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Breaking bad: The night I struck a blow for equality in the bar of a Galway pub


It might have been no more than a game of pub pool, but challenging convention, tradition and a couple of well-oiled Galway boys was a small step forward in the gender battle, writes Rebecca Levingston

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How do you know if you’ve made a mark? A pint and pool game have me pondering that question this week.

25 years ago I worked at a pub in London where I learned to draw a shamrock in the froth of a Guinness. A three-quarter pour in a clean pint glass, you allow the black and white liquid to separate, then top up and finish with a three leaf clover in the cream.

Having perfected the shamrock in the head of the brew, I figured I was ready to head to Ireland. I knew how to make an impression in the top of their national beverage, but two decades after getting on board a Tir Na Nog tour bus, I’m wondering if I left a more permanent mark on a particular pub.

Let me set the scene… I was 20 years old and travelling with my best friend Donna. She and I were enthusiastic beer drinkers and fiercely competitive pool players. We were drinking at a pub in Galway filled with loads of Irish memorabilia and one pool table.

We put a pound on the side of the table, as was customary in the world of pub pool players. Two blokes were sharking around the green felt tapping balls into pockets. There were a few patrons keen to pick up a cue, so we took our place in the money line. Sipping and chatting patiently, we waited. And waited.

Eventually we realised that our coin kept getting moved back in the queue. Being plucky young Aussie girls, not shy about asking why, we approached the bartender.

Turns out he was the manager and I explained the situation to him.

“Oh,” he said with a lovely Irish lilt, “Women don’t play pool here.”


Maaate, we explained that we really were capable of picking up a stick and cracking a few balls into pockets and after some deliberation, the manager reluctantly decided that we could indeed play pool.

Perhaps it was the beer we imbibed on the long wait to play, but my recollection is that the whole pub paused and turned to see two women standing ready to break.

Break tradition, break barriers, it felt like much more than just breaking a triangle of coloured balls.

Our challengers, were two Galway guys in jeans and jackets who were amused at the idea of playing pool against women. They shook our hands and, clearly, we hadn’t shaken their confidence. Until we started playing…

Ball by ball, the tension around the table increased. We were good. I distinctly remember looking up at the other punters at one point, because they’d started to respond to each shot. Donna and I were thrilled with our accidental status, our gentlemen opponents not so much.

Neck and neck, the four of us strutted and bent, anxiously eyeing the angles of the shots. It was close. Too close for them.

It came down to the final shot. It was mine to take. Top left corner. Only the black remaining. The perfect diagonal shot. Simple.

I leaned across the table and everything went into slow motion. I pulled the cue back silently and confidently struck the white ball which rolled forward cracking the black firmly into the pocket. The crowd erupted in shock and awe while our competitors cringed.

Just as Donna and I turned to celebrate… the white ball followed the black oh so slowly into the pocket. The agony and ecstasy of the pub pool comp – if you know it, you know it. Technically we lost and they won, but it felt like a tiny victory for women.

I still wonder whether any of the local ladies decided to have a pool game the next night at the pub. Perhaps things just returned to the way they were. Like a shamrock disappearing at the end of pint of Guinness. But maybe we left more of a mark.


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