It looks innocuous from the outside, but Sean’s Bar is probably the oldest bar in the world at a mere 1,118 years old. It has a certificate from The Guinness Book of Records proving it is the oldest bar in Europe and it’s tagged on Google maps as ‘the world’s oldest bar’ but even so rivals still like to debate the point.
Resting lopsidedly beside the River Shannon has a list of its owners going back for its entire history, including briefly in 1987, the popstar Boy George. The proof of its long history came when its wattle and wicker walls were dated back to the 900 AD.
It began life as a trading post for thirsty travelers who wanted to navigate the treacherous waters of the local ford and the bar still has a strongly inclined floor that helps to repel the occasional floods.
Bar manager, Declan Delaney, said the bar’s history had long been hinted at: “In 1970, a new owner Sean Fitzsimmons bought the bar, knowing it to be the oldest in Ireland. Finding the walls were built of wattle and wicker interwoven with horse hair and clay, he had a series of academic experts investigate and discovered they went back to 900 AD.
The findings were confirmed by historians who showed that Luain, the very first Inn Keeper, had been mentioned in successive texts going back many centuries.
A thousand years ago drinkers would have supped mead here – a drink that dates back to 7,000 BC and also powerful concoction known as ‘Uisce Beatha’ – or ‘the water of life’ here – the drink later evolving into what we know today as whiskey. (Changing over time from Uisce to fuisce, uiskie, and finally whiskey!)
Later imported hops brought beers to the thirsty customers. Today hundreds of tourists a day flock to bar in the small town of Athlone (Pop 21,000) to sample the bar’s own whisky, craft beers and the major brands.
Full of both character and characters, Sean’s Bars walls are thronged with a collection of items including patches from police and fire departments around the world, while it boasts nightly music and live entertainment that it hopes can continue to keep their happy customers entertained for the next 1,100 years.