THE pub trade is in Con Dennehy’s blood.
“I’m in the trade since I was a toddler, around 1957,” he says.
“It’s like the circus; you have to be born into it!”
One of Cork’s best known bar owners, Con is second generation in the trade and is long associated with Dennehy’s Bar on Cornmarket Street. It was run by his father John, and later on, by his mother, Maura.
Con took over ownership of The Venue Bar in Cork’s suburban Ballintemple with his business partner, Kate Tierney, in 2013.
“We like being part of the community here,” says Con, who is a former county chairman of the Vintner’s Federation of Ireland.
The Venue is a traditional bar for locals with a larger section for TV and sports.
Con has great memories of growing up in the pub trade in the Coal Quay.
“I grew up over the pub in Cornmarket Street,” he says.
“There was a great community around the Coal Quay district. You had Kyrl’s Quay, where the multi-storey car park is now, you had lane- ways like Basket Lane and Cockpit Lane. Portney’s Lane is still there.”
The Coal Quay was a hive of activity.
“All our neighbours dealt on the Coal Quay,” says Con.
“It was a market place where market gardeners came to sell their produce on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They were the market days and the market gardeners came from Friar’s Walk, Turners Cross, where CUH is now, and from Ballinlough and Blackrock. I remember the fruit and vegetables for sale on the footpath along the Coal Quay.”
It was a busy spot.
“Shopkeepers came to buy their produce,” recalls Con.
“That was before the supermarkets came along.”
Dennehy’s had a brisk trade.
“The shopkeepers came into the pub to do the deal for their purchases. We had an early morning licence; so had the Roundy House and other pubs in the area had too.
“The deals were done in the pubs, and the money was exchanged over a drink. The business was conducted and the deal was done in the pub. It was happening in front of you.”
Con was an early riser.
“When I was 12 or 13, I used open the pub at 7am,” he says.
“My mother arrived around 8.30am to let me go to school. I went to Pres in the Mardyke.”
Con loved the atmosphere in Cornmarket Street. “I loved the buzz in the street,” he says.
“Our neighbours were our friends. It was a great place to grow up. The people were the salt of the earth.”
Con was kept busy.
“After school, I’d work away stocking shelves and collecting glasses. Not many lads were doing what I was doing. I did it, whether I liked it or not!”
Con was always connected to the pub.
“I worked in the city council for 30 years and in the pub too,” he says.
“My dad died in 1967 and my mother lived to be 99. She died in 2012. She always lived over the pub until she spent the last few years of her life in a nursing home.”
Things changed over time.
“The area changed over the years with the neighbours moving to corporation estates,” says Con.
“A lot of housing in the area was demolished. Kyrl’s Quay was gone and Cockpit Lane was gone. A lot of people moved to Gurranabraher and Ballyphehane. Our customers in the pub then were people who came to town in the evening to go to the cinema or to the Opera House. People who worked in offices and shops in the city came in for a drink. We always had a nice bunch of regulars.” Con always liked the business he was born into.
“I like everything about the pub trade,” says Con.
“It’s a people thing where you do the chatting, the slagging, the joking.”
He is an old hand at the trade.
“To the untrained eye, experienced publicans make it look easy,” says Con.
“They have no drink but they can still enjoy the cráic and the banter. I always envied that. I still do. There are men and women working inside the bar for years and they make it look effortless. They have the banter, which is intrinsic in the bar business. People expect to enjoy themselves in the pub and forget any troubles or worries they may have.”
Con’s pub, The Venue, is home-from-home for him.
“It is coming back into the community again,” he says.
“We’ve managed nicely to become part of the community. The people here are very good. It’s like going back to my childhood again with the neighbourly ambience. You know who’s going to come in at what time, who they’ll talk to, what about, etc. We missed all that during the pandemic. It’s great to be back to it now.”
The Venue is a great local.
“All our staff are local,” says Con. “The 10 or 12 of them are all college kids; they are great kids. After lockdown and the pandemic, all our regular staff came back to work. Former members of staff went to college and they are now in high finance jobs in London and New York. They became successful.”
What did Con do during lockdown?
“I tore my hair out!” he admits. “Or what’s left of it!”
The locals missed going to The Venue when it had to close.
“The locals felt left out,” says Con.
“The bar is like their front room. It was a sad time.”
They came back to familiar territory.
“Some of the locals feel happiest in the bar or at their familiar spot at the counter,” says Con.
“We kept in contact with a lot of the locals by phone, or we met in the street. We even shopped for some of them! Whatever we could do; we did.”
Con often bumped into pals when he was out and about.
“One individual I met said, ‘God, Con, I was at home talking to the pictures on the wall!’”
The publican worked hard at keeping the locals happy.
“We opened when we could and we had an outside place to serve drinks,” says Con.
“If we could stay open at all, we did. There was no real turn-over; we wanted to look after those who looked after us. Now we are back full swing building back up again.
“Some customers are still a bit iffy but we reassure them we have space and an airy pub. We facilitate people every way we can.”
Con has a long innings with the pub trade.
“To this day, I still love it,” he says.
“I hope I never have to leave it. Katie does her own part; she worked in construction and administration. She’s as good as me.
“I’m delighted I’ve such a long innings in the pub trade. I’m not going anywhere for a while yet. I’ll go out in a box; I love the pub trade so much.”
Con is looking forward to a great summer with visitors flocking to Leeside.
“We have Ed Sheeran, Elton John, Westlife and the Marquee all happening,” says Con.
“We’ll be welcoming all our GAA fans who are brilliant. They come from Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford; it’ll be brilliant to have them back again. The Venue is a go-to pub for all the counties. We’re hoping to have Novecento Pizzas up and running again as well.”
Con, who was also in the auctioneering business for several years, says his first love is the pub.
“I was always involved in the pub,” he says. “It is my first love. I was born into it.”
What makes a good publican?
“Someone who is good to deal with people and someone who is adaptable.”
Con fits the bill.
“It came easy to me. I knew nothing else,” he concludes.