Cork pub owner: It never feels like going to work in the morning

A trio of friends are behind four pubs in Cork city. CHRIS DUNNE catches up with Seanie McCarthy to find out more
Cork pub owner: It never feels like going to work in the morning

Seán McCarthy, co-owner of Tequila Jacks Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar, Lapp's Quay, Cork.

FORMER Cork hurler and All Star, Seanie Mccarthy grew up with his business partners in Ballinhassig. Seanie, Derry O’Regan and Jon Cronin joined forces and the trio now run four pubs in Cork - Paddy the Farmers, Soho, The East Village Bar and Tequila Jack’s Mexican bar and restaurant.

“We grew up together and we played under 12 hurling together and we continued through the ages,” says Seanie, who is married to Paula. The couple have three grown-up children, Clodagh, Eoghan and Orlaith.

“John and Derry went to Boston in the early 1990s,” says Seanie, who is the latest bar owner to feature in The Bar Stool feature series.

“Derry came home in the late ’90s while Jon stayed in Boston. The pair bought East Village and Soho in 2001.”

Seanie always wanted part of the action.

“I wanted to get involved in the hospitality business,” he says. “I liked the buzz and the fun element.

“I always had a grá for the pub business. I felt I needed to challenge myself.”

Seanie, the youngest of seven, had good experience of the pub trade.

“I worked in my local in Ballinhassig in the ’90s. I was a sales rep for O’Mahony packaging and Noel O’Mahony bought the pub called Coleman’s. I got to experience the bar business when Noel needed someone to manage it.”

Seán McCarthy, behind the bar at Tequila Jacks Mexican Restaurant &Tequila Bar, Lapp's Quay, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Seán McCarthy, behind the bar at Tequila Jacks Mexican Restaurant &Tequila Bar, Lapp's Quay, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

There was a great atmosphere in the Ballinhassig pub.

“I knew everyone,” says Seanie. “The social element was brilliant. I loved listening to the locals and to the gossip. Of course, the GAA was always a topic of conversation.

“I worked there for a year and a half and then went on the road for Noel until 2003. Then I joined up with Derry and Jon when they knew I was interested in going into the pub business. They were looking to open a number of premises in the city.”

Seanie cut his teeth in the East Village and in Soho.

“I worked in a management role during the construction of East Village and I did my training in Soho previous to that. They were busy pubs with a big food element. I got a great grounding in both places.”

Paddy the Farmers opened in 2015 and Tequila Jack’s in 2017.

Paddy the Farmers is a hive of activity on a busy Thursday afternoon and Jan the chef is busy too.

“I can recommend the chicken curry,” says Seanie as he shows me the menu.”

It is a good recommendation.

Seanie spreads his time around the four premises during the week and today he is on floor duty in Paddy the Farmers and is meeting with his staff later on.

“The four bars are all unique in their own way,” says Seanie.

“I enjoy going around to them all. I divide my time between them without spreading myself too thin.

“Paddy the Farmers is a local bar with good regulars. My nephew, Michael, runs the bar. I concentrate on the business side of it and I jump in if I’m needed. I often collect glasses, serve the food and drink. The rugby season is proving very busy so it’s all hands on deck!

“The camaraderie between the staff and the customers is great. People come in to meet Michael; they ask for him, he enjoys ball-hopping people and he enjoys the cráic.”

Seán McCarthy, co-owner of Tequila Jacks Mexican Restaurant &Tequila Bar with their outdoor pods. Picture Denis Minihane.
Seán McCarthy, co-owner of Tequila Jacks Mexican Restaurant &Tequila Bar with their outdoor pods. Picture Denis Minihane.

The customers enjoy Michael’s good spirits.

“We have a great mix coming in to the pub,” says Seanie. “A lot of retired people who live in this suburb of Cork, we get the people working in the hospital and from the garda and fire stations.

“A lot of office people come in here too for lunch or after work to meet up for a drink.

“At night, the regulars arrive and we see a lot of new faces at the weekend. Food is big business. Good food in a casual setting is what we offer.”

Seanie must get asked about his hurling career a lot?

“I never get fed up talking about sport,” he says.

“Sport opened a lot of doors for me and I made long-term friends through sport. I still have a huge interest in hurling and I still love talking about it. I manage the junior team in Ballinhassig.”

Seanie must have very little time off with his finger in so many pies?

“I still go to Coleman’s, now owned by Brendan Coleman. I like meeting up with friends for a drink and a chat. My wife comes along. We catch up with local news and sport.”

Seanie likes catching up with local news at Paddy the Farmers.

Where did Paddy the Farmers get its name from?

“We think the bar got its name from an elderly gentleman who drank in one of Finbarr’s other Coburg Street premises,” says Seanie.

“The man, who (may or may not have been a farmer), never spoke to any member of staff or patrons. Yet he came in every single day simply reading the paper and having a few quarts. It was the staff who lovingly nicknamed him Paddy the Farmer.”

Paddy the Farmer the pub has a lot of history attached to it. The building itself has been standing as a Cork landmark since the 1800s, where it was originally a private residence housing three different families in the first 70 years. In the 1870s, it was first licenced as a public house serving solely Murphy products.

During the 1920s the house next door, which acted as an RIC Police station held some of Cork’s most famous freedom-fighters for questioning during the country’s tumultuous troubles.

From the 1970s onwards, the keys changed hands twice, as did the name. Firstly there was the Commodore Bar, then the Whiff n Puff until eventually, in 1980, under the ownership of Finbarr Murphy, Paddy the Farmers was born.

Lockdown was busy for Seanie behind the scenes. “We carried out renovations on all four bars,” he says.

Seán McCarthy, co-owner of Tequila Jacks Mexican Restaurant &Tequila Bar, Lapp's Quay, Cork, as well as Paddy the Farmers, The East Village and Soho.
Seán McCarthy, co-owner of Tequila Jacks Mexican Restaurant &Tequila Bar, Lapp's Quay, Cork, as well as Paddy the Farmers, The East Village and Soho.

“We interacted with suppliers and looked at the business in general and re-evaluated where we’re at.

“We never expected to be opening again on January 2; it came as a shock!

“Opening all four bars in less than 24 hours was a big challenge.”

But it was a nice challenge.

“It was great to see people out and about again with a smile on their faces,” says Seanie.

“We have good chefs and bar managers in all four premises.

“People could sit at the counter again and they could interact with one another without any restrictions.

“Clients always like being at the bar counter when they are having a drink.”

The three-way partnership works well.

“Jon, who is based in Boston, comes back to Cork three or four times a year in normal circumstances,” says Seanie.

“He brings new ideas and he looks at the business with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s like a working holiday for him when he comes home!”

Seanie says getting involved with his childhood friends to go into business together was a good move.

“It was a good decision,” says Seanie. “I have no regrets.”

Is he ever under pressure work-wise?

“I don’t do pressure,” says Seanie.

“My staff are top-notch so I’m never under pressure.”

What traits does a good publican need to have?

“He or she needs a good business head,” says Seanie.

“And they need to understand where the trends and the direction of the business is going. They need to engage and be friendly with the customers. Being a people-person really helps. And ‘please’ and ‘thank- you’ goes a long way.”

Seanie likes his occupation.

“It never feels like going to work in the morning,” he says.

“There are always different challenges, it’s always busy and it is very rewarding.

“And of course getting the work/life balance is important too.”

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