From publican to fireman... meet Cork people who changed careers due to Covid

A musician turned bar boss, a medical rep turned fitness trainer, and a publican turned fireman... BRENDA DENNEHY talks to Cork trio who adapted to the pandemic
From publican to fireman... meet Cork people who changed careers due to Covid

James Casey, of Kiskeam, has become a fireman after seeing his job as a publican suffer in the pandemic.

IN the last 12 months, as the Covid-19 virus has turned all our lives upside down, some have seen their livelihoods wiped away from them.

Here, we talk to three Corkonians who have had to reinvent themselves and their careers in order to keep their head above water...

On this day a year ago, on March 15, 2020, the pubs were ordered to close just two days before St Patrick’s Day, causing a domino effect where all live music and gigs were also cancelled.

Musician Jamie Stanton was just one of thousands of musicians whose career was wiped out in front of him. A busy 2020 had been planned and 2021 was looking even more promising, but the Cobh man’s plans came to an immediate halt.

“The calendar was looking prosperous. Festivals, pub and club gigs, theatre work. It was all in the book — to be earned and enjoyed,” recalls Jamie.

“As soon as Covid began to loom over us at the beginning of March in 2020, people naturally became cautious before we even knew what a ‘lockdown’ was. So people stopped going out. Bang, the gigs and shows were gone.

“The majority of the entertainment industry was paused. But little did we know it would be for so long. 

"Personally, I wasn’t afraid at the time, I thought to myself, two months tops and we’ll be back at it. Come July, 2020, I knew it was all over,” he said.

NEW ROLE: James Stanton decided to set up a partnership with his brother-in-law to take over The Paddocks Bar in Cobh Pirates Rugby Club
NEW ROLE: James Stanton decided to set up a partnership with his brother-in-law to take over The Paddocks Bar in Cobh Pirates Rugby Club

Jamie says the hardest part for him was seeing his fellow musicians’ livelihoods fall to smithereens after working so hard over the years.

“All in all, being a professional musician is a completely unregulated and ‘Wild West’ profession in Ireland, and the risk always came with the roll of the dice, but the suffering to the extent we can see now is harrowing.”

However, the 31-year-old dad of two young girls didn’t sit back for long. In order to keep his mind ticking over, he found himself a dab hand at the DIY around the house.

“I wouldn’t allow myself to become idle, out came the bag of tools and I was stripping pallets to make desks, fixing the shed, and making a bench. 

"Mixing mortar to lay tiles, laying a bit of decking in the garden, and working away at making whatever I could out of materials I had at hand.

“Now that I’m at home with my girls, they can help out also and we can be productive together. That time is invaluable and I am going to miss it when we are allowed to go to work again,” he said.

By the end of the summer, 2020, with no return to work date in sight as an entertainer, Jamie decided to roll with the punches and take on a new opportunity.

“I decided to set up a partnership with my brother-in-law to take over The Paddocks Bar in Cobh Pirates Rugby Club. At first I was apprehensive, but given his experience in previously running a bar in Australia, I felt I was in good hands to learn and better again, in a great venue with great clients.

“I also had encouragement from the many publicans and venue owners I’ve worked for throughout the years. So I went for it.”

Unfortunately, their venture took another blow as they only got to open for a few days for outdoor dining in October and were soon shut down due to the second lockdown.

Ever the optimist and looking forward to 2021, Jamie and his business partner hope to be back serving pints at the end of the summer.

“We are hoping for an autumn opening of the pub sector, but we will have to bide our time for now and be creative with our ideas to create a bit of magic and shazam for our punters to open in a safe manner when we are allowed,” he said.

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RESILIENT: Mother of three Lorna O’Regan has launched FeelGood Health and Fitness after being made redundant as a medical rep
RESILIENT: Mother of three Lorna O’Regan has launched FeelGood Health and Fitness after being made redundant as a medical rep

Another Corkonian whose career took a nose dive due to the devastation of the pandemic is Lorna O’Regan. The Clonakilty native was working as a Medical Sales Rep for several years up until last year.

Lorna had moved company three years ago to pursue a flexible role with a start-up company as a medical rep. However, the pandemic impacted her position severely.

Without hospital or GP access, it was impossible for her to fulfil her role, she explains.

“In January, 2020, everything was so promising and I had just signed a new ‘term-time’ contract with my company that was what I had worked so hard to achieve.

“Come March, things were not good and I knew access to hospitals would be a long way off. I had no ability to work remotely, so I took work from other departments to lighten their load.

“During this time, the panic was rising, I knew something was going to happen, and I had prepared for temporary redundancy, but in April, 2020, my role was made redundant.”

Despite being devastated after losing her dream job, mum-of-three Lorna made the most of her time off and embraced the time she was able to spend with her family. Staying positive and keeping a routine going despite being laid off, the West Cork woman pondered her next move.

A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, she decided to try some HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) sessions during the first lockdown, on the green in their estate for their neighbours every Saturday. Little did she know her exercise sessions would lead her on to her new career.

“It was all very much social distanced! I only did this to lift all our spirits in the estate. It started as a one off, but I kept it up for almost four months. I really enjoyed doing it and two of my friends said to me I should become a personal trainer.

“I laughed it off initially and then I started to look up courses. In June, I signed up for an online course. By October I was a qualified fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. I then signed up for a course with the National Sporting College to become a Strength and Conditioning coach.”

Lorna says she initially started doing the course with the intention of securing a job as a medical rep again, while being a personal trainer on a very part-time basis.

However, as time goes on, she says she feels that the best option for her is to combine her new qualifications with her primary degree in Nutritional Science, hence the birth of FeelGood Health and Fitness.

You can contact Lorna on www.feelgoodhealthandfitness.ie. She is also on facebook @feelgoodclonakilty and Instagram feelgood_healthandfitness).

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Like Jamie and Lorna, publican James Casey was also facing the prospect of a hectic 2020.

Having grown up in a bar setting in his native Kiskeam in North Cork, with eight generations of pub workers behind him, the 31-year-old was flourishing when the pandemic hit.

He explained: “I came home from working in Australia in 2014 and took over a bar in Clonakilty. Luckily, it was a success so I decided to buy a bar that came up for sale on the Main Street which was twice the size and in a much better location.

“I would have been mad not to really. I signed the contract for the new place and a week later the pubs closed.

“At the end of February we were almost fully booked for the year with afters of weddings, birthdays, hen parties, you name it — anything from the womb to the tomb — but all had to be cancelled.”

It was a blow, but James is resilient.

“We had to go looking for a Plan B. We came up with the idea of a mobile bar. When the restrictions got stricter, we obviously had to scrap that idea.”

In the meantime, James had applied to the fire brigade as a position had become available in Clonakilty.

While many publicans have had to change careers or take up new work, the Kiskeam native’s new found profession has a very close meaning to his heart.

He and his family were the victims of a devastating house fire in 2000. Just 13 years of age at the time, James can still remember the night vividly.

He recalls: “After that awful night, it was always in my head to become a firefighter. That night the Kanturk and Milstreet fire brigade attended the fire and they were so helpful and couldn’t do enough for us.

“One fireman knew I was distressed and showed me around the fire engine and ever since I wanted to help people in the same situation.

“So, with this on the back of my mind for years, when a position for a fireman came up in Clonakilty I went for it and luckily I got it. I could not be happier with the opportunity and the station I am in.”

With high hopes for the future, James is looking forward to opening his bar in the coming months and being able to look after his staff and make a living once again:

“The last year was a year that definitely tested us. I have high hopes for when things get back to normal and hopefully I can get back to my plans with my new premises along with my new profession,” he said.

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