Irish Culture

Long before the fashion for Irish-themed pubs, the McKenna pubs must surely have reflected Irish culture, perhaps with the songs, fiddles and bodhrain from across the water. After all, both The Balloon and The Wellington were on the edge of the Angel Meadow area, frequently called ‘Irish Town’ because of the preponderance of Irish immigrants; the location of the Briton’s Protection, Oldham Road, in particular was associated with the Irish,21and the George & Dragon was adjacent to the newly-developed Smithfield Market which attracted large numbers of immigrants, including many Irish.

Later in the century, the scale of Irish immigration to the area would be almost matched by the arrival of great numbers of Italians, many of whom would settle in the old mill workers’ cottages in Ancoats that would become known as Manchester’s Little Italy. Both the Irish and Italian influx are reflected in the lines of a song sung in Manchester pubs later in the century:

Why do you wanna go to Wembley,
Worra ya wanna go to Wembley for?
Take a walk down Ancoats Lane, and you’re in Italy so grand,
Take a walk up Oldham Road and you’re in Ire-land.

– (from ‘Manchester’s Ancoats, Little Italy’ – by Anthony Rea)

Even into the 20th century, the managers and staff of the McKenna pubs often were Irish-born; for example, the manager at the George & Dragon in 1901 was Irishman Michael Kelly and five of the six barstaff/servants were Irish-born22.

Because of its significance to the culture and music of the area – and indeed to the Band on the Wall — a separate chapter will be devoted to the Italian immigration to the area, in the 20th century section of this history.

Managed Houses

A sign of their expanding business, the McKennas placed managers at all their pubs: for example, Irish-born Bridget Mooney at The Wellington, Rochdale Road and an Edmund Linsted, aged 57, at the George & Dragon, in 1871.These were live-in managers: at The George & Dragon in 1871 eight people lived in the upstairs accommodation that was but a fraction of the room space of the current Band on the Wall. With Mr Linsted were his wife Ann (52), their four children, aged 15 to 21, one 18-year-old servant and a six-year-old, described as a boarder.23

Upwardly Mobile

By 1871 Bernard and family had moved from Booth Cottage to what was probably more prestigious accommodation close by, Lea Grange House, Blackley. There he lived with his wife, Mary, then aged 47, and their four children, Mary, 21, Bernard, 17, John, 11, and Mary Ann, 9, and a domestic servant. In their new home, set in over nine acres of land, Bernard was also able to have his elderly mother live with the family. She was now 84, though remarkably the census records show her age as 98. Perhaps after a hard life in the licensed trade, including many years of pub life in Gravel Lane, Salford, and arduous times in Oldham Road, that was how old she felt.

Bernard’s brother John was now principally involved in the running of the brewery and had moved out of the Briton’s Protection with his family, firstly to nearby Church Lane, Harpurhey, from where he went to work on horseback, and then by 1883 was living in the leafy Cheshire village of Bowdon, at The Woodlands, South Downs Road. We don’t know if he retained the same mode of transport to work after moving 16 miles away to Bowdon. He still retained the licence of The Briton’s Protection and with his brother had now acquired The Queens Hotel, 797 Rochdale Road.24There is evidence that the McKennas also owned the Queen Ann, Long Millgate, Manchester (Holmshaw/Richardson).


21Mervyn Busteed & Paul Hindle, ‘The Irish and Cholera in Manchester’

22Census Records, 1901

23Census Records, 1871 

24Slater’s Directory of Manchester, 1883