Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

16 October 2009

Brian Boru Hotel, Thames

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

Like all old gold towns Thames has been home to large numbers of pubs. In fact, when the 1855 Reefers Arms changed its name to Brian Boru in 1867 there were probably more pubs in Thames than there were in Auckland. While that’s no longer the case, Thames still rates as a big town and it’s booming again. This time it’s not gold that brings prosperity but solid enterprises like car assembly and the ever increasing numbers of tourists who are discovering the Coromandel Peninsula.

Today’s Brian Boru, built in 1905 by Edmund Twohill, stayed in the family for 106 years with four generations of Twohills operating it until 1974 when it was sold to a brace of property developers. For a few years this cherished old hotel lost its way; there was nobody around to look after it and things got so bad that the citizens started to give it nasty nicknames like ‘The Pits’ and took their patronage elsewhere.

It was rescued in June 1983 when entrepreneur Barbara Doyle bought it and set out to return it to its former glory. She has made the Brian Boru famous through her insight, dedication and business acumen. Perhaps the most laudable thing she’s done is to preserve its original form; even the recent additions have been harmonious.

The Brian Boru plays host to over ten thousand guests a year, a large percentage of whom are international visitors who enjoy the ambience, and shiver with delight on hearing stories of the ghosts remaining from the old gold mining era. (Head ghost is Florence Twohill who, with her sister, ran the Brian Boru in the twenties).
And speaking of pub ghosts - Barbara Doyle’s ‘Mystery, Intrigue and Murder Weekends’ have achieved great fame. In true Agatha Christie style, guests are invited to take part in solving mysteries in the Brian Boru where ‘windows rattle, floorboards creak and ghosts come out after midnight’. There’s a reward for the successful sleuth and ‘the unlucky victim’s estate receives a 50% “mourning” refund’!

This is a big hotel where, I think, one gets a good impression of the activity and energy found in the coaching inns of the nineteenth century.


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By Don Donovan