Mick Byrne is as much an institution as a personality in Castlebar where his famous sporting pub has been a popular meeting point for almost 40 years. As the county town continues to rally through the recession, ‘The big fella’ reckons the pub business will survive and in the meantime, is focusing on things to be thankful for, including some great sporting facilities worth boasting about.
“The sporting facilities in the town now are second to none — the fine course and clubhouse at Castlebar Golf Club; the new state-of-the-art Castlebar Tennis Club; the FAI headquarters at Milebush; Castlebar Celtic all-weather facility and fine soccer pitches; Castlebar Rugby Club, all-weather pitch with outdoor lighting; McHale Park, which is such a marvellous facility for the Mitchels and Mayo football - and that’s to name just a few. Great credit is due to all involved.”
As far as his own business and the pub trade is concerned, Byrne remains equally upbeat, predicting that Castlebar as a whole will thrive again in the future.
“One thing about publicans in Castlebar is they all pull together, there is a great bond between us. We get on well, everybody gets a share and we like to see each other do well. As far as the recession goes every business has been hit but we’ve learned a lot and will never let this happen again. As long as we have the health, there’s no point in letting it get you down.”
It comes as no news that Byrne’s pub is strongly associated with sport - and for good reason.
“I was steeped in sport growing up and there wasn’t a week I wouldn’t have been at a football match as a young fellow - it was such a great thing to do, to go to McHale park and see all the greats in the flesh.”
The sporting tradition runs strong in the family too as two of Mick’s uncles played with Castlebar Mitchels which was named after his great grandfather, John Mitchell, who founded the club, while growing up he spent a large part of his youth at his grandmother’s Mrs Stewart’s in Castle Street (Ducksie Mitchell ), famous for its ice-cream cones. The late great Roscommon footballer Dermot Earley was also Mick’s first cousin. Consequently, when he opened Byrne’s 35 years ago it was no accident that the sporting association followed him there.
“Sport always played a huge part in my business and it has been very good to me. The pub is known for it. GAA is my first love and I’m an avid follower of Mayo football. Every year I live the dream of Mayo winning the All-Ireland and take it fairly seriously. If they are beaten I just see it as another year gone by.”
The recent Connacht final which brought 20,000 people to Mayo showed just how important socialising in pubs remains in the sporting world.
“The Connacht final is one of the greatest events and traditionally brings a lot of business. All the pubs do well as do the shops and takeaways and it brings an awful lot of money to the town.”
Not only popular with ‘the boys’, Mick Byrne’s is a great draw for ‘the girls’ also.
“We love to see the ladies in the pub as they like to have a bit of craic too. Sometimes I might forget their names but if I do I call them ‘sweetheart’ or ‘auld stock’ and sure all is forgiven then.”
A former chairman of Castlebar Mitchells for five years and an excellent media commentator on racing events, Byrne was noticeably active himself some years ago when he took up walking as exercise.
“I gave it up 10 years ago and have piled on a few stone since. I was walking 10 miles every day. I was always heavy and am called ‘The big fella’ but I’m sure that’s just because I’m six foot four! If I lost too much weight people wouldn’t be able to call me it anymore.”
He continues to play a few rounds though.
“I took up golf 40 years ago and I’m still no good at it. It’s my first love though and I just love meeting people and having the craic and Castlebar is a very sociable club. It’s an honour for me to be captain this centenary year and I’m looking forward to September when we will be hosting the All-Ireland finals.”
Rumour has it that Byrne is set to don his walking shoes again soon too.
“I have been threatening to go back for sure. It’s just motivation I need. Maybe I’ll do it for charity. I’ll definitely do it for the Sam Maguire. I’d nearly walk to Croke Parke to see Mayo win.”