A time and a place - The Thomas Connolly, Sligo

Matt Curtis drops in on the legendary Thomas Connelly


Sligo is a town built for the appreciation of good pints. Normally it’s a sleepy place; a mixture of locals and tourists exploring the wonder of the Wild Atlantic Way. But occasionally it bursts into life, and one of those occasions is following the riotous Hagtravaganza festival, organised by local brewery, The White Hag. 

Although the brewery and festival is located in the nearby town of Ballymote, the good folks at The White Hag see fit to charter an extra train after the regular service finishes, ensuring revellers can make it back to Sligo (mostly) intact. This is no peaceful sojourn back to the hotel room, however, but a liminal point between one end of the party and the other. Bottles are shared and songs are sung as people dig into their remaining energy reserves before the train arrives, and then flinging themselves into the night. 

My own experience of this was unforgettable. After the White Hag’s co-founder, Bob Coggins, led us through a glorious chorus of the Oasis hit, Don’t Look Back in Anger we dragged ourselves off the train, buzzed on barrel-aged stouts and fruited sours. It was around 11pm, and despite being at a beer festival all day we were still possessed by an almighty thirst, which in Ireland, after the sun is low behind the horizon, can only really be quenched with one thing: a glorious pint of Guinness. 

Our group found ourselves in some cavernous pub, the name of which I can no longer recall. The White Hag had recommended several local hostelries, but everyone had beelined for the nearest one. After a long wait to get served, while being side-eyed by the locals sat at the bar attempting to enjoy their pints in peace, we finally got hold of our own, which we had to hold tightly so as to avoid them being knocked out of our palms by the still-growing crowd.

Sensing a requirement for somewhere a tad more peaceful, Bob led our small group of about five or six and said he was going to take us to one of his favourite locals, The Thomas Connolly. Despite it being the middle of summer, due to the chill and whip and the rain being stirred up from the Atlantic Ocean we hurriedly marched through backstreets, crossed a bridge over the River Garavogue, and were soon within the warm, dry and welcoming confines of the pub.

According to the history books there’s been a pub on this site since at least 1780, although it was first licensed in 1861. In 1890 it was acquired by the then mayor of Sligo, Thomas Connolly, from which it takes its name. These days it is widely considered to be one of the best pubs anywhere in Ireland, in fact Lonely Planet included it in a list of what it considered to be the top 20. 

The arched ceiling runs low in the pub, softening the acoustics and making it feel altogether more comfortable. Mahogany-coloured wooden fixtures, from the floorboards, to the snug seating, to the bar that stretches lengthways across almost the entirety of the main room, glinting in a just off-red shade in the low light. 

It’s busy when we arrive, but not too busy. We gather around an elbow high table, as the pints, already being poured and lined up on the bar, gradually make their way towards us. With conversation abuzz all around me, I use this moment to take stock of the place: the old brewery memorabilia (or brewerarnia to be more accurate); the ease and friendliness with which the staff deal with a busy bar; the energy of Irish folk music humming in the background; the overall vibe of the place, which makes you feel immediately at ease.

I find my gaze pulled to the vintage Guinness lightbox on the bar, glowing red in the low light, and watch, fascinated, as each pint of Guinness is drawn in identical fashion, to meet drinkers' exacting standards. There’s plenty of good options on the bar here, including beers from The White Hag and Kinnegar, local cider from Mc Ivors, as well as around 160 whiskies (I recommend trying a dram from local distiller, Lough Gill). But there’s only one beverage our group is presently fixated on. 

They say the Guinness is better in Ireland, but until you’ve had a pint at the Thomas Connelly you won’t understand the meaning of the word “thirst”. A few pints later and our evening heads back into the Sligo night, but in the morning, I returned to the Thomas Connolly for an altogether quieter, more contemplative pint. Such was the draw of the place. Sligo has a great deal to offer the travelling drinker, but its highlight surely has to be this immensely special pub.

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