Nothing beats the unique charm of old Irish pubs. They are atmospheric, authentic, and wonderfully welcoming! Though there is no shortage of old pubs in the Emerald Isle, Sean’s Bar in Athlone definitely deserves some attention. It claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, and maybe even in the world. The origin of this pub dates back to 900 CE when it was just a local tavern that kept its patrons fed and watered. The Guinness Book of World Records has given Sean’s Bar the title of “The Oldest Pub in Europe.”
Sean Fitzsimons was the first to find out about the pub’s 1,000-year-old, rich history in 1968.
Sean Fitzsimons purchased the bar in 1968, and when carrying out renovations, he came across several ancient artifacts that pointed to the pub’s rich history. Some walls were made of wattle and daub which is one of the oldest methods of constructing weatherproof structures. Sean also found old coins that were used for barter. He then researched the bar at the National Museum of Ireland and found several references to it in historical documents. The Annals of Clonmacnoise, for example, has several mentions of the pub. The pub’s history was also extensively researched by the Guinness Book of World Records before they listed it as Europe’s oldest pub in 2014.
As the story goes, the pub was originally established in 900 CE by a local businessman called Luain.
At the turn of the 10th century, a local businessman named Luain decided to establish an inn near the ford of River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river. His goal was to take advantage of the passing trade, and as planned, he would guide travelers across the perilous waters of the ford and bring them to his inn. Soon enough, the town started to be known as “Atha Luain,” which translates to “the ford of Luain”.
Over the next few centuries, the ford and the inn became so popular that it started attracting settlers and visitors from all over the country. Soon, the site became a town of importance. In the 12th century, King Turlough O’Conner, the local ruler, even built a castle there. The booming trade that fueled the town’s economy and facilitated its growth and expansion also provided the inn with a steady stream of clients.
Though the building has been renovated, rebuilt, and modernized several times over the past few decades, some features of the original inn can still be found. The sloping floor, for example, was designed specifically to avoid flood damage. Being close to the River Shannon, the pub has always been prone to be flooded during the rainy season. The slanted floor was put in place to make sure that floodwater would flow in through the front door and out through the back.
Afterward, the owner would have to scatter sawdust on the floor to prevent patrons from slipping and falling. The tradition is followed to this day.
Being the oldest pub in Ireland, Sean’s Bar attracts tourists from all over the world.
Situated at the heart of Ireland, Sean’s Bar is a top tourist attraction in Athlone. Both locals and tourists flock there to enjoy the lively atmosphere, roaring fire, and the Irish traditional music sessions that take place every night. Many famous celebrities such as Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, Nathan Carter, John C. Reilly, and U2 have visited the pub over the years.