She was known simply as Durty Nelly... a name that puzzled all who had the good fortune to be granted her welcome... but were unaware of the story of struggle and heartbreak behind the warm smile of their contented hostess.
Times were hard in Ireland but one could say that Durty Nelly was never caught for a way to make out. She was keeper of the toll-bridge over the river Owengarney which flowed outside her window on its way to join the Shannon.
BUT THERE WERE THOSE who could not pay in cash and paid in kind with the presentation of a chicken, a few eggs, a piece of home-cured bacon and ... " what have you ? ".
Durty Nelly was a charmer of passion with a roving eye of many of the virile men of Clare, Limerick, and indeed, from as far away as Cork and Galway. The highway into and out of Limerick was always open to these ... toll or no toll ... but preferably those without toll.
She had more than a "grath" for their payment in kind ... And the door to her house of strange "happenings" was always open.
Durty Nelly lacked nothing in nature's endowments and her reputation for hospitality and comfort gained a place in the many legends of Munster.
Durty Nelly was also renowned for her little "shebeen" -that special corner of the house overlooking the river where the jar of whiskey was handled with the expert care of this remarkable woman's warm touch... But never failed in her belief that someday she would find fame and fortune . She prayed that she might find the way and she prayed with the sincerity of an innocent nun in a silent cloister.
It happened the night of her great disappointment... All had been well until she discovered that the few gold pieces she had so carefully saved had been stolen by a vagabond from Kilrush who had abused her trust in his honesty. She cried many a bitter tear that night but in her own strange way, she fell asleep consoled by the thought that he must have needed those pieces of gold very badly... And if he did she would not begrudge them to him.
The wind was rustling through the tall oaks of Bunratty when a refreshed Durty Nelly faced the challenge of a new day. In her mind was a clear impression of some unusual recipe... She could not be certain but she was almost sure that it was something that came to her in her sleep. The more the day wore on, the clearer the details became. She knew in her heart that this was something she would have to try. It would take some time to prepare... but what it contained convinced her that there would be life in every jar she would fill.
Durty Nelly filled four of her best earthen jars from her first primitive distillery among the trees. They held all the promise she could wish for. She had found her claim to a fame that would spread across Ireland.
Its beginnings were unusual... Indeed, for a long time they went unnoticed. A day came when Durty Nelly found the Wolfhound almost dead on the green patch outside her front door. She could never say why she did it but she went straight for a sup out of one of the newly filled jars. She rubbed it into the muscles of the great dog and sat back on the curved wall where she usually rested while waiting to collect the day's tolls.
Two or three hours later as she sat in the sunshine of beautiful June, the Wolfhound silently but steadily walked to her and licked her hand. That night having rubbed down the dog once more, she got him to drink "a teascain" of the potion. He seemed to find new life in it and the next morning, the Wolfhound was playfully running around... a fact which was noted with amazement and a special respect among the neighbours who had seen it come about. Word quickly spread that Durty Nelly had the great gift of new life.
They came in droves from all over the country- seeking "the cure" for that lame horse; the sick bainimh; the slowing greyhound; the muscle-bound athlete and, particularly, that crippling pain in the back. And they found it. The Little House by the bridge grew with the increased trade and became a landmark in Munster for the high quality of its refreshment in food and drink. Durty Nelly was not long in witnessing the dream come true.
Fate took a strange turn the day the young woman from Rineanna (now Shannon International Airport) stood fascinated by the recovery of their only horse. Durty Nelly's "cure" had new life, sure enough. There was no doubt about this.
The young woman wondered. Here she was married for three years yet she remained childless. She knew that the fault lay in the lack of warmth in her husband's attentions. She would try the "cure" on him. That night he drank the first noggin with reluctance... but soon took a liking to it.
From that night on, his wife could never complain of his powers as a loving husband. His virility thrilled her in the full joys of wedlock. Their fertility was proven with pleasure in the birth of 3 sons and 2 daughters within six years..... and she still retained her beauty in body and charm.
Indeed, You could say she thrived form from that night she offered a noggin of Durty Nelly's cure to a husband who had since become a real man... her man. She was the envy of Clare women of all ages as the story of her joy swept across the countryside. Soon it became nationwide and Durty Nelly's "cure" had found a place on the shelves of her hostlery as the drink to help men, feel and act like the man of every woman's dreams and it was good for all ages.... and for all ailments.
Durty Nelly had given new life... new hope to millions. She had given Ireland the drink that made her name immortal - POTEEN - in all its purity, strength and health-giving powers. She had found fame and fortune.
Down through the years, the house of Durty Nelly has thrived. It has brought refreshment and comfort to many a weary traveller and it has remained the noted gateway to the glorious West of Ireland.
Times have changed and Poteen is no longer a legal drink in Ireland. Because of its unusual power and its dynamic danger if consumed to excess, it had to be outlawed... But it can never die. To this day it is distilled among the hills and valleys of the land. It continues to relieve pain and restore new life... and there is a many a champion- hurler, footballer, athlete, not forgetting the racehorse and greyhound whose rubdown is well-laced with Poteen.
And it has no equal for that pain in the back; that aching limb or, indeed, that aching heart.
Durty Nelly's house continues to thrive in caring for the traveller ; the visitor to the country but particularly the neighbours of Clare and Limerick. All are at home in Durty Nelly's where a man's standing in life... be he worker or Lord... makes no difference. All hold an equal place under the shelter of this remarkable monument.
And that is just what it is- The finest monument she could ask for... the finest tribute to the hospitality, comfort and equality in state and stature that she wished for... and certainly the perfect tribute to the lady who gave Ireland a way of life that is all she wished.
Durty Nelly's hospitality lives on... It has found immortality.