From the street, Sean’s Bar looks like any other quaint Irish pub. But once inside, it’s clear that you’re standing amongst history.
Situated on the banks of the River Shannon, Sean’s Bar sits unassuming on Athlone’s Main Street in a row of similarly styled buildings with nothing but a small placard to indicate its age. When you walk through the front doors, you’re greeted by walls decorated with over a thousand years of artifacts and prideful displays of the bar’s impressive history.
The first iteration of the pub was built by a man named Luain—after whom the town was later named—as part of an inn for those stopping at the river crossing. As the building was changed and adapted over the years, the history was essentially lost over time—until then-owner, Sean Fitzsimons, started renovations to update the property in 1968.
While replacing plumbing and mechanicals, Fitzsimons discovered that the walls were made up of wattle and wicker—an historic building material made of a woven lattice of wooden sticks and a mortar of clay, soil and animal dung. Fitzsimons worked with the National Museum of Ireland and the Guinness Book of World Records to certify that the material dated back over 1,100 years.
A slight slope of the floors is another indication of the bar's history, but it’s not due to age. The floors were designed this way to prevent significant damage during heavy rain.
“Do you see this slope?” Bar manager, Timmy Donovan, asked while pointing to the checker-tiled floors. “That would be the old drainage system where the water would have flowed in the front, flowed out the back, and they would’ve put sawdust on the floor to soak it up.”
Today, the sawdust remains as a nod to the building’s past, in addition to a portion of the original wattle and wicker that hangs on the walls. The National Museum retains another section of the original walls, as well as coins, and other artifacts found during renovations.
While The Guinness Book of World Records officially certified Sean's Bar as the oldest bar in Ireland, it could potentially be the oldest in the world.
“It’s at least the oldest bar in Europe,” said Donovan. “They haven’t found anything in the world that’s older than us.”
The Guinness Book of World Records and the National Museum have dated the property to 900 A.D., noting the construction materials and references to the pub in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, an historical text. But the historic title isn't the pub's only claim to fame.
It’s been rumored that pop icon Boy George owned the bar for a short stint in the late 1980s. But according to Donovan, unfortunately, that's just a myth.
“No, that was never true,” said Donovan, while pouring a round of Guinness for a group of international tourists who had just grabbed seats at the bar. “That was an April Fools joke told by somebody and it went all over the place. It’s certainly not true.”
The bar maintains records of nearly all previous owners, dating back to Luain's inn. Donovan is quick to note that the rumor probably came from someone who had a few too many beers at the bar.
“A lot of funny stories can come from one too many pints,” Donovan said with a laugh.