Patsy McKeever in his early days at Edgarstown.

The Life and Times of the McKeever family business

by:  Victor Gordon of 'The Portadown Times'

It seemed like a simple enough assignment for one of our reporters – an advertising feature (advertorial in modern parlance) on the life and times of the McKeever family business in the licensed trade.

 But such is the richness of the 70-year McKeever history in the trade that it has spilled over in our Old Page this week. As we said in the advertorial, the McKeever dynasty was started by the legendary Patsy back in September 1944, when World War Two was still raging and he was just 19.

The venue was Edgarstown, when it was a bustling, integrated area, and this is typified by one of the pictures on this page with Patsy, a Catholic, pictured beside his business and the ‘Twelfth’ arch in the background.

 There was an ethos of live-and-let-live and you can rest assured that Patsy – a generous man, almost to a fault, as they say – gave the arch committee a generous donation each year, and all sides enjoyed the traditional pint or half-‘un at McKeevers.

 

 Sadly, the troubles destroyed the togetherness spirit of Edgarstown (and many other areas in what was, mainly, an integrated town) and the McKeevers moved out, with Patsy landing a job as a rep with the late Jack McCabe in the wholesale licensed trade, and therein lies another sad, sad tale.

 For on July 12, 1972, the respected Jack was shot dead in his bar in High Street, along with customer William Cochrane. Earlier that same day, Portadown had experienced its first murder in the troubles with the shooting of teenager Paul Beattie in Churchill Park. The start of a horrific time for Portadown.

Up until then, the McKeevers had been an integral part of a happy Edgarstown area, and the photograph of ‘McKeevers United - who played in the town’s healthy football Summer League - bore this out, a team of talented ball-players where religion did not matter nothing.

McKeevers United Football Team
1960's-1970's

Back Row L to R; Kevin Creaney, Barry McCullough, Kenny Craig, Gary Mattchet, Ronnie Morrison, Gary McMahon.

Front Row L to R; George Madill, Jim Hagan, Jimmy McCann, Eric Watson, Colum McKeever, Sean McNeice, Noel England.


 

Anyway, Patsy’s heart remained in owning his own pub, and he soon bought the present premises, formerly The Railway Arms at Woodhouse which passed onto son Charlie -  now Charlie McKeever and Sons, with the iconic ‘Guinness’ clock on the exterior.

 Anecdotes and pictures galore flow from Charlie. A connoisseur of Irish Whisky, he is fascinated to learn that the Chinese are buying up the Irish and Scotch mature ‘years’, among them the defunct Old Comber and the world-renowned Old Bushmills, plus Jameson’s of Dublin. The matured varieties are increasing in price all the time – they sold at £2 a bottle when they were created, and now the price is £600-£700, or £50 a half-‘uns. They are sound investments.

 Charlie has a plethora of old pictures in his ownership – like the day trip to the Guinness Brewery in Dublin which included the likes of Gerry Judge, Seamus O’Neill, Jim Hewitt, Jim Pickering, Heather McKee, Harry Bowles, Paddy McGurk, Brian O’Neill and many, many more, all allied to the licensed trade in the area.

Local owners of licensed premises and their friends at the Guinness HQ in Dublin many years ago

Back Row L to R; Gerard Judge, Sean Quinn, Alex Wilson, ----4?---, ---5?---,  Billy Prescott. Gary Adams, Bob Benson? or Seamus O'Neill?, Billy Adams, Albert Johnston, Kenny Hamilton.

Middle Row L to R ; Cardwell McClure, Jim Hewitt, ---3?---, Seamus McCaffrey, Felix McKeever, Eamon McCrory, Jim Pickering, Gary McKeever, Brian O'Neil, Heather Magee, --11?---, Tom McCullough, ----12?---, ---13?---, McKee or Ellis?, ---15?---, Harry Bowles.

Front Row L to R; Hugh McMullen, Jackie Bain, ---3?---, Paddy McGurk,  Would No. 5 be Mrs McGurk?, Tommy Bowles, ---7?---. Damien Grimley, , Mrs Jim Conway, Jim Conway, ---11?---, Winnie Mallon, ---13?---, --14?--.

Can you correct or add the missing names? if so please email me.

 

Below is the picture of the gentlemen (and one woman, Teresa Cullen of Tandragee) of the bars, boarding the train at the magnificent Portadown Railway Station, then at Watson Street. They were headed for the Harp Brewery in Dundalk (June 4, 1962) in Dundalk, and Charlie tells us the former brewery is being turned into a Whisky Distillery, such is the demand worldwide for the golden liquid.

Can you name others in this photo? if so please email me.

Some are:  Mrs Teresa Cullen in standing row, Jock Love and Patsy McKeever in the front row.

 Also among Charlie’s souvenirs is a comprehensive history of Woodhouse Street written by Bertie Martin, partner with his brother Harold in a former gents’ outfitters, and whose roots go deep into the street.

 The ad feature tells how Roger Casement once stayed a night in the street, and Bertie’s feature which can be read in full on Jim Lyttle’s site (This site - Bertie Martin on Woodhouse Street)  gives a marvellous picture of the businesses that thrived there.

 They included a blacksmiths called Locke (later travel agents and machinery), there were grocers’ shops, auctioneers, baby linen shops, a saddler, potato exporter, victualler (butcher), spirit retailers, and two clothing shops…

 It really is such an interesting article, and reflects the drive and ambition, and the sense of community, spawned by people like the McKeevers who have served the town so well.

 

McKeevers Celebrating 70 Years Trading in Portadown

by:  Victor Gordon of 'The Portadown Times'

Few names in Northern Ireland’s licensed trade are more intertwined with their local community than McKeever’s who have served Portadown over three generations – Patsy the founder, his son Charlie the current owner along with wife Bernie, and Patsy’s grandson Michael, the bar manager.

 Charlie McKeever & Sons of Woodhouse are celebrating 70 years in the trade, and like a fine whisky the firm is maturing well with age! (Charlie’s lauds the Irish brands like Old Bushmills and Jameson’s, hence ‘Whisky’ without the Scotch ‘E’)

 The legendary founder Patsy, from the townland of Lurgancot, studied a couple of years at Business College in Belfast, as a teenager. He was 17 when he went into the licensed trade at Falloon’s in Bridge Street (later the Classic, now Schvargo’s) and finished his ‘time’ in Portrush on August 12, 1944, when he was 19.

An enterprising young man, he returned to Portadown, and bought Falloon’s at 119 West Street and started business on September 14 that same year.

 Patsy married Lurgan woman Sadie Lavery, they lived above the premises, now Robinson's Bar. They operated it as an off sales, serving a “drink or two in the kitchen”. The bar was firmly established when Patsy bought a licence from Quinn’s in Woodhouse Street and transferred it to Edgarstown, where they added two lounge bars to the existing public bar and off sales.

  Patsy and Sadie's first three children were born and raised above the bar - Colum, Gary and Joseph. Then, they moved to 107 Montague Street for the arrival of twins Marian and Patricia followed by Charlie, Colette and Mark.

 Those were the days when bustling Edgarstown – a town within the town - was a hive of retail activity, totally integrated and an area where the McKeevers played a full part in the community. They were renowned for giving a fair deal and for their generosity to all sections in the area.

 

They recall great friends and neighbours. – like the McCulloughs, Kings, Eakins, Prentices, Whites, Singhs, Craig's, McCoys, Fays, Parrs, Reillys and many others including Joe and Sarah Sanderson.

 Sadly, things changed in the early 70s at the start of the troubles and the McKeevers moved out in June 1972. Patsy worked as a rep for the late Jack McCabe, wine and spirit wholesaler, before purchasing The Railway Arms in Woodhouse Street from a lifelong friend, Billy Murray, who served his time with him in The Classic Bar.

 Thus the present-day McKeevers was born. And meanwhile, the astute Patsy had bought Ma Berry’s in Mandeville Street, and then sold it on to the well-respected Corbett family, who had lost their Market Street premises (it had been a superb departmental store) in the troubles.

McKeevers have been trading in the landmark Woodhouse Street premises since 1974, with the family involved. Gary had been bar manager until his untimely passing in 1983, and the mantle of continuing the business was passed on to Charlie, who – with wife Bernie and family – continues the legend into the third generation, with Michael the bar manager.

Of course, things have changed over the years, as shown in a recent publication of the ‘A Taste of Ulster’ food guide. It stated – ‘Serving breakfast and lunch daily, the bar’s food is thriving. All dishes are made to order using the best local produce available, with the comprehensive menu catering for a variety of tastes.

 ‘By using local suppliers and growers, staff can ensure that products are at their freshest. These cover meat, lamb, fish, poultry and pork. The menu is complemented by an extensive selection of beer, wines, spirits and soft drinks with speciality coffee and tea on offer.’

 

Michael, Bernie & Charlie outside their establishment in

Woodhouse Street.

Michael, Bernie & Charlie outside their establishment in

Woodhouse Street.

Charlie loves the unusual anecdotes surrounding the trade in general and Woodhouse in particular. He points to a ‘Those Were the Days’ from the Portadown Times written in 1983 and stating how cheap good were 30 before then, in the 1950s. Reporter-historian Brian Courtney wrote – ‘McKeevers of Edgarstown were advertising bottles of Old Comber Whisky at £2 a bottle and Jameson’s at 45 shillings (£2.45).’

 Said Charlie, “Old Comber no longer remains and bottles still existing from that era would now cost £600-£700, or £50 a half-‘un! And it’s the same with Jameson’s of that age, who are happily still in production.”

 An article by Portadown man through-and-through (Bertie Martin who ran a gents’ outfitters for many years with brother Harry in Woodhouse Street) is also oft quoted by Charlie.

 According to Bertie, a great local historian, there arrived in a boarding house in Woodhouse Street one night, a very interesting character – the establishment was owned by the Megaritys, one of whom was Charlie’s grandmother.

 “On leaving,” Bertie Martin writes, “he told them his name was Roger Casement. In the cause of Irish Nationalism he went to Berlin at the outbreak of World War One to try and obtain German help. He was arrested in Ireland on landing from a German submarine, was tried and hanged…”

 The tale is told in Bertie’s masterpiece article – ‘Woodhouse Street – Its Past and Its People’. And certainly the McKeevers are part of Woodhouse Street’s past, its people – and its future.

 

 

Paddy McShane was a legendary barman in Portadown and worked for McKeevers from 1974 until his retirement circa 2000

aged early 80's having worked in Woodhouse Street since age fifteen.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Can you help supplying missing names on these photographs?

Charlie McKeever,Vintners Association

Back Row L to R: Andrew Nethercott (Rep), Rufus McClelland, Mr S. Jameson, Paddy McCann, J.S. Power, Aidan Hagan,

Harold Forde, Mr Jameson, ---9---.


Front Row:  Seamus ???, Joe McKenna, Betty McKenna, Bernie McKeever, Tom McCusker, Charlie McKeever, (Chairman FLTRNI)

Mrs Evvy Jameson. Angela Hamill, Mrs P. McCann.


Visit to Macardles Ale Dundalk

Back Row L to R:  Denis McDowell, Billy Murray, Barry Dougan, Mr McAlinden, Guinness Rep. Felix MCkeever, Mr Fearon (Tandragee), Gary McKeever. Joe Cullen, Brendan Brankin,

--10--, Seamus McCaffrey, --12--.

Middle Row:  Seamus Magill, ---2---, Patricia McLoughlin, , ---4---, ---5---, ---6---, Jim Cullen.

Front Row: Molly Murray, ---2---, ---3---, ---4---, Mrs Holmes, Mrs Joe Cullen.


October 1969 - McKeevers won the Old Firm and Zuider Zee Cup

A night to remember for McKeevers team held at the ‘Woodwin’ café Woodhouse Street.  The photograph features football players and team officials, plus representatives of the popular Summer League.  All paid tribute to Patsy McKeever owner of the West Street Bar who did so much for the community.

 Back Row L to R;  Tommy Best (referee), ‘King Dickson’ (Summer League Chairman), Freddie Lyttle, Philip ‘Yo-Yo’ McNally, Geoff Hillen, Ronnie Morrison, John Proctor, .

Middle Row;  Barry McCullough, Kenny Pepper, Harold Pentland, Connie Linden, Billy Matchett, Thomas ‘Tucker’ Porter, Tommy Vaughan, Seamus McKeever (McKeevers Manager),  Billy McClatchey, ‘Da’ Watson, Errol Johnston., Jimmy McCann, David Robinson, Ian Williams.

Front Row:  Gary Matchett, Norman Lyske (McKeevers Chairman), Tommy Pentland, Tommy Blevins, Freddie Parr.

Back to Main Menu