With origins in one of the great American gold rushes and a long history of famous visitors and support for local groups and sports clubs, Murty Rabbitt’s, located on Galway’s Forster Street just off the city’s iconic Eyre Square, is no ordinary pub.
“The pub was bought in 1872 with gold from the 1849 San Francisco Gold Rush by Cormac O’Choinnin, or Cormac Rabbitt,” says owner Ciarán Hanley.
Precisely why the industrious Cormac emigrated, and how much and by what methods he mined or acquired gold in California, remains a mystery. What we do know is that he came back with enough loot to plant the seeds of a new business empire in Galway. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go according to plan—at least at first.
“[Cormac] came back with gold, and he bought a flour mill on Quay Street. The flour mill burnt down, but he had enough gold left over to buy the premises here on Forster Street.”
This quickly proved to be a lucrative decision. Open from 7:30 in the morning till 7 at night, the pub became a focal point for cattle drivers and farmers selling to the nearby Fairgreen market and abattoir.
Murty Rabbitt’s has left an indelible mark on local and, indeed, Irish history. One of the leaders of the Oranmore Volunteers, Joseph Howley, hid out at Murty Rabbitt’s after the 1916 Rising in Galway. Howley was eventually captured by the Black and Tans on the premises and imprisoned in England until 1917. He was shot dead by the RIC in Dublin in 1920.
“The pub passed through the Rabbitt family for several generations, and there was a bar, restaurant and off-licence,” says Ciarán. “[Cormac’s] great-great-great grandson sold the business in 2007, and myself and my father took over the lease.”
Value for money and a good pint
The Hanley family has a long tradition of working in Galway pubs and the drinks trade. Today, Ciarán runs Murty Rabbitt’s with his wife Adrienne.
“I was born and reared in pubs. My father was a publican all his life,” he says. “I went away from the business and worked in construction for a number of years. I came back from Australia in ‘07…and this opportunity came up. I suppose as they say, if it’s meant for you, it won’t pass you by.”
Of course, in retrospect, 2007 proved a difficult time to start a business. The economy collapsed virtually overnight in 2008, precipitating as many as 1,000 pub closures across the country over the following six years.
Still, despite admitting to a “struggle” in his first few years, Ciarán has remained upbeat, attributing his success to an authentic business model. “You get out what you put in,” he says.
“A lot of people tried to cut their prices—I didn’t go that route. I believed if you dropped your price, it was a race to the bottom. We held our prices, but we weren’t overcharging. We offer value for money, a clean pub, and a good pint, what you can’t get in a supermarket or an off-licence. It was just keeping it simple and keeping it local as well.”
Familiar faces and changing tastes
Affordability and simplicity have allowed Murty Rabbitt’s to maintain its long-standing connections to the local community. The Renmore-based Liam Mellows GAA Club do draws and sell tickets there. It’s also home to the official Connacht Rugby supporters club, the Connacht Clan.
“This is their official base for home matches and away matches,” says Ciarán. “The ground is just five minutes’ walk up the road, so we’re the last stop on the way up and the first stop on the way down. People love it. We’re definitely getting more traction out of it, and we’re delighted to be supporting Connacht Rugby.”
But while Murty Rabbitt’s may be a dependable meeting spot for locals and sporting clubs, one thing that’s less predictable is the punter’s palate.
“The game is always changing,” says Ciarán. “The gin craze has taken hold, and we now have balloon glasses and cucumbers and strawberries. If you told me four years ago that I’d have eleven or twelve gins and balloon glasses, I would have told you you were bonkers. Irish whiskey is another one, and we do our own barista coffee.”
Balloon glasses aside, does Ciarán miss his previous life as a builder? His outlook is pragmatic, not sentimental. “It was very hard work, long hours. But being a publican, you need to be able to be a bit of a plumber and a bit of a carpenter. Being able to work with your hands has always been a good trait to have, because if something needs fixing, you can save a couple of pound there by doing it yourself.”
“I enjoy it, it’s like a vocation.”
The drinks and hospitality industry is an essential part of the Irish economy. Nearly 210,000 Irish people depend on it for employment.
Let your local representative know how important the industry is by supporting a reduction in excise tax through our petition.