Watching Home Alone, seeing the Coca-Cola trucks, hearing the opening bars of Fairytale Of New York. These are just some of the ways to finish any sentence which starts with ‘it’s not Christmas until…’
For the past few years, however, another festive milestone has paved the way for Irish people to enter into the spirit of the season.
I am of course referring to the now iconic Guinness White Christmas ad which first appeared on our screens in December 2004. Anyone who’s ever owned a TV in Ireland would have sat and smiled as the ad opens with the bong of a church bell while their ma, da or granny shouts “oh, I love this one!”
The slogan “even at the home of the black stuff, they dream of a white one” has been repeated in many a living room since the ad first aired 14 years ago. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, which would frankly be feckin’ mad, refresh your memory by clicking on the video below.
The one-minute long commercial begins with a man walking his dog in Dublin city centre as the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Day before snow starts to fall softly at various locations around Ireland. A happy couple messes about in the white stuff and a kindly gent reminds his friends not to ‘forget to turn the lights off.’
The ad reaches its crescendo with Christmassy scenes from Claddagh in Galway, City Hall in Belfast and a pub with the name ‘J. O’Connell’ above the door along with a sign indicating that it’s closed for the big day.
You all know the one and if you’re anything like me you’ll have wondered where the magical-looking boozer is located or whether it even exists at all. As with any query in this day and age, both were answered after a quick Google and when I found out how close the spot is to Dublin I made plans to hop in the car and see it for myself. With the girlfriend in tow on a day off last year, we were on our way to find one of the most recognisable pubfronts in the country.
Located in Skryne (sometimes Skreen), Co. Meath, O’Connell’s is as old-school as they come having remained relatively untouched since the 1800s. Located near the N3, the small village is only about a 25 minute drive from the Blanchardstown Centre, tucked away in the valley of the Hill Of Tara.
On approach, you’ll know you’re going the right way when you spot the ruins of Skreen Church lurking on the hill straight ahead. When you see Fox’s pub, neighbouring O’Connell’s is short stretch uphill and what awaits is a tingle of excitement as you immediately spot the sign with which you are so familiar.
We arrived at 3.45pm which is just before dusk in the middle of an Irish December. After taking a few snaps, we made our way to the front door to check out the inside but were disappointed to find that it was closed. Not surprising really, on a cold Tuesday afternoon in the middle of a sleepy Irish village.
Some of our previous reading had taught us that O’Connell’s only opens at 4pm on Sundays so after figuring the same could apply to other days of the week, we decided to escape the cold and wait in the car for another 15 minutes or so.
Sure enough the lights came on right on four o’clock and we took a step back in time by crossing the doorway into one of the most authentic Irish pubs we’ve ever seen.
While a lot of pubs in the big towns and cities dedicate a hell of a lot of time and effort into transforming their establishments into winter wonderlands, there’s a lot to be said for the subtlety of a few decorations and a humble Christmas tree overlooking proceedings from the corner.
Two roaring fires slowly began to warm up the room which, take note, was properly feckin’ freezing to begin with. We sat for a pint of the black stuff (what else?) and a coke seeing as one of us had to drive back afterwards.
We spent a few minutes admiring the pictures on the wall, one of which was of the original O’Connell family in the 1800s. Other framed photos were of local Meath attractions such as the Hill Of Tara and Slane Castle.
Like we heard, the place has very little signs of technological evolution since the days when it first set up aside from the obvious electricity and lighting systems. If you’re looking for a spot to watch the Premier League football or the All-Ireland Final, I’d suggest you take your business elsewhere.
When we visited, there was barely a soul there apart from a three lads sitting at the bar for their afternoon pint but with the various historic attractions of the Boyne Valley nearby, I’d imagine things get a bit busier during the spring and summer months.
One thing to take note of if you are visiting is to take cash with you or you won’t be getting served. Cards are not accepted so make sure your coin purse is full!
As I mentioned before about waiting outside before the pub opened, it turned out to be quite a blessing that we entered the place bang on four o’clock. This meant that after finishing our drink, we left just when darkness was really starting to fall so we could take even better photos with the lights on, giving J. O’Connell’s the more wintry feel that we’re accustomed to seeing on the telly.
Unfortunately, a blanket of snow was missing from the scene but we know where we’re going the next time a winter shower hits this part of Leinster.
Heading to J.O’Connell’s is a simple trip which can be easily made over Christmas if you’re living nearby. It can also be the perfect way to round off a bit of shopping in Blanchardstown and step away from the Christmas madness.
Whenever the ad appears on telly from now on, we can say we’ve been there. If you do stay a bit longer than expected remember one thing… don’t forget to turn the lights off.
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