The wind is fierce on Skryne Hill in Meath when we arrive at O’Connells on a recent Sunday afternoon. A note pinned to the door defies the weather and the changing times, reminding us that in this small part of Ireland, at least, it’s still Holy Hour and the doors of this 170-year-old pub will remain closed until 4pm.
We venture into the neighbouring abbey, looking across to the Hill of Tara and wait for time to pass. There can be few better places for such an endeavour. Time matters in this parish and entire lifetimes have been consumed keeping a fire blazing at the heart of this incredible pub.
You already know it from its starring role in the Guinness Christmas TV ads, but walk through its doors and you’ll be startled by how quickly you come to feel at home. Cavan man Jim Tobin is behind the bar and with a calm authority talks us through its history and of the women who have shaped it. Young Mrs O’Connell, who was in her 70s, passed away six weeks before our visit. Old Mrs O’Connell, a woman who ran the pub well into her 90s died in 2012.
Their touch is everywhere: from the homely feel of the back rooms to the retro style of the beer pumps to the wood-panelled ceiling and walls. The strip lighting can't compete with the sunlight flooding through the window, the clock ticking on the wall and the Rudyard Kipling poem, If, that struggles for pride of place above the fire. It's a place that demands change to matter or it simply doesn't gain entry.
Summer evenings are famous – throngs of people talking, meeting, laughing and living around its sturdy walls. Young brides are led through the door by their grooms, ceoltas groups ring for permission to play while the business of horses is everyday. Give yourself an afternoon there – you’ll quickly learn the meaning of time.