HE could be known for years to come as the man who had the honour of drinking the Queen’s pint.
Kilkenny native Fr Michael Mernagh, who has worked in the Liberties area of Dublin’s south inner city for the past 30 years, was among the invited guests when Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II visited the Guinness Storehouse on Wednesday last.
He attended the event with the South Inner City Community Development Association’s voluntary chairwoman, Geraldine Richardson, and together they spoke with the Queen about their social inclusion work. “We talked mainly about the programmes we are working on with children in after-school programmes, with children who are finding it difficult in primary school, with teenagers who get in trouble with the law, and early school leavers.”
“She was very interested,” Fr Mernagh said of Her Majesty’s reaction. “She asked about the problems young people are facing, and I told her it’s not much different to the UK or anywhere else really.”
On hearing that Ms Richardson leads the organisation in a voluntary capacity, “She said, ‘You are a very busy woman’,” Fr Mernagh recalled.
The priest also had an opportunity to interact with the Queen’s husband. “I ended up showing Prince Philip some of the sights,” he said. “Our own church can be seen from the Gravity bar.”
Overall, he said, “there were two extraordinary things that really impressed me were: first, her enormous energy, and secondly her ability to focus on the person she is talking to as if they were the only person in the world.”
“I thought it was tremendous in every sense. She barely stopped smiling,” Fr Mernagh said, pointing to two particularly “funny sides of the story”.
“One was this famous pint episode,” he said. During the brewery visit, the chief brewer explained what Guinness is made of and how a pint is properly poured, and many of those present hoped to catch a glimpse of the Queen drinking a pint – but she declined.
“After they had gone,” Fr Mernagh said, “the head brewer said, ‘I can’t just throw it down the drain. Will someone take a ceremonial sip?’ So I did it.”
His fateful sip was covered in the national media and the story has grown from there. “It’s got so far to say I had 12 pints!” he laughed.
So a sense of humour is one thing he cites fondly about the Queen’s visit.
“She is very witty, the Queen,” Fr Mernagh said.
“The man next to us was a local man who knew about her horse, Carlton House,” a 6/4 favourite for the Epsom Derby. “This man was congratulating her on this wonderful Carlton House and asked her if she thought he should bet his house on it.
“She said, ‘No – each way!”