IT’S LAST orders at the Harp. After more than 25 years here, the Roarty family are finally calling time on this little part of Ireland, set among the inner city housing of Burmantofts.
And when it closes a week on Sunday, it will be the end of the last genuine Irish pub in a city which once had many.
Husband and wife Noel and Carmel Roarty and Noel’s brother Martin Roarty came to Leeds from County Donegal to run the Woodpecker pub in York Road. These were premises which had once survived a Luftwaffe bomb, but they couldn’t resist the bulldozers which created the Quarry House junction in 1990.
The Roartys soon found a new home, though a pub called the Duke William in a street named after Oliver Cromwell was unlikely to draw the Catholic diaspora. The street name remained, but changing the inn-sign to The Harp presented an altogether more friendly face to their prospective customers.
It soon became home to Noel and Carmel’s growing family, as their daughter Trisha recalls: “It was my childhood home. There were five of us, all girls. We could always hear everything going on downstairs and we wanted to be old enough to work in the pub.”
One by one, their time came: “We started off collecting glasses before going behind the bar. It was our rite of passage.”
East Leeds has been home to a large Irish community since Victorian times; it grew during the grim years of the famine, concentrated in an area east of the city centre known as The Bank. Many came in search of a better future – but life was hard and living conditions poor.
When it opened in 1970, The Irish Centre in York Road was the first purpose built centre of its kind in Britain. A clutch of pubs also catered to this community, providing a taste of home for those nostalgic for Ireland. Within a few hundred yards of here were the City of Mabgate, Maguires and the White Stag – each long since closed.
Even so, The Harp always attracted a very mixed clientele, with one of its two rooms used almost exclusively by the Irish, the other, slightly smarter lounge home to a predominantly native crowd: “We have had good customers all these years,” says Carmel. “Some of them have been coming all the time that we have been here – and a lot of them travelled from outside the city to drink here.”
They were drawn by the company, the top-notch Guinness – and the famous Irish craic. Over the years, the pub fielded darts, dominoes, football and pool teams, hosted meetings of local committees and become a natural home for the local branch of the Celtic Supporters Club. “This is a genuine Irish pub,” says Trisha. “That means having Irish people on both sides of the bar.”
Mum Carmel adds: “It’s about getting to know your regulars. When you see them coming to the bar, you start pulling their pints without having to ask what they want. On St Patrick’s Day this was always the place to come.”
This loyal following will be sad to see the Harp close, but when Noel died in 2012, it put more onus on Martin and Carmel to fill his shoes. Both are now retiring, though staying in the city: “To be honest I think a lot of people are surprised that we have stayed open for so long,” says Trisha.
Next weekend, June 18-19, will see a final party to mark the end of an era at the Harp too. Although it’s not clear what the site will become, its new owner has made it clear that it won’t be a pub.
“The customers are sad,” says Trisha. “It’s only now that we’re realising what we mean to people. They bought into the family. I feel as though they have had a front-row seat to our childhood.
“We had a lovely life here.”
Address: Cromwell Street, Lincoln Green, Leeds
Type: Genuine Irish bar
Host: Martin and Carmel Roarty
Opening Hours: Noon-midnight daily - but closing on June 19.
Beers: Tetley Smooth (£2.95), San Miguel (£2.95), Carlsberg (£3.20), Guinness (£3.50)
Wine: Small selection
Children: Welcomed, but no special facilities
Disabled: Straightforward access
Entertainment: Pool table, dart board, TV
Beer Garden: None
Parking: On-street areas nearby
Telephone: 0113 293 0615