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Dave Woodhall raises a glass to one of great figures of West Midlands pub life, Finbar, the former landlord of the Wheatsheaf in West Bromwich, who recently passed away.

I was in the Wheatsheaf, Carters Green on Sunday night, enjoying a quiet drink with likeminded people. We were discussing recent deaths and serious illnesses, as you do when you reach a certain age, when one of our number mentioned that Finbar, former licensee of the premises, was suffering from cancer.

He went off to get a progress report from the barmaid and came back with the sad news that Finbar had died the previous day, at the age of sixty. The world had lost one of its great characters. Incidentally, he must have had a surname but it was never mentioned. He was always Finbar, or Fin.

As is the way with such people, there are many stories about the man, and most of them probably only bear a passing resemblance to the truth. It was reckoned that he wound up in the area because he was changing trains en route to Manchester and had twenty minutes at Sandwell & Dudley. For some reason, he stayed.

Easier to ascertain was the tale once told by my mate Dick, who used to live near Finbar.

One night Dick saw smoke wafting from Fin’s window. He’d got home after ‘few drinks,’ turned the cooker on and fallen asleep. The kitchen was in the process of catching fire but Dick managed to get in, woke Finbar and got him to safety.

Next day Dick was walking down West Brom High Street when he bumps into Fin.

"Thanks for that, lad" the rescuee said. "Would you allow me to buy you a drink?" So they walk into the nearest pub, where Fin is naturally known by one and all, and introduces Dick as "the little bastard I caught breaking into me house last night."

I first met Finbar at the Cathedral Tavern in the city centre. He was the cleaner, and he would tell all and sundry that the cleaner was the most important job in any pub. “You never go back to a dirty pub do you?” he’d say. No-one disagreed. He also used to have the habit of hiding the last orders bell, working on the assumption that if last orders hadn’t been rung there was still time for another drink.

Fin later became licensee of the Great Western in West Bromwich town centre. He served a fine pint of Burton Ale, and it was no surprise when Holden’s approached him to take over the Wheatsheaf.

A few years here and he was asked to move to the Robin Hood at Ironbridge. They’d had a few problems and a troubleshooting landlord was needed. Naturally, Finbar walked into the licence application meeting and was recognised immediately by the chairman of the licensing committee. “We can grant this with no worries,” he said. “I can personally guarantee this man will sort the premises out.” And he did.

Finbar kept a good pint and a respectable house. He was a character, a publican and an Irishman, and he played all three parts to perfection. If him Up There has any sense he’ll take Fin into the family business right away. And if he doesn’t, Fin probably won’t want to sty there anyway.

A great man, and he’ll be missed.

Do you remember Finbar, landlord at The Wheatsheaf?  Leave a comment on The Stirrer Forum.

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