Donal McGeough, of the now infamous Windsor Bar in Dundalk, Co Louth that hosted US president Joe Biden last week, told Drinks Industry Ireland that is was a day he’ll never forget. “It will go down in the history books as it was the first speech that he [Biden] made in the Republic of Ireland as US president so that’s very special to us,” he said.
McGeough had little time to prepare for the state visit with the secret service only informing him the day before that they would indeed be using his pub to welcome the US president to Dundalk. “I was glad I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it because I only lost one night of sleep over it. If you’d known too far in advance you’d be dusting every nook and cranny and you’d be tormented about who to include so it worked well.”
He explained how his bar was chosen from the dozens of the bars in the town for the historic event.
“People from the embassy had picked a couple of places. Then Brian McPartlin from the White House staff came to have a look around on the Monday and said it might happen. The local Gardai and the County Council probably had something to do with suggesting a few places and steered them this way because of our location, space and access.”
As part of the vetting process for the visit McGeough had to explain how the pub got its name and convince officials it held no political connotations.
“We had to clarify the name of the bar. It was named the Windsor Bar because it was built on the junction of Windsor Avenue and Dublin Street in 1893. The name of the street was changed to Vincent Street in the early 1900s. We had to go through all of this with security services beforehand,” he explained.
The McGeough family bought the pub in 1984 from the Lennon sisters who had run it for 80 years and they hadn’t changed the name in that time so the McGeoughs were happy to retain the name when they took over. “My Dad [Jimmy] was a publican. He passed away three years ago but my mother Maureen and my eldest son Sebastian were here. My mother who is 89 was sitting in the snug and he made a beeline for her and said, “I’m going to talk to the most important person in the room.” She is a mother of 10, grandmother of 37 and great grandmother of 17 and he really made a big deal of her. Before he left he made a point of going over to her again to say goodbye and give her a kiss. It was just wonderful.”
While there was no bar service during the hour long visit from 8pm to 9pm, McGeough had a busy day before and after the visit feeding the White House team and Gardai.
“I couldn’t serve while they were in but we did food at lunchtime and I fed the secret service guys and the Gardai so everyone got a bite to eat and of course the bar was opened once they left,” he explained.
McGeough confirmed that Biden, a known teetotaller did not have anything to drink but that he wasn’t in a hurry as he made his way through the 150 strong crowd and mingled with everyone including his local relatives in situ the Finnegans and the Kearneys. He even went behind the counter to shake hands and take photos with staff.
Also in attendance were Michael Martin, government officials, local politicians, national and international media and friends and family packing the pub to capacity.
To make it all happen there was considerable behind the scenes preparation with a team of people descending on the pub to set the scene for the president’s visit.
“It was unbelievable,” says McGeough, of the logistics that went into the visit. “They had to put generators in place and secure broadband lines, do sound checks, security checks and sweeps. So much happened in such a short period of time. The 10 staff I had on for the night all had to be vetted. Gardai were only told on Sunday and I only heard on the Tuesday but thankfully it all went great but it was a busy few days.”
The only thing that didn’t go to plan was that Biden didn’t go upstairs in the pub where a few dozen people were waiting to meet him. “He basically turned left instead of right so the people upstairs didn’t get to meet him but they were happy to just be in the same building. It was really magical evening. Politics aside, he was a really sincere and great guy. Such a memorable night and it has put us in the history books. It was great for the town,” says an understandably proud McGeough.