By John Fitzgerald
You know that summer is on the way when you pass Fennelly’s of Callan and see diners in the courtyard, its big blue wooden doors thrown open, sipping wine or sharing platters in the midday sun.
But this summer is different, because the café-cum arts hub has just launched its “May Evenings”, later openings that look set to boost this “little miracle” as it’s been dubbed due its strong performance in a town that has said goodbye to almost all its traditional small shops in the 21st century.
While hopes are high of new life being injected into Callan’s streets, there can be no doubt that Upper Bridge Street right now would be desolate without Fennelly’s, though thankfully the Town Square is buzzing again with another café, a barber’s, and two chippers.
Over the past decade Fennelly’s has evolved into the proudly ticking heart of Bridge Street, and is a huge cultural asset to the town itself.
This achievement is down to Etaoin Holahan, who took ownership of the former pub and farmyard. She wove a curational magic wand over the premises and, within a few months, the building had morphed from an empty silence of ageing bricks and mortar to a vibrant creative space showcasing all branches of the arts.
Musical and literary events drew crowds to the converted ex-pub and also to the courtyard where, in addition to quirky but comfortable audience seating, a little cinema started screening vintage movies- the first picture house in Callan since the Gaiety burned down in 1964.
Catering for the arts might have struck one as a sufficiently worthy challenge but Etaoin had a vision. She felt it was time to take Fennelly’s to another level. She opened a lovely café which continued to double as a creative hub.
She sourced the best of local produce and acquired a highly professional staff. Fresh fruit and mushrooms are forever coming through the door, ensuring wholesome, delicious meals and mouth-watering desserts.
The café quickly began to notch up highly sought-after food awards. Some of the country’s foremost and severest food critics have lauded the fare and service at Fennelly’s. The home-made brownies, slices of Granny’s Brown Bread and hunks of Keogh’s Rustic had the culinary watchdogs smacking their lips. Not a crumb was left on the tables. The main course meals were generously scored for taste and presentation, and the savoury tarts had them asking for more.
The critics also praise the seductive appeal of the interior and the courtyard. It never fails to charm when you arrive to dine, listen to music, view visual arts and crafts, or to watch or participate in an apple juicing session.
A long history…
When you drop in for a meal or just a coffee at Fennelly’s you bask in the glow of a setting that has passed through many phases in its long history. It once echoed to the clink of beer and whisky glasses when it served as a pub and grocery: You could drink and shop at the same time. The outdoor section was a bustling farmyard, with hens clucking day and night, and locals calling for eggs. It was a funeral home too: I remember the empty coffins stacked up in the courtyard in past decades. You could take your pick of a nicely crafted box for the dearly departed.
Now, the funereal atmosphere is gone, and the grocery is no more…but in a shout to its previous incarnation as a pub the newly-launched “May Evenings” take you back a little in time.
From 6 to 10 pm each Thursday and Friday this month you can enjoy a glass of wine or whatever you fancy, having a choice of sitting in the former bar-space, to cozy up around a blazing old-fashioned fire, or, weather permitting, relax in the spacious courtyard whose transformation under Etaoin’s direction has been hailed as an alfresco dream-come-true.
It has played host to numerous concerts and theatrical events and the wood-fired oven in the courtyard turns out pizzas rumoured to be the tastiest in the South East. It has aptly been likened to a film set, with its little sheds, quaint props and a scattering of Old World furnishings.
The “May Evenings “ venture t got off to great start, with the rustic courtyard and Fennelly’s now gold standard reputation for cuisine drawing locals and out-of-town visitors like a magnet.
Seated around the tables in the courtyard, couples and groups indulged themselves, sampling Irish cheeses and hand-served pears, among other treats. The white wine for opening night had been on ice all day and the tipplers couldn’t get enough of it. The red, all agreed, was delightfully mellow.
Callan eagerly awaits rejuvenation of its streets and empty buildings, but will continue to rejoice in the success of Fennelly’s: “The Miracle on Bridge Street.”