Derry’s Tony McGill calls ‘last orders’ on almost 50 years in the bar trade

Tony McGill’s name is synonymous with the bar trade in Derry.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 1:00 pm
Tony McGill.

With 50 years of experience behind him in pubs across the city, Tony’s recent retirement really reflects the end of an era.

Speaking to the Journal at his home in Ballymagroarty, he told how, as a young men, he worked in a bar in London, before returning to Derry at the age of 20 when his father became ill. Tony’s sister and mother urged him to apply for a ‘Box ad’ job, following which, he was visited by Rodney O’Donnell from Glendermott House (Bar). Tony was offered a six week trial in the bar. Those six weeks went on for another 29 years.

It is clear that Tony has extremely fond memories of his time working there, during which he made ‘hundreds of very good friends.’

Tony pictured in Glendermott House in the 70s.

Working through the 70s and 80s, he was very much public facing during the height of the Troubles and was working in Glendermott House the night it was bombed.

“The wee girl opened up upstairs and said: ‘Tony, Tony, they’ve left a bomb upstairs. I got everyone out and round to Bond Street. We were all standing half way up and someone said: ‘Where is so and so?’ We’d a wee back room in the bar and I dived down. I got them all out. We were just around the corner and ‘bang’ she went.”

The bar was closed for a few months and Tony returned to work when it opened.

“The bar work was great because it was all halves and bottles. One of their favourite drinks was a bottle of stout and a glass of Mundies (wine).”

Stout was always popular and Tony had to ensure it was always kept in the best condition.

“It was all bottled stout and at winter time, you had to check the temperature gauge and if it was below, you had to go out the back, wheel all the stout - about 60 crates - into the bar and put the fire and Superser on to keep the temperature up on, because if had gone too cold it would have went off. At that time, it was really bad winters and you’d have to do it every day of the week. You’d then have to wheel them out in the morning.”

While the till system is now computerised, Tony remembers when it was a lot more cumbersome than it is today.

“We’d one of them big machines at the start. You had to put five fingers on it to ring in 1.80, now you just hit a button. We actually started off with a drawer and then got this machine.”

As well as working in the bar, Tony made such good friends he attended ‘hundreds’ of funerals and weddings. “My mother always said that for every funeral I was at, I should have been a millionaire!

“There were some great boys in it. Every tea time from 5-7pm, they’d be six deep at the bar. I made many friends (men like Skinny O’Neill and Mickey McFadden) and still see a lot of them up the town yet.”

He also enjoyed the musicians who used to play there, including bands like the Bar Four, Ray Jordan, Noel McBride and ‘there was a wee man on the road a few years ago, Joka, and I’m still waiting on my royalties!’ he quipped.

Following the death of Rodney McDermott and after 29 years in the same role, Tony decided it was time to move on. He spent six years in the Gainsborough Bar, before working in Porter’s Bar in Foyle Street for almost 15 years before his retirement recently. He said he is indebted to June and Sarge Porter, who gave him the job and ‘treated me very, very well.’ “They’re very good people and I thank them a lot,” he said.

After almost 50 years in the bar trade and with a very special birthday coming up, Tony is enjoying having his nights and evenings back, as well as spending time with his wife, Helen, children Terry, Anthony, Gary and Michelle, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.

This Christmas and New Year past was the first time in 50 years Tony didn’t work over the festive season and he has lost out on many family parties and gatherings through the years.

It wasn’t all hard work though and his lifelong love of Derry City F.C. also provided many great days. He fondly recalls the bus trips with fellow supporters in the P.O. club, including ‘Sod, Harry McGarvey, the ‘Dog, Seamus and his late father and Golly.’

He is, ‘in a way,’ sorry to leave bar work and ‘misses the craic,’ but is ‘planning to do as little as possible’ in his retirement. He and Helen enjoy travelling to Blackpool and he’s looking forward to returning later this year. He added: ‘I enjoyed the work. It was a job and I had a family and you did it. But, I got a lot from it too!”