We take a closer look at Ireland’s Pub of the Year 2017, The Porter House in Castlebridge, Co. Wexford

Giving back to the community is something close to Myles Doyle’s heart since he and his wife Sharon took over as owners of The Porter House in Castlebridge, Co Wexford in 2012. Born and reared in the village, he believes their efforts in this area must have been a deciding factor in the pub winning the National Pub of the Year Award at the Irish Pub Awards last November.

Also winner of the Best Local Pub title in the awards, The Porter House is the main sponsor of Shelmalier Senior GAA Club and Bridge Drama in the village. Myles is on the committee of various local groups, including for Castlebridge House – where the first discussion about the creation of the Guinness Book of World Records took place in 1951.

A few weeks ago, Myles was made chairman of Shelmalier Senior GAA Club. He talked to me on his way to give an interview on South East Radio about club members taking part in a fundraising cook-off competition in February.

Previously a coach of various under-ten GAA teams, Myles has been to every GAA All-Ireland Championship Final since 2002 and has a collection of all the programmes – something which goes down well with customers, along with the pub’s collection of beer mats from around the world which is displayed in the bar.

“I bring customers to GAA matches and will get tickets for people. It’s part of our general approach to helping customers – we bring people home at night whenever we can, put credit on phones for older people or help them with filling forms and booking things online,” he says.

Currently promoting Bridge Drama’s latest production ‘Cash on Delivery’ with posters in the pub, The Porter House is regularly used by the players for rehearsals and readings. “This is no ordinary drama group – it won the RTE All-Ireland Drama Champions Award in 2016,” notes Myles, who himself is part of the pub’s very own comedy group, The Porter House Players. Its five members write their own material and, as well as performing it on the premises, have also taken part in the Guinness Singing & Swinging Pubs competition during the Wexford Opera Festival.

Fundraising is an important aspect of The Porter House’s bond with the local community. Its main activity each year is Movember, which has raised nearly €10,000 since 2016 for Ard Aoibhinn Centre for people with special needs and disabilities in Wexford Town. It also runs a Christmas Coffee Day, which raised €1,150 for Castebridge Daycare Centre last December. Myles and Sharon plan to revisit the idea of a motorbike run again in the near future to support local charities.

Originally called Sinnott’s, The Porter House has been a pub in Castlebridge for over 100 years. It serves a local population of about 2,000 people, including 12 housing estates and three business parks. “Our customers come from quite a vast area. It is a growing community. Two new housing estates and a 90-bed nursing home are currently being built and there is potential for further building,” notes Myles.

Myles worked on and off in the pub trade from the age of 14 when he started out collecting glasses in the Curracloe Tavern in Wexford. He ran a driveways and patios business with his brother Aidan until two bad winters in a row forced them to look at other options. He bought his first pub, a small bar in Castlebridge, then called The Young Goose, in 2011, but always had his eye on The Porter House as it was his local. He asked the owner Eamon Culleton to give him first refusal if he was ever selling it and out of the blue in 2012 that’s exactly what happened.

With a capacity to hold around 300 people, The Porter House has always been a family-run pub and the Doyles are very much continuing that tradition. Aidan works there now as well as Myles’ and Sharon’s daughter Amy and their nephews Mark and James. All of the ten staff are local and know most of their customers personally.

The Doyles have invested a lot to bring The Porter House to the standard it has reached today, while also maintaining its old-world charm. Work has included widening of the bar, knocking down walls to integrate the games room, a new heating system and floor, as well as a complete refurbishment of the old lounge. A quirky addition in recent years was a horseshoe green outside the premises, which is very popular in the summer.

“Developing the pub was a major undertaking as it is a big premises – the bar is roughly 70 sq m with the attached games room half that size. The Edenvale Lounge for private functions is 60 sq m and the beer garden, which we modernised, covers a space of 60 square metres,” says Myles.

Located as it is in a rural area, one of the main challenges faced by The Porter House is keeping the day trade going. “The day trade gets harder every day. That is why we have put a big emphasis on food since 2014 to bring more people in,” says Myles. The traditional bar menu includes a wide range of dishes, such as burgers, fish, pasta dishes and curries. “We are a lot busier because of the food offering. A lot of people have come in to try our food since we won the National Pub of the Year Award,” notes Myles. “We are working on a few more new healthier options and we want to push our coffee trade in the mornings.”

Entertainment is another way of making sure customers keep coming back. There is bingo with live music on Wednesdays, a card game on Thursdays, darts on Fridays and a pool tournament every Sunday. Live music featuring bands from Co Wexford such as Divine Invention and Thunderbird happens every weekend too.

In terms of the drinks offering, Guinness is the most popular among The Porter House’s regulars, who also like the ‘pint and burger’ special offer that it runs. “We are building our gin and premium whiskey collection all the time and recently introduced local craft beer YellowBelly, which is going well,” says Myles.

While The Porter House is definitely a proper local pub, Myles has noticed an increase in custom from people outside the area since last November. “Lots of different people have been calling in since we won the award. It created a buzz and boosted our trade during that quiet time in the run up to Christmas,” he says. “We are looking at ways to entice more visitors to come in, for example by developing our room upstairs into something that could be incorporated into the local heritage trail.”

This article first appeared in the January/February issue of VFI Voice magazine.