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Thursday, March 5, 2015


Connolly's pub as it looked when Sheila first visited.
New York Times bestselling author Sheila Connolly writes three mystery series, a paranormal romance series, and romantic suspense. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

I write a series, the County Cork Mysteries, set in a pub in Ireland. Anybody who has known me for a long time knows I have never been a pub kind of person. So how did this happen?

I attended a women’s college in a dry town, so while I won’t say there wasn’t liquor around (our favorites, off the record, were Mateus and Tang mixed with vodka), we weren’t exactly into partying. More like studying, with playing bridge to fill in the gaps.

I spent four years living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in graduate school. I could even drink legally by then. But I can still count on my fingers the number of times I ventured into a bar. Now and then with a group of friends, maybe, but we were all broke and couldn’t afford it often.
Then I got married, and we lived in the Bay Area in California for a decade. But there I much preferred the outstanding restaurants or driving up to the Napa Valley to tour wineries, to sitting in any kind of bar. (Although the Claremont Hotel bar had spectacular views.)

And then life got in the way, and there were mortgages and a child and all that stuff. No pubs—until I went to Ireland.
When my daughter was in middle school, my husband and I decided we would take her to see England, Wales and Ireland (all in two weeks—ha!). When we landed in Ireland, the first pub we walked into (in Carlow, near where my grandmother was born) was eye-opening: on a Sunday afternoon, it seemed like everybody in town was in the pub, eating Sunday dinner. Grandmothers, kids, probably dogs as well. Sure, you might have a pint with your corned beef, but mostly people were there to talk to each other.

Inside Connolly's
After lunch we drove to Leap in County Cork, the village closest to where my grandfather was born. Leap has a population of just over 200 people—and four pubs, or maybe it’s five, depending on how you count. One was Sheahan’s, attached to the hotel (run by the same family for 135 years), and then Kickshaw’s, both with restaurants. There was one that seemed to have no name, and when I peered in once, it seemed to be filled with large silent men, and one next to it on the corner (three in a row there.) And then there was Connolly’s.

Obviously I should have recognized fate when it slapped me in the face. Of course I checked it out, and I’ve been going back ever since. If Eileen Connolly, the owner, is a relative, we haven’t figured out how we connect—yet. You see, there are two groups of Connollys in the townlands north of Leap—the families have been living a couple of miles apart for the last few hundred years, but you must not confuse them! Eileen is a Reavouler Connolly, and I’m a Knockskagh Connolly. But we get along just fine.

Connolly's pub as it looks today.
So we visited Connolly’s on that first trip. And the next year I went back with just my daughter, and we spent time there again (the Irish don’t seem to have a problem with children in places that serve liquor.) I’ve been back many times since. Each time I’ve paid attention: I listened to people, and I talked to people. Finally I realized that pubs are not about drinking—they’re about community. The TV show Cheers actually got it more or less right—a place where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. At the same time, if you want to be left alone in an Irish pub, that’s fine, too. Up to you.

So you see, using a small pub in a small town as a setting makes perfect sense if you’re writing a traditional mystery: sooner or later everyone in town, not to mention the tourists, the local police, and the occasional criminal, passes through and ends up talking to friends and strangers alike. What better way to collect information to solve a mystery? You’ll learn everything you need just by listening.

An Early Wake
Pub owner Maura Donovan may have Irish kin, but she doesn’t seem to have the luck of the Irish. Who could have foreseen that bringing live music back to Sullivan’s Pub would lead to a dead musician? 

Summer is ending in County Cork, Ireland, and with it the tourist season. Expat Maura Donovan is determined to keep Sullivan’s Pub in the black as the days grow shorter—but how? When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who’d come play in the back room, she wonders if bringing back live music might be Sullivan’s salvation.

As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. With a slew of potential suspects, it’s going to take more than a pint and a good think to force a murderer to face the music.

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Angela Adams said...

Enjoyed the post and lovely photos. Thanks for sharing, Sheila.

Sheila Connolly said...

Thanks, Angela. I fell in love with the place the first time I saw it, and that's why I keep going back (and found a way to make it tax-deductible eventually!).

Pam De Voe said...

What a delightful post! This makes me want to visit more pubs as I travel.

Sheila Connolly said...

Pam, most of them aren't scary at all, and the food there is getting better all the time.