Arlene Harris on the poignant process of sorting through the contents of her old family home – the famed Merriman Tavern – for auction this weekend
SELLING the family home is always going to be a poignant experience, but going through its contents and organising them for auction is even more of an emotional wringer.
And when you add to that, the emptying of a business which is choc-full of antiques and memorabilia, the task gets even harder.
This is what I have just experienced, having emptied my parent’s bar, The Merriman Tavern in Scariff, for an auction which takes place on April 23.
Growing up in this centuries-old stone building (where incidentally Eamon DeValera once made a speech from the room which later became my parent’s bedroom), I had a very colourful childhood.
Week after week, the bar played host to everyone from Clannad and the Chieftans to the Wolfe Tones, Paddy Reilly, Christy Moore and Planxty.
Finbar Furey credits ‘The Tavern’ as the place where The Fureys played their very first gig together, while our sadly missed national treasure Brendan Grace was a very frequent visitor, first coming down with his band The Gingermen and then on a very regular basis throughout his comedy career.
The walls and ceiling of both the ballad room and the ‘small bar’ which regularly played host to impromptu sessions around a roaring fire, documented the names of the many legends who played there – from Makem and Clancy, The Dubliners and the Bothy Band to Mary Coughlan, Sharon Shannon, Maura O’Connell, Sean Keane, Colm Wilkinson and Jack L – anyone who was anyone in the business played there – and the posters, hanging for posterity are there to prove it.
The thoughts of having to remove them all was not only daunting but also a little heart breaking as little by little, we would take the character of the place apart.
Along with the gig posters, there are photos and letters, newspapers from momentous days in history, vintage books, old signs, carriage lamps, stone tankards, barrels, sugan chairs, three-legged stools, church pews and so much memorabilia both from the music years and from various periods in history.
Throughout its years in operation, the Merriman has been like an ever-evolving museum, as the collection grew year on year.
My parents always loved auctions, so along with the wealth of treasures amassed in the bar, the house, my brothers and I grew up in, is also packed to the rafters with antiques, furniture, paintings, crystal, military artefacts, stoneware and pottery.
You could spend happy hours of discovery without ever getting to see all the amazing things they collected over the years.
My father was a larger-than-life character with a huge passion for Irish music and history – and when he died after a very short illness in 2015, we were stupefied in frozen disbelief as it was so unexpected.
We locked up the place and I found it easier to stay away rather than confront the reality that he was no longer there hanging up some relic he had found somewhere, lighting an enormous fire in the grate (invariably with a table leg or half a church pew used as kindling) or planning a monumental gig of epic proportions for some future date.
But now that we are coming up on his seventh anniversary, the time has come to admit that there is no going back – my dad is gone, and the Merriman Tavern will never open again.
So with a heavy heart we began the mammoth task of packing up the antiques, memorabilia, and furniture (not to mention the memories) for auction.
Initially it was very emotional and extremely daunting, but the trick was to concentrate on one small area at a time and not look at the job as a whole.
As the weeks went on and the boxes began to pile up, we were ready for the first truckloads to be collected and then we got into our stride.
There is something very rewarding about physical work, and as well as the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of your labour, it was also quite cathartic and a means of finally coming to terms with something I had buried under layers of everyday minutiae.
Along with the bar, which is a modern-day Aladdin’s Cave, my childhood home was also packed with treasures my parents had bought throughout their marriage and paintings my mother has done over the years.
She was a well-known name back in the day, commissioned to paint presidents and dignitaries with her exhibitions opened by politicians and nobility.
This hugely emotive task was left mainly to her as deciding which personal artefacts to keep and which to give away, was something only she could undertake.
So now, after several months, we’ve finally finished the arduous (both physical and mental) job of clearing out the family home and closing down a venue which still holds a very special place in so many musical hearts.
It was undoubtedly poignant, but it’s time to move on, and I hope the items going under the hammer will bring joy to some of the many people who performed, visited, and experienced those seemingly halcyon days.
• The entire contents of the Merriman Tavern in Scariff, Co Clare, will be going under the hammer on April 23 from 10am with both an online and onsite auction. The site is currently open for anyone wishing to register to bid. For more details visit www.seaneacrettauctions.ie