottle that time to a bottle of Lager now.  It’s the best part of a fiver.


DC          More in a nightclub.  And a pint of Lager would be €4.00.  Some comparison….So it was popular enough around the town then.


CM         Ah it was.  There was a lot of; at the latter end of it they were selling it at four pence a bottle. Just to get rid of the stock.


Dc           You mentioned Gerry Skelly and Michael Campbell of course.  Were there any interesting characters or interesting people who worked with you, who would have stood out?


CM         There was Robbie Fox; he was a bit of a character you know.  Do you want the names of them?


DC          If you can remember them that would be great.


CM         Well there is Paddy Donagh, do you know Michael Donagh he is a school teacher?


DC          I know of him, yes


CM         His father, he was brewing and Kit Rourke, Podger Rourke’s father.  There was Robbie Fox, Joe Black, Joe Dolan, Eddie Dolan, and Gerry Dolan.


DC          All the Dolans.


CM         Gerry Dolan, Gerry Skelly, Pauric Brady.  Healy I forget his first name.  Michael Campbell, Christy Rourke, Hughie Murray.  That’s about all.


DC          That’s good.  It’s good to have those names because if you haven’t given them now they might have never been recorded.  So that’s good.  So you would have got to know one and other fairly well.  Did ye socialise much together at a Christmas party or an annual party?  Anything like that happen.


CM         That was unheard of that time.  Ah we used to drink.  Yeah the relationships with the workers were pretty good really.  Ah you would get the odd jealousy kind of thing … you know.  When I was promoted to head brewing there was a bit of jealousy you know.


DC          As there would be as you would expect.


CM         There shouldn’t have been, you know. Not that it made any difference; there was no increase in wages you know.


DC          It was human nature I suppose, Jealousy. But generally you all got on well like a big happy family, so to speak. There was nothing organised by way of annual events?


CM         No not that I can remember, I can’t think of anything.  Ah sure it was struggling from the word “go”.  Maybe the first two or three years was pretty good.  We were nearly bottle every day you know.  500 gallons a day which was pretty good you know.  Then he opened a depot in Dublin…. In Hatch Lane in Dublin.  There was a lorry driver John Clerkin.  He used to bring it up to the depot.  There was a Jimmy Goggins he is dead too.  He was running the depot in Dublinand he used to supply the pubs and hotels from Hatch Street.


DC          I know where Hatch Street is in Dublin.


CM         It was Hatch lane.


DC          Yeah of Leeson Street. ….. Were there any particular funny or sad incidents during your six years there?....Any incidents or events that stand out in your memory?  After all these years I know it kinda hard.  Its going back a long way.


CM         In what way now?


DC          Ah funny incidents you mentioned there were funny characters.  Did they pull and tricks or was there any sad incidents or accidents?


CM         No there was no accidents really.  Not that I know of.  I lost a bit of my finger, Gerry Skelly he was bottling and I was corking.  We used to take turns at it. He was a bit of a character, he would be chitter- bugging and singing and that…. The corking machine used to stop and I put my finger out to relieve the cork and he put a bottle under it and caught my finger.  It took a slice of my finger. Well it’s healed up again


DC          Yeah you can see the difference alright.


CM         Well that’s the only incidents that I can remember


DC          That’s some memento from the Regal Brewery.


CM         What all this in aid of anyway


Dc           It’s the Kells Historical Society, we are just trying to collect as many memories as we can of people who worked in the old trades in Kells like the Tara Shoe factory , the brewery, the bakery and so on… that are now gone.  Just to get those memories recorded and up on the computer and printed out so that people can read in years to come. You know so it is not all lost


CM         That would be interesting I suppose. Some people would like to know the heritage of their town


DC          It would interest some people, not everyone perhaps.  If we don’t do it then no one will do it.


CM         Are you employed by the state?


DC          No I’m employed by the Historical society, but I’m paid by FAS.  Twenty hours a week for twelve months.


CM         Are you living in Kells?


DC          Yeah I’m living up in Cannon Street next to, one of Jack Sheridan’s houses.  Next to where the antique shop was.  I have been in Kells about four years.  I use to visit Kells a lot back in the early 90’s, came up to see friends


CM         So you have connections here?


DC          Well I would be friendly with people like Rex Lee, Joe Rourke and a few others.


CM         Rex is a great man with the art; I do a bit of art


DC          Do you, Is that your handy-work?  I have probably seen your work up in the Edmond Rice Centerduring the Kells Festival.


CM         That’s not finished yet


DC          You’re still working on it


CM         That’s the parochial house, beside the church


DC          I recognise it alright.  Art must run in the Mulvany’s blood.  There is a couple of other Mulvany’s around the town, John and a few others.


CM         Strange enough we are not related.  I have a lot of relations my side.  But Val Mulvany he is not related.


DC          So all the Mulvany’s must be artistic. 


CM         Well we are all natives really.


DC          It’s a popular name around Kells.


CM         My father was born here in 1872


DC          In Kells


CM         Yeah, Carrick Street.  And strange where my father was born there was a nephew living there now, well a grand nephew David, he has the gallery shop.  That’s where my father was born.  And there is a Mulvany back in it again.  Isn’t that extraordinary.


DC          It’s very quite extraordinary altogether.  So you’re keeping up all the traditions of the Mulvany’s in Carrick street.  So did you grow up in Carrick Street or did you move around?


CM         I got married and I lived in Carrick Street, where the labour exchange is.  Well it’s not the labour exchange now.  I owned that house.  There is a hairdresser there now.  And then we decided to come over here.  I had the labour exchange set.  I was getting thirty pound a week for it.


DC          that’s not bad


CM         Then they decided to leave, it was a big loss to me.  My wife was a nurse, you know.  She is dead now. Twenty tree years this year.  I’m on my own since.


DC          Do you have family around?


CM         Geraldine is here, she is my niece,


DC          Yeah she often serves me down there in the shop.  I was told that you do often be in the shop in the morning.


CM         That’s right yeah I used to do it. ….. An hour or so just to give her a break.  The recession is hitting her very badly.


DC          I’d say it is


CM         She used to have a turnover of 14, 1500 a day now she is not doing that in a month.  It’s extraordinary.  She is stranded left right and centre.  She got a bill for 2000 for rates a few weeks ago.  They are been penalised small business.


DC          yeah it’s ok if you got the money coming in.


CM         Yeah it’s ok if you got the money coming in alright.


DC          It’s not easy.  It will be sometime yet before the tide is turned. 


CM         The only thing is she is able to do it on her own like.  You has no overheads much really.  She has no rent to pay.  That’s a big item you know.


DC          There was a younger woman who helped me the other day when I was enquiring after you


CM         Theresa?


DC          Theresa, yeah that’s right


CM         `Yeah she was telling me about you.


DC          She was very helpful.


CM         Theresa is great you know… she is a real Kells woman, she likes the history of Kells and she can go back a lot


DC          Can she, well you need people like that. 


CM         All the Olohans were home birds you know.


DC          It’s amazing I have interviewed a good few people over twenty, some of them have a great memory, a great feel for Kells a great loyalty to Kells


CM         Did you know Jack Olohan?


DC          I did yes up in the Railway Bar.


CM         He could tell you plenty of yarns about Kells


DC          I’d say he could, some of them probably lies but sure yarns all the same.


CM         Well Kells was noted for characters


DC          Plenty of them around by the sounds of it.


DC:      That’s it then.