Mary-Jo Hogan — or Mrs Ryan to most people — was a formidable landlady who ruled her little domain with an iron fist inside an iron glove. With a face like a bulldog licking a nettle, Mary-Jo imposed rigid discipline on the customers and would tolerate no contradiction.
No woman would be served a pint in Mary-Jo’s. It was a half pint or nothing. No woman would be permitted to sit at the bar counter. Madam, I said you might prefer to sit by the fire. Do I make myself clear?
No hanky panky was tolerated, such as holding hands. To transgress the rules meant immediate eviction.
The place had a sinister beauty about it. A stuffed owl in a glass bell-jar watched over the patrons if Mary-Jo happened to be busy in the laneway slashing some football the kids had kicked over the gate. The fire was always lit. The clock ticked out the seconds of your life with an implacable, unquestioned, steely Mary-Jo precision.
Placid men, such as my father, muttered to each other as they enjoyed two amicable pints on their way home. They did not laugh. They did not shout. They did not play cards.
They talked quietly.
There was no swearing, and no boisterous laughter. You would never hear a song in the bar. Mary-Jo didn’t run that sort of establishment. In return, the patrons were guaranteed spotlessly clean surroundings, well-presented pints, and freedom from annoyance if they wished to have privacy.
After Mary-Jo went to her eternal reward, the pub fell into the hands of new owners who didn’t understand what a gem they possessed, and they tore out many of the priceless features. The stuffed owl and the bell-jar went to the dump.
It fell into decline, as the new owners began to serve a rough crowd. It became a place to avoid. It was sad to see.
But now, thanks to the Bourke family, Mary-Jo’s is back. It has the feel of a friendly establishment, with a vaguely bohemian atmosphere. It’s full of women drinking pints at the bar and men laughing out loud. People sing and I believe you might even spot an occasional bit of hanky panky.
Worst of all: singing is not only permitted, but encouraged.
Mary-Jo would not approve, but I do.