The ‘yap and the chat’ in Cork Victorian bar is what it's all about

CHRIS DUNNE pays a visit to a pub that’s at the heart of the community in St Luke’s, as part of our series, The Bar Stool
The ‘yap and the chat’ in Cork Victorian bar is what it's all about

Paddy Reilly of Henchys Bar 40 Wellington Rd, St Luke's, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

PROPRIETOR of Henchys pub, Paddy Reilly, says that the cosy community of St Luke’s is like a mini-Rathmines.

“It’s like Rathmines because it is flat- land and there is an eclectic mix of people in the community. It’s a great location,” explains Paddy, who features in our series this week, The Bar Stool.

“There is always a buzz about the place.”

Henchys is well known in the area. It’s a place where people converge to socialise, to meet up or shoot the breeze. The nooks and crannies provide a nice niche for those who want a quiet time to read a book or just relax with a drink.

“Henchy’s was always well established and associated with the area,” says Paddy, who is a Dub. What brought him to Cork?

“A Cork woman!” says Paddy laughing.

“I’m here now almost 22 years. I’m in the pub business all my life. My dad had a pub in Aungier Street. I grew up in the trade and I ran a couple of pubs for Slattery’s in Rathmines.

“I like the business and I like meeting people and serving people. There was never another option for me.”

How did he come upon Henchys?

“I was courting my wife down here and I came in here as a customer. I had my eye on it,” says Paddy.

“I liked it. We decided we’d like our own business; that was in 1999.

 Paddy Reilly of Henchys Bar 40 Wellington Rd, St Luke's, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Paddy Reilly of Henchys Bar 40 Wellington Rd, St Luke's, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

“Henchys was a famous name in Cork. It has a great history. It is one of the few Victorian pubs left in the city.

“We live in the Lower Road overlooking the water, it is a lovely location.”

Did he get used to the local twang?

“I got used to the Cork accent all right,” says Paddy.

“Here, you hear a lot of different accents and a lot of different languages.”

Does Paddy work behind the bar?

“I still do work-outs, changing barrels, etc!” he says.

“Mark does all the heavy lifting behind the bar.”

The men miss the old-timers since Covid hit.

“Covid devastated the elderly,” says Paddy. “We lost a good few who got sick and sadly some died. Covid decimated the elderly.”

The well-established Henchys pub moved in another direction in June.

“The corporation kindly allowed us to trade outside,” says Paddy.

“The new outside area attracted new clientele which was great. It was brilliant we could provide for that.

“Even though everyone can come inside now, they still like going outside.

“The church across the road has a great input in bringing people into the area through music. It’s like the church is being re-discovered. People are coming in from the Cork suburbs. It’s building nicely.”

 Paddy Reilly of Henchys Bar 40 Wellington Rd, St Luke's, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Paddy Reilly of Henchys Bar 40 Wellington Rd, St Luke's, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

The weekends are busy when people want to go out and enjoy themselves.

“At the weekends we have people from everywhere, there is a great mix.

“Henchy’s is a pub for conversation, we have no sports on, only sports shown on RTÉ.

“The yap and the chat is what it’s all about.”

The yap and the chat are music to Paddy’s ears.

“You can’t beat that lovely noise.”

Does Paddy like a pint?

“Yes, I do. Stout is probably our best seller. I often have a pint with the lads and enjoy a chat with the customers. I’d nearly know everyone on a first-name basis. And we have great neighbours.”

Barman Mark Hendrick is 27 years behind the bar.

“He does the heavy lifting!” says Paddy.

“That length of time working here is a good reflection of the place,” says Mark.

“There are plenty of bar jobs going but I like it here.

“The people make the bar. I have to give credit to them. We have a good mix of customers and all age groups.

“There is a great community here and the city centre is on the doorstep.”

There were always great characters frequenting Henchy’s.

“Martin McHenry, now deceased, was from Northern Ireland,” says Mark.

“He lived here 30 years but he was still a blow-in! He was a great character who was part and parcel of the place. He had a great heart and he liked a song,” says Mark, who makes sure the fire is lighting and there is always a welcome on the mat at Henchys.

 Paddy Reilly of Henchys Bar 40 Wellington Rd, St Luke's, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Paddy Reilly of Henchys Bar 40 Wellington Rd, St Luke's, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

“Martin started a fund-raiser in aid of Anita’s Orphanage in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The art exhibition was supposed to be a one-off but Martin and a dedicated group of people kept it going and eventually, over the years fundraising, the orphanage had enough money to buy their own building and be independent.”

There is a painting in the bar by an American lady, Mary Morrissey, that depicts some of the personalities that were involved and who were patrons of Henchys.

“Martin is there at the bar,” points out Mark. “And Paddy is sitting at the bar too.”

There are a few smokers in the painting, and a copy of the Evening Echo is on the counter.

“The painting was obviously done before the smoking ban!” says Mark. “And there are a few faces that are gone now.”

The painting captures the essence of Henchys - good company and good chat.

“It is a lovely memento,” says Mark. 

“The artist came in here in the early evenings and took photographs. She got a feel for the who’s who. I remember that. It must be the best part of 20 years ago.”

Why is Henchys so popular in the St Luke’s area and further afield?

“We have our local trade but there is a new dynamic coming in now,” says Mark.

“People are coming from further afield. Customers are enjoying the area outside and it ties nicely in with the wine tavern next door.

“There are good bus routes, and the pub is walkable from the city so it is very accessible.”

There are two sides to the bar at Henchy’s but there is no differentiation between the bar and the lounge.

“We have five or six staff on at weekends when it is extra busy,” says Paddy.

“The outside area increased the size of the bar. It is livelier and we hope to get music back by Paddy’s weekend. We’ll just wait a week or two to see how the Government guidelines pan out. Then we’ll decide.”

Paddy likes the activity in the busy bar.

“There is always a great buzz here,” he says.

“I know a lot of the customers and all the different faces. We serve alcohol and soft drinks; we used to do food and we are looking at doing that again in the future.”

Paddy knows his regulars.

Ollie Lucey is enjoying a quiet pint in front of the fire on this Wednesday afternoon, with his canine companion close by.

“Yes, Ollie is a regular and sometimes he is irregular!” jokes Paddy.

What does Ollie like about Henchy’s?

“I’m drinking here since 1972,” says Ollie. “Now I’m retired and I come in here often with my dog Gizmo.”

Gizmo has his own drinking bowl and Ollie has a supply of doggie snacks for him.

“I remember when the other side of the bar sold groceries,” says Ollie.

“It stocked high-end teas and coffees. I often ran an errand to the shop for my neighbour for some tea. It was a busy shop. I remember it well when it was open.”

What did Paddy do during lockdown, when the bar was closed twice?

“I walked for Ireland!” says Paddy.

“We put in a new floor and had the bar re-painted. Of course we asked questions about the future.”

The future of the local is looking good these days.

“It’s great to be back and long may it last.”

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