Robert Ryan runs one of our most popular Irish pubs, Morrison’s in Cannes. Patrick Middleton called in recently for a drop of Bushmills and some talk
When a man tells me he comes from Limerick I have to ask him how he feels about Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. The book — and later the film — stirred strong feelings in the city. When I was last there almost everyone I met seemed ready to deny McCourt’s account of the poverty and squalor of his childhood. Robert Ryan (pictured) is more cautious. “Okay, there’s some artistic licence there but I’d say from talking to people of that generation that there was quite a lot of truth in the book. I’m thirty-six and I suppose I saw the tail-end of that world.” Robert began his working life in his home city but like so many young Irish people he soon enough moved abroad. “I worked in bars in several places — including Germany — and then I settled in Manhattan for six years. You’ve guessed it — I was illegal, of course, like most of us in those days. It was a great time. New York is a marvellous city for the young and I learned a lot along the way.”
“After Manhattan I tried going back to Ireland. Didn’t work out. Then I got offered the job of running this place and I took it. I started off with six months in a local brasserie to learn the language and then I took over at Morrison’s.” In my experience Irish pubs abroad are of two kinds: the authentic and the unconvincing. Morrison’s is definitely in the first category. How does Robert explain this? “It’s much more than the way a place is decorated and, of course, some things you can’t recreate — the turf-fire, the drizzle through the window. Above all, it depends on the human atmosphere you have. I don’t have to tell you that the character of a pub in Ireland comes from the way people relate to each other and talk — the craic, as we call it. If you ran a place like this on classic French lines with table service you wouldn’t get that. Here you have to go to the bar to order your drinks and it’s the barman’s job to get the talk going.” Robert himself is well qualified to do this. He has that natural way with words which, as Terry Wogan once said, “God gave us as a consolation for Ireland’s unhappy history”.
As we talk of “atmosphere” Robert offers me an answer to the old question about Guinness. Why, some say, does it never taste the same in Milan or Melbourne as it does in Mullanghanish or Maghera? “That’s not true. In large part it’s an effect precisely of that atmosphere — or its absence. If a pub has a genuine Irish feel, so the Guinness will usually have the right taste. Of course, when we’re talking draught it also matters that the stuff is looked after properly. That’s not always the case.” Morrison’s, people tell me, is very much a social centre with a very varied clientele. “That’s right — and it’s not just about drinking and talking. Some people pursue common interests beyond the pub. We’ve got a soccer club — the Boys in Green — with players from all over: Irish, English, Australian, Dutch, Danish. And, we’ve got a golf group, too.” Of course in any bar you occasionally get customers who behave badly. “Certainly, it can happen and you have to be vigilant. We’ve got a very sharp doorman and if there’s ever a sign that someone inside might want to cause any aggro I’m on to it at once. Use a bit of psychology and you can usually nip it in the bud.”
Robert Ryan isn’t speculating as to where he’s going next. “I like it here. it’s as simple as that. I’ve got a good family life with a three month old daughter. Most likely I’ll spend the rest of my life in the area.” That doesn’t mean he’s cut free from his Irish roots. “I’m always glad to be back in Limerick to see my parents and the rest of my family. I also want my daughter to grow up aware of her Irish heritage — her mother’s French.” Does he ever regret leaving Ireland? “No, though of course the Robert Ryan you’re talking to is different from the man I’d have become had I stayed at home. But if I’d done so I’m sure I would have been just as happy …”
Morrison’s Pub is at 10 rue Tesseire in Cannes. That’s off rue d’Antibes, a few minutes from the train station. Opening hours 17h00 — 02h30.