Mary Moriarty: Family pays tribute to 'one of a kind' Queen of Leith and Edinburgh's best known pub landlady
Mary’s daughter Eilidh shared the sad news last week that Mary had died at the age of 83, saying ‘a light has gone out in Leith’. Her family said they are shattered by the loss but have been overwhelmed by the kindness of the local community.
On the day of Mary's birthday, October 11, Eilidh and her brother Niall have invited people to an event at Leith Theatre to share their memories of their mother over a cuppa.
Having taken over as the energetic manager of the Port O'Leith bar after working as landlady of a bar in East Lothian, Mary was a "well-kent face" and tireless champion of many community initiatives.
She was married to mountaineer James Moriarty and was a mum to two children, Niall and Eilidh, and gran to Igor and Connor.
Never one to miss a bridge game, Mary was a regular at the Alan Breck Lounge after years of hustling customers at the game during her tenure as landlady at the Port O’Leith bar.
The glamorous character, who was often spotted in her leopard print coat, was in her element out in Leith; playing draughts, out at tea dances at the Dockers, singing carols at the Christmas lights switch-on, and, in recent years, at the car-boot sale at Ocean Terminal.
Mary first fell in love with Leith in the 70s while she was an antiques dealer. After running The Gardener’s Arms in Haddington, Mary and her husband took over at the Port O’Leith in 1985.
Friends had bought a bistro by the Shore and Mary was ‘fair taken’ by the bustling area around the port.
Eilidh went onto work at the Port with her mum. The colourful bar was described as a place “where people from all walks of life came together to drink side by side as part of Leith’s vibrant community”. And Mary was the heart and soul of the pub, which welcomed dockers, sailors and dancing girls as regulars.
Eilidh said: “When we took it on it was a shell. Mum wanted it to be bohemian, we had gingham table cloths back then. She got so involved with all the locals, working families and artists. For her 50th she got a bronze maidenhead statue that sat on the ledge in the bar. We used to say that its eyes were always on the till. She was a shrewd business woman. But more than that, she was happiest when people were enjoying themselves.”
Mary had a knack for getting people to talk to each other and was often out on the other side of the bar. Eilidh added: “We got a text after mum died from a woman who had come into the Port on her own and said mum looked after her. She had a real rapport with all, from the chefs to the seafarers. We often got invited onto ships to thank mum for her hospitality."
Over the years Mary threw her support behind many causes in Leith and beyond, from the one o’clock gun club to Greyfriars Bobby.
One closest to her heart was Leith Festival. Always a hands-on convener, the highlight for Mary was helping out at the local gala day on Leith Links, where she could be seen with a megaphone and high viz jacket.
Eilidh said: “Mum loved getting out round the stalls on gala day. They’d get tickets for rides so everywhere mum went she’d have kids trailing behind her shouting ‘Mary!’”.
Mary’s dedication to her local community was matched only by her sense of humour. Recalling a favourite memory of her mum Eilidh, 52, said: “You’d be hard pushed to find a soul without a good word to say about mum. She was one of a kind. One birthday she took me and a group of pals in her transit van to this trampoline place and then along the promenade. Mum suddenly stopped, rolled up her trousers and walked into the Forth. She had spotted this weird fish. She caught it and we went with her to the fishmonger to find out what it was. My pals used to say they wished their mums were more like mine. She was so much fun.”
Even after retirement Mary carried on supporting local causes and hosted student lodgers at her home who studied at the McKenzie school of English. Eilidh said: "She loved hosting and always gave the students haggis. She got so many thank you letters from kids and parents over the years. It was really heart warming. Once, a parent asked for mum’s recipe for tomato soup. She replied she was happy to share the recipe. It was a tin of Campbell’s!"
The family were devastated when Mary was diagnosed with lung cancer more than a year ago and the disease started to take its toll. But Mary was determined to get out and about.
"She sailed through treatment then she got secondary cancer that spread into her bones. She never complained. We got her a wheelchair and she loved going out to the Kirkgate and around charity shops,” said Eilidh. “It took hours to get anywhere because we stopped to talk to everyone.”
While Mary was best-known as the Port landlady, her son Niall said what he loved most about her was her sense of adventure. The 61-year-old said: “She lived life with gusto. She was driven by a strong civic consciousness. And I believe she didn’t get enough credit for how tough she was. The Port was the first, real LGBT friendly pub in Edinburgh outside the city centre. Mum took a bit of stick for that. It didn’t bother her. She was so resilient.
"But she also had this rich life, a whole other side to her too. She played piano, loved opera and ballet. And from a young age she was an adventurer. She lived in Paris, worked for the American Ambassador in Algeria then lived in the US for years near her twin sister.”
Niall lived with Mary to help with her care after her health declined. He said her humour always shone through. “We never left mum alone after her health got worse. She said once, it’s like Waverley Station in here. Everyone has been immeasurably kind and that’s so touching. It would have meant the world to mum.”
Anyone who wants to share memories of Mary is welcome at the Leith Theatre on Thursday, October 13 between 2pm and 7pm. A painting of Mary by artist Sarah Muirhead is on display in the
foyer. Leopard print optional but welcome.