Peggy Conlon: My life at the Dublin Castle
'The food side only really stopped when the music got so big, when Madness and the rest came in and played here regularly'
19 November, 2021 — By Peggy Conlon
I WAS born in County Galway. My parents were ordinary farmers.
They had 13 children, and we ended up all over the world. It was a hard life. I wanted to be a nurse. I left school when I was 14 and worked in a hotel, and then I went to Dublin and trained at St Edith’s Hospital.
I was working as a psychiatric nurse and my brothers were in London. They were buying a house in Parkhurst Road, and invited me over for a weeks holiday.
It was then I met my husband, John Aloysius, though everyone called him Alo, at a dance at the Gresham dance hall on the Monday night and decided there and then I did not want to go back.
He was working as a miner and he invited me out the following weekend – I knew Alo was the one for me.
He stopped mining and we got a pub together in Stoke Newington.
We were there for three or four years. Alo was friendly with the people at the Dublin – they were an Irish family and we had our wedding party here – and so he had heard they were moving on, he took it over.
When we first opened, we used to do a lot of food. We had a cook called Millie, an Irish lady.
We used to do a lot for the unions, after meetings, during strikes. We’d get a call from the union saying there were 30 or 40 men on their way that needed feeding.
And the cook Millie – you name it, she would cook it. We had a lot stews, chops and steaks. I used to love to eat her food.
The food side only really stopped when the music got so big, when Madness and the rest came in and played here regularly.
The kitchen became the dressing room. Before we’d have Irish music in the back room, and very good it was. Alo would say to bands “here you go, take it or leave it”, and with Madness they took it and never looked back.
We had a working-class clientele and never had much trouble, though we would get the odd drunk.
People were very respectful towards me and Alo was well liked. He had such a personality and people loved coming in to see him.
There was a lovely sense of community too – we knew the family at the other pubs round here, and if any one was ever short of anything, we could borrow things off each other.
I feel, after all the years here and with Camden Town home, that I am still an Irish woman.
We would help out with each other’s children. I would take all the children down to their school, and another mother would bring them back again.
At home we split our roles. Alo was the one to deal with the breweries and the business. When they came in I’d say “talk to Alo”.
He was good at that – but this wasn’t the same for all the pubs. Some of the women were more bossy than the men.
It could be hard of course when the children were younger. I did the bedtimes and the breakfasts. I’d get my two sons up around 8am, and get them off to school.
I’d leave Alo to sleep, as he would work late. He’d get up and do the deliveries and I would make him his bacon, eggs and toast.
The boys would come back from school and I’d make them their tea, help them with their homework, get them to bed. Then I’d go downstairs and work.
But we never had to go out somewhere else. The pub was a great place, so while it was hard work, it was enjoyable.
I was never on my own and if I could, I would do it all again.
• Peggy Conlon is the landlady at the Dublin Castle in Parkway, Camden Town, which is famous for providing gigs to bands at the start of their careers, including Madness and Blur. Amy Winehouse also played there.