Small murals of James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw and other Irish writers peer down over the pool table in the Mannions Prince Arthur pub in Tottenham in north London. Tinsel hangs around the bar, the Christmas tree is up.
Every year the pub, run by former Roscommon GAA football star Mick Finneran and his wife Rose, open its doors on Broad Lane to people who would otherwise spend the day alone.
The couple never know how many will come. “So I always cook extra, extra, extra”, says Rose, who fondly remembers flowers that were left with thanks by an Irish couple before they retired “back to Ireland”.
Her husband, who played on the Roscommon team that won four Connacht titles in a row in the late 1970s and 1980s, makes little of their generosity. “We’re only giving back to them what they give to us for the rest of the year – good friendship and company.”
Mulled wine and mince pies will be served at noon, followed by lunch. The gathering was begun by the Irish couple to take care of Irish living locally, but it has grown to offer places to people from elsewhere, including Brazil.
For widows Josephine Stone from Co Leitrim, and Christina Danaher from Limerick, Christmas Day would be spent "sitting at home" were it not for the kindness of the couple.
Instead they are treated to “turkey, gammon, roast and mash potatoes, carrots, peas, parsnips, sprouts” cooked by Rose at the pub, says Josephine, with a day spent in the company of friends.
Last year, during the height of the Covid restrictions, the Finnerans still held onto the Christmas Day tradition, preparing dinners as normal that were then available at the door for people to take home.
Seamus O’Reilly, who came from Co Cavan in 1968, is a regular. Without the Finnerans he said he would “probably stay at home in the flat in front of the TV. Wouldn’t have much choice. It’s great to get down here after church, and Rose is a fantastic chef, so she is.”
Jim Kelleher, from Kilworth, Co Cork, also comes each year. "I always come here on Christmas morning, and let the women get on with cooking at home," he says, letting out a guilty chuckle.
Like most of the older regulars Jim worked in construction, leaving him needing two hip replacements. “Us Irishmen working here, we ended up crippled – I ended up crippled. I had to retire at 65.”
Leaving Ireland in 1968, his mother gave him a ten pound note, telling him "to keep it for a rainy day". It might have been the last note she had, he says, tears welling. Through the years he has kept it "despite plenty of rainy days".
“I love this pub. Mick is a great bloke, he’s a gentlemen, and Rose is a fabulous woman altogether, she will look after you. This is a home away from home for me, and it’s the only one left,” he says.
With the sound of Irish accents humming in the background, he says: “The craic is great here altogether. There’s a lot of people who come in here and they have nowhere to go – like single, old men. I’m lucky, I have my family.”
The pub regulars are mainly Irish-born or London-Irish, Rose says, but the numbers have grown over the years to include people from the UK and farther flung corners of the world such as Brazil and Australia.
Recently-widowed Sean Flattery from Castlerea, Co Roscommon, is one who will come to the pub on Christmas Day, a tradition he has upheld since when he ran his own pub in London.
Having arrived in 1955, he says his experience of life in Britain has been a good one. “We were treated properly. I know a lot of people want me to go the other way – ‘no Irish need apply’ and all that – but that wasn’t my experience.
“When I was working in a factory if you didn’t work Christmas Eve and the day after St Stephen’s Day, you didn’t get the two days’ holiday money. Myself and my friend were out on St Stephen’s Day night dancing.
“You know what young fellas do, we never got up for work the next morning. The foreman of the factory sent one of the men round to get us out of bed so that we wouldn’t miss the two days’ pay. I never will forget that, and that was an English man – so I won’t put up with this ‘anti-Irish’ thing at all.”
Natashka Rausis, a 44-year-old single mother from Brazil, began coming to the Mannions four years ago. When Rose found out she did not have family to spend the day with besides her 10-year-old son Cassiel, she “started inviting us, and had a little present for Cassiel”.
Marcus Goodwin, a 26-year-old Australian from Melbourne has also become a Christmas Day regular. "Mick and Rose are like family," he says, "They definitely make it feel like a proper Christmas Day."
If it was not for Mannions Marcus says he would “probably be having a microwaved meal at home”.
“You feel like they’re here looking after you, and that you’re here with friends.”