Our family has run this Cork pub for almost 100 years

As CHRIS DUNNE continues her series on Cork’s pubs, she heads to the suburb of Ballincollig, to Mary O’Connell’s pub
Our family has run this Cork pub for almost 100 years

John Stevenson outside the family bar, Mary O'Connell's, Ballincollig. Pictures: Denis Minihane

FRIENDLY and inviting, Mary O’s in Ballincollig, sandwiched between SuperValu and the post office, is a pub full of charm and character, rich in history and tradition.

“I like to think the pub is warm and welcoming,” says owner John Stevenson, who features in our The Bar Stool series.

“Mary O’Connell's has been a family run pub in the heart of Ballincollig village since 1924. Indeed, we can see from the deeds the building is listed as a pub since as far back as 1701, previous to that the writing is illegible.

“My grandfather’s sister, Joan, was the first of the O’Connell clan here in 1924. Her sister Kitt, and Jim, ’the hunchback’, joined her here in helping out. Joan passed away in 1942 and the others in 1949. That was the year my grandparents Jack O’Connell and Mary Murphy wed and took over the running of the business.”

Ballincollig has changed a lot over the years.

“Ballincollig was a very small place then-there was only one car in the village! Every house was occupied with a family and everybody knew each other,” says John.

John Stevenson with his mother Joan and his son Jacob outside the family bar, Mary O'Connell's, Ballincollig. Pictures: Denis Minihane.
John Stevenson with his mother Joan and his son Jacob outside the family bar, Mary O'Connell's, Ballincollig. Pictures: Denis Minihane.

“In comparison with today - it’s all commercial units - in fact, we are the only family left resident in the original village.

“My wife Joyann and I live on the premises with our four-year-old son Jacob, (J.J.) he’s at the centre of it all and has the publican’s charm already with a word for everyone!

“Today, we work with 15 staff ranging in age from 18 to 76, like the customer base, a great mix of enthusiasm and experience. I am very proud of our team here,” says John.

“It makes it so much easier having good help around you.”

John’s staff have had a long innings.

“Danny Garrett has 46 years work unbroken here - not many can say that - and still entertains anybody who comes in the door!” says John.

“My mother Joan, one of four siblings born into the pub, is the current proprietress. She has contributed even more to the place and has a passion for the trade that’s unparalleled! She loves nothing more than a good sing-song and a chat or a story with both the regulars and visitors alike.

“Added to that is my dad, Sam Stevenson, who has developed and driven the business enthusiastically to make it what it is today, adding plenty of fun and laughs along the way! Between them all, they have created an authentic pub that is a really great place to work and socialise,” says John.

O’Connells has been revamped over the years.

“We did a huge renovation and extension at the turn of the century, almost doubling in size. It was a massive undertaking and took bravery and a commitment to the long term viability of the house,” says John.

“The world here never stops. It has something for everyone, live music, eight large TVs with an emphasis on sport, matches, racing and golf.

“We welcome teams and their supporters alike to discuss every shot and score! Also, on any given day one could see cards, dominoes, pool and even chess being enjoyed.

“Over the years, we have had dogs both coursing and greyhounds, and always live groups coming from the track with their stories.

“We have a very successful golf society, and we sponsor and enjoy links to lots of sports clubs locally, including the basketball club, the rugby club and many soccer teams over the years.

“In fact, going back prior to when the Ballincollig GAA got its now fantastic facilities, the teams used to tog off here and run down to play matches, before returning for milk and cake afterwards. A real community hub!

“Recently, we energetically hosted a Cheltenham Buster with 133 entries - which must be one of the biggest in Cork. It gives us and many customers tremendous excitement for the few days!”

What is a typical day like in O’Connells?

“Morning time pints, reading the paper, doing the various crosswords, and debating the answers, while listening to gold music on the wireless describes a typical morning in the bar. The lounge, however, has a livelier buzz as breakfast plates clink and coffee cups chime as people busy themselves and interact,” says John.

“Then the lunchtime rush and respect for the news as it is put on the TV !”

John Stevenson with his son Jacob in the family bar.
John Stevenson with his son Jacob in the family bar.

Business is brisk.

“ All this before the after-work club, an eclectic mix of people from all walks, enjoy themselves and a wind down maybe after their day, sampling a cool, crisp pint or a glass of wine, and getting the local gossip and catching up on the day’s progress!

“The night time trade is full of individual wit and it’s these people make the pub what it is. Whether it’s to get the news or just company ,we have managed to keep a lot of the characteristics of the traditional local, and maintain the village ethos.”

The cráic is good.

“I’ve had the pleasure of drinking my tears as customers tell stories about each other and to each other,” says John.

“I often shake my head in amazement of the lack of truth too - but that’s all part of what makes it so special, the not knowing, the second guessing, and the ball-hopping, which has to be encouraged.

“I love hearing about old Ballincollig and the goings on. How it was then and the tight knit community, in a place I’m proud to call home, Ballincollig and it’s people are second to nowhere.”

What does John like about the trade?

“I love the variety of the business,” says John.

“The getting to know people and the fast pace of the industry. I am a proud member of the family and the pub. I enjoy the different challenges each season brings and I love being part of a team - everybody has an important part to play.

“Guiding and encouraging the staff along in the right direction is my passion.

“I thrive on the banter and the camaraderie in this unique house I call home. It has flexibility and a great social aspect. You are in the middle of it all and no two weeks are ever the same.”

John Stevenson and his mother Joan behind the bar.
John Stevenson and his mother Joan behind the bar.

Business is continuing like it always did.

“Since the reopening we are taking nothing for granted,” says John.

“Every day, someone or something has given me a reason to smile - now that’s a great place to work.

“We appreciate our customers, both individually and collectively, and try to invest consistently to keep the place as well as they deserve.

“We are always willing to try new ideas and recently added a cocktail menu to our generous wine and draught beer selection. In a constantly evolving trade, it’s as exciting a time as ever to be here. Our staff are as versatile as the customer base ranging in age from 18-76… although we have one or two customers who don’t deny being older!”

A sing-song often livens the place up.

“In fact, one man, Tommy Holmes, never turns down the invite to sing with the live music acts and is as fresh as the spring even at 90-plus!! What a man!”

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