The Kon Tiki daze: how Thor and his crew were immortalised in Rooskey!

In singing the praises of the Kon Tiki – a famous public house, now on the market with Remax in Roscommon – I must of course declare an interest. And what an interest!    My family left Dublin in 1970 – exchanging city life for a field of dreams about two miles from Rooskey village. My parents had visited a famous bar/restaurant while on holidays in the United States in the 1960s and my father, influenced by what he saw, was now gambling on introducing a very original ‘singing lounge’ to rural Ireland.    The ‘Kon Tiki’ in America was a premises which featured one main attraction: a replica raft and ‘rainfall’ lashing down from its ceiling. Tropical storms were re-created to the amazement of visitors. It was an innovative theme pub, you could say. It was conceived in honour of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his crew who sailed the Kon Tiki raft – made of balsa wood – across the Pacific Ocean over the course of 101 days in 1947. It was a famous expedition, one that has helped enshrine the Heyerdahl legend.   Heyerdahl and his men had to contend with shark-infested waters, fierce storms, an obvious lack of food and many more perils.    Back in 1969-1970, the mission on that Rooskey site which our family purchased was to produce a unique bar where only a farmhouse then stood. Local builders and craftsmen were brought in. A huge bar and lounge was constructed, reflecting a time when the so-called ‘singing lounges’ were all the fashion. Believe it or not, the fairer sex were only beginning to make an appearance in pubs: the ladies sat back and drank a mineral or a babycham while the men enjoyed ‘porter’ at the counter: at least now the sexes were meeting in the middle, with the phenomenon of music (and dancing) in pubs!    This however was no ordinary bar. In the centre of the premises was a ‘swimming pool,’ complete with a replica raft of the Kon Tiki. On the walls were various decorative pieces designed to create a jungle-type impression. In the pool was a few feet of water. The raft was in the middle of the pool and could only be accessed by reining it in with a pulley. The idea was that the live bands would perform on it, ‘drifting’ in to meet their audience every now and again. Special effects came into play as well. And they would really complete this exciting attraction. Tubes concealed in the ceiling fired water down on the stage. ‘Thunder’ rolled via a tape recorder and hidden speakers. ‘Lightning’ flashed courtesy of special bulbs directed at an angle towards the stage/raft.      It is claimed that one day a few locals who were saving the hay called into the Kon Tiki while it was still a work in progress, its mystery not yet revealed. The sun was shining but the work had brought on a thirst. After a pint or two my father, Rutledge Healy, secretly turned on the ‘lashing rain’. The workmen had no idea of the Kon Tiki’s then still unknown novelty aspects and so assumed that the weather had taken a turn for the worse! ‘We may stay here’ they agreed, ordering a few more pints!    When Eamonn Kelly (the Kilglass-based musician who is still going strong) opened the Kon Tiki on a memorable night in 1970, its secret was out. Word of the unique new bar spread like wildfire. Huge crowds came and the Kon Tiki became one of the most popular ‘singing lounges’ anywhere in rural Ireland.    The leading musicians of the day came to perform there. A local man painted a fabulous depiction of Thor Heyerdahl and his crew and I think that painting still adorns a wall in the Kon Tiki. A postcard of the premises was produced and your truly is the boy (on the right) sitting at the fire in the Kon Tiki in that postcard (see alongside)!    The locals loved the Kon Tiki – as did the tourists and never-ending stream of strangers and music/dancing fans who called. Many great times were enjoyed there, in what were halcyon days for such venues.    After five years or so, the Healy family ‘sold up’ – and moved into Rooskey village itself. Naturally the Kon Tiki remains very close to our hearts. It has changed hands many times in the years since, and now boasts a fabulous restaurant.    No doubt the Kon Tiki, now for sale (see details opposite page) faces a bright future, given its excellent location, comfortable bars, excellent restaurant, the housing development on the site and indeed the proximity of the River Shannon.    Whatever new chapters remain to be written in its history, its existence to date is a rich one. Quite a few romances were formed there. Thousands of memorable nights have been had. A few fist fights (and fists were all that were used) which took place there seem the stuff of innocence now. The Kon Tiki was frequented by characters, dancers, musicians, drinkers, non-drinkers