Monday, July 30, 2018

Recalling the 'Locker Room'

A number of people have queried the name 'Locker Room' over a section of the renovated Hideout, most of whom would be far too young to remember the reason, writes Brian Byrne.

This is the piece I wrote, and which can be viewed in that section of the pub, that retells a famous — or infamous, depending on which side you were — period in licensing laws history from the 1960s.

This bar commemorates a unique initiative in the Irish pub trade. When Minister for Justice Charles Haughey put in place in 1960 a major reform of Ireland’s liquor licensing laws, it inter alia abolished a regulation which allowed public houses to serve anyone after normal closing time who was a bona fide traveller — someone who lived more than three miles away. Dating from an era when most travellers walked, rode horses or used post coaches, the regulation had become a loophole increasingly being taken advantage of by local people with the use of cars.

Many customers of the Hideout, popular with the race-going fraternity, could claim they were bona fide travellers on their way home from meetings. The new law threatened to curtail their drinking time. Jim Byrne, with friend and solicitor Myles C Murphy, devised a scheme where his customers could become ‘tenants’ of a lounge which adjoined the pub but was not part of the licensed premises. It had lockers which tenants could order to be stocked with their favourite tipples during normal opening hours. At closing time everybody simply went out the front door of the Hideout and into the ‘Locker Room’ next door, and continued the party, often with guests. It infuriated the local gardai.

The story of a country publican ‘driving a coach and four’ through Minister Haughey’s new licensing laws made national and even international headlines. 

The scheme was imitated up and down the country, though with mixed success mainly because many didn’t get their legal ducks properly in a row. Eventually an amendment to the 1960 Liquor Licensing Act ‘outlawed’ the locker rooms. Jim Byrne always said that it would only have required the change of one word in the tenancy agreement to keep the initiative going. But he’d had his fun. And more importantly had achieved major publicity which further helped his efforts to have the Hideout ‘put Kilcullen on the map’.

Some years later Jim met a man in a bar in Gibraltar, who turned out to be an official in Dublin Castle who had been in charge of examining the Locker Room matter. Between them that afternoon, the two men finished the only bottle of Irish whiskey in the bar.

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