In 1977 Michael and Mary Melia returned from Australia and bought the Jersey Bar. These were the boom years, with people, especially farmers, benefiting from membership of the EEC. However, this was not to last forever and the Melia’s found their income was beginning to drop.
They identified a number of reasons for this slow down – changes in farming, older people not being replaced, old traditions like going to the pub after a funeral and card games, especially around Christmas time, dying out. Dole day was also a big day in town and this trade had also declined.
With three children in the family, Melinda, Johnny and Joanne, they had to think of diversifying and earning additional income. They decided on a small gift and craft shop to service the visitor and tourist trade. Michael did a one year “Marketing and Tourism course” in the R.T.C. and received a national certificate.
The initial investment was a modest £5,000 approximately. The premises, rent free, were in Church Street. Enquiries from customers determined the: stock high quality Irish Craft products, including Athenry Crystal with The Fields of Athenry logo, and souvenirs and postcards. Within the year they obtained an official Tourist Information Point licence from Ireland West.
Visitors coming from the church after seeking their roots often called in looking for information and this was the reason he turned to tourism. Paddy Reilly’s song “Fields of Athenry”, regularly heard on television being sung by the Glasgow Celtic, supporters was also a major selling point for Athenry.
In 1979 they decided to make a major investment. They literally split the pub in half, a shop at the front and a bar at the back. It was the ideal location for a tourist information point – the junction of the four streets. This shop/office was to provide information for tourists, literature featuring the main attractions in the West of Ireland and information on accommodation.
At this time, the castle was not open. Michael felt they needed their own tourist attraction. He decided to build a traditional cottage. All the work was done by local craftsmen. Lackagh Museum was very helpful with advice, and local people were very generous with artefacts.
The cottage has a small bar and coffee shop and is used by tourists and locals alike. Irish nights, music and dance, school tours, local club’s nights out are just some of the events hosted. Wedding parties have also arrived for photographs after the church.
Michael believes training is very important – he has just completed a Galway City and County Enterprise Board “Marketing Skills Programme”. Tour bus companies are now being targeted and literature has been sent to over thirty of them. Fluency in European languages is not Michael’s strong point, but he believes that Mary, being a ﬂuent Native Irish speaker, has been a great help.
The Melia family would like to acknowledge the help they received from family, friends, neighbours, local groups and people. The Lady Day festival has been a great boost to his business and he thinks the Festival Committee deserve great credit. The banks in Athenry were also very helpful and encouraging at all times. They now employ four people part time in the summer and hope that they have secured a future for their children.
Good Luck to “The Fields” and every success from “The Journal”.
Written by Dermot Monaghan
Published here 02 Nov 2022 and originally published 1996
The Athenry Journal
The Athenry Journal was founded and edited by Finbarr O’Regan (and later Conrad… Here some recent records:
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