Welcome to Abbeyshrule: a tidy little town
Only 200 people live in the Co Longford village that won the Tidy Towns contest this week. The pub is at its heart, everyone knows everyone else, and locals are philosophical about the future
‘IT’S ACTUALLY A VILLAGE,” says Philip Butler, recently retired Eircom employee and chairman of Abbeyshrule’s winning Tidy Towns committee. “Around 200 people live here. I don’t think we’d want it to grow any bigger.” He’s sitting in the Rustic Inn, opening a big pile of congratulatory cards from friends. “Would you look at this,” he says to the inn’s owner, 75-year-old Ted McGoey, as a €20 note falls from one card. It’s from a former winner of the competition, entreating them to have a drink on him. “He’s a gas man,” says McGoey.
The Rustic Inn is the heart of the village. McGoey is a third-generation resident of the town. The inn was established in the early 1960s, when a historical society visited the ruined Cistercian abbey on the edge of the village.
“They wanted to know if they could get a cup of tea or coffee, and Betty” – McGoey’s wife – “put on salmon for them, and apple tart, and that was the start of our catering business,” says McGoey. “We were doing grocery and hardware and petrol. At the time I’d go to Longford for the milk. I remember, when Quinnsworth opened their big supermarket in Longford, driving home to see all my customers going in the opposite direction. So we went into bar licensing and food.”
Abbeyshrule really is pretty. There are stone bridges over the canal, bog-oak sculptures of birds and fish by Brendan Collum (“People sheltered under that wood 5,000 years ago,” says Philip Butler); flower arrangements by committee member Margaret Dowler adorning baskets and old bicycles; and the 19th-century Whitworth aqueduct bringing the canal over the River Inny.
Certain areas have been allowed to grow pleasantly wild, and there are two resident lawnmowing goats. “Some people call them Thelma and Louise,” says Butler.
Since the Tidy Towns win, on Monday, the Rustic Inn has been relatively buzzing. “There were 10 or 12 people in for lunch just having a look,” says Michael McDonnell, who’s sitting at the bar. He says his family have been buried in the graveyard of the Cistercian abbey for generations. He’s sitting with flat-cap-wearing Edward Price, who apologises for shaking my hand with his stained one. “I was sorting out turf,” he explains. (A tractor and trailer of turf are parked outside.) “Actually, that’s very good for your hands. If anything gets buried in peat it preserves it. You’ve heard of bog bodies? Well, it preserves your skin the same.” “Mind those fellas!” says Des “Doc” Doherty as he squeezes by us to leave.
Doc was Joe Dolan’s piano player in The Drifters. He and his American wife, Audrey, came over from Mullingar because of the Tidy Towns win. “I came to Ireland in 1966 for three weeks, went to a dance and I’m still here,” says Audrey. “We actually don’t come to Abbeyshrule much, but we came down purposely to congratulate them.”
Being a Tidy Town is not Abbeyshrule’s only claim to fame. Incongruously, it’s also home to an aerodrome and an airfield and occasionally hosts air shows. The biggest one, in 2005, featured the Red Arrows. “We lost a lot of money on that,” says McGoey, who’s also heavily involved with the aerodrome. “It bucketed rain all weekend.”