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Seamus Rafter: A country boy at heart

by Jimmy Rhatigan

If at another time, the late great Lisowel, Kerry playwright, John B. Keane were looking for the ideal man to be fear an tí in a local pub in any new play then Seamus Rafter of the Sceilp Inn would have been his only man.

Just like the pint of plain, he would have fitted the bill; your only man for the job.

Our Seamus, our friend was at home pulling a pint of porter for a customer or sinking a pint at the other side of the bar in the company of his wife and best friend, Statia and, inevitably with a few words of wit or wisdom for local characters with mischief written all over their jolly faces.

You could pluck him from the company of one group of tipplers, plank him into the middle of another and there wasn’t a hope he would be a square peg in a round hole.

He was always larger than life as he rolled up his sleeves, pulling pints as if his life depended on the next Guinness or Smithwicks, taking a break only for a ’quick fag’ or indeed to toss a hand grenade packed with wit, cynicism or perhaps a teaser to set the ball rolling for a debate that could be as interesting as it would be wacky.

Seamus and his parents Jim and Eileen had been purveyors of alcoholic beverages in Thurles and Freshford before settling in the Sceilp. Seamus was born to be a vintner. 

He was a natural; warm, friendly, chatty and enjoyed wonderful rapport with his customers who inevitably became his friends.

Perhaps his greatest asset was that, like a good comedian, he could hold an audience while delivering the creamiest of Arthur Guinness’s creation and at the same time throwing out a one-liner that would stir the most stubborn of pots.

He loved a good old exchange of words with those who knew that poking the bear, as it were, would bring a reaction.

A country boy at heart, he fitted glove-like into a city bar business he truly loved and delighted in teaching his children the rudiments of the bar business.

Ella, James, Liam and Seán in turn followed in the noble footsteps of their mam and dad, albeit in a mainly internship experience.

He cherished the Sceilp and everything it stood for. He was as proud as punch of his little bit of publicans’ heaven on earth.

He had a fantastic work ethic, was seldom if ever in bad form, and had his priorities right. It was family first and then business.

Cleverly he encouraged a love and marriage scenario, forgetting about the horse and carriage but reminding perhaps that in the worlds of family and commerce, you can’t have one without the other.

Seamus Rafter was no one-trick pony. He was master of all he surveyed at his College Road hostelry. At another time he was hugely in demand as a Quantity Surveyor (QS) in the construction industry. His son James has also qualified as a QS.

In his younger years he was the tough of the track, a talented athlete who achieved so much in his field of dreams.

He could perhaps have catapulted his pub into a tourist trap that would have been a Mecca for tourists.

We often spoke about the fact that The Sceilp was once a pit stop on the famous Marconi Trail. We are back to the horse and carriage. 

He took pride in his high profile porter shop but he chose not to interfere with the better known DNA of his pub as a home from home for his local community with a mat of welcome for the remainder of the world and its mother.

Paying a final St Patrick’s church tribute to Seamus truly was surreal. But, comforting it hopefully was for his nearest and dearest, with a huge turnout of friends, Romans and countrymen. 

Seamus’s love for his Kilkenny City community, along with his roots in Tipperary and Freshford where his family once ran The Greyhound Bar was most certainly a beautiful two-way street.

I am not sure how many pints I drank at the Sceilp Inn over the years but I am certain I enjoyed God only knows how many social evenings in the company of great people like Tommy Hayes, Mickey O’Dwyer, Eamon Morrissey, Jim Cody et all, all of them now in God’s Garden.

In recent weeks Seamus and I had mentioned in one of our many chats that we would arrange to go for a few pints with our pal, taxi guru, Frank O’Neill, for old time’s sake.

It was not to be.

Life can be so cruel. But, thankfully, we have for years enjoyed the privilege of being friends of a great husband and father who for decades brightened up evenings and ensured that thirst would never be our enemy.

Those who Seamus has left behind will support each other: In the name of the father. Seamus was 57. He is survived by his brothers Thomas and Maurice.

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