Pat Nolan Blog

Burkes of Colmanstown — a survivor and still centre of the community

It’s a case of congratulations to Burke’s of Colmanstown as 125 years ago, on September 3rd 1889, Ulick Burke purchased a little store in east County Galway village.

He and his family had been renting the shop for some years, the only business in the community – and had managed to save £40 to acquire same. Having added a Post Office earlier in the year, Ulick also added an ‘Ale House’ and the iconic local pub ‘Burkes of Colmanstown’ was born.

There are countless amusing and indeed tragic stories connected to the pub – as with many rural country pubs – but one of the most interesting surrounds the substantial police presence in the area at the beginning of the last century.

The growing unrest in the wider country saw the establishment of a mini-barracks, officially a ‘Protection Post’, of a dozen or so men at Colmanstown.

What these men did all day, in such a peaceable place, was a mystery to many and soon the question was even being asked in the House of Commons what are the policemen doing there in an area with “no crime”?

Surviving shop records (invoices) from 1905 provide the answer.

While the constabulary appear to have had a great love of ‘the white stuff’ (going through a gallon of milk every day as per the invoice) in reality it was the black stuff that the constables were enjoying… and avoiding the hefty excise charge in the process!

The new century brought challenges for the Burke family with Margaret Burke taking over the business following the death of her husband Ulick in 1907. Ulick had also been a crusading local Councillor and Margaret was by all accounts an extraordinary woman. She persevered in a difficult economic and political climate, raising two young sons and a daughter.

The oldest son, Thomas ‘Sonny’ Burke, took over the business on Margaret’s passing in 1934, operating the enterprise up to his own death in 1962. Sonny was also a local Councillor, someone widely respected across the community. His son, the current proprietor Frank Burke, has operated the business ever since.

Today the establishment comprises a public house, a garage, a shop and a Post Office.  So the establishment carries with it a rich legacy which has been rooted in the local community for generations. Burkes of Colmanstown is one of those dying breeds of rural and community-driven Irish pubs.

Throughout the country, the local public house is perhaps under more pressure today than at any time in Ireland’s history. However Burkes continues to fulfill important cultural and communal functions and it remains the centre of so much that is good in the community.  Long may it continue!

Burke's then


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