Cork family has run bar for over 200 years

CHRIS DUNNE chats to the owners of Buckley’s Bar in Whitechurch, which has been in the same family for 200 years
Cork family has run bar for over 200 years

John and Catherine Buckley, owners of Buckley's Bar, Whitechurch, with some members of their family and some of the staff. Pictures Denis Minihane.

BUCKLEY’S bar in Whitechurch has been in the family for over 200 years. John and Catherine Buckley and their children continue the legacy.

Their daughter Sadhbh organises the advertising of events through social media from Copenhagen while on Erasmus, while their other children, Jack, Kate and David work behind the bar and serve tables.

“Rachael, our eight-year-old, is a dab hand at serving herself and her friends minerals and crisps at every opportunity!” says John, who features in The Bar Stool series.

“In addition, we have a fantastic team of local staff who are brilliant.

John and Catherine Buckley, owners, in the renovated lounge. Picture: Denis Minihane.
John and Catherine Buckley, owners, in the renovated lounge. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“We never advertised for staff but hired all through word of mouth. Most of the staff are young in school or in college, including Charlie and Sheena Buckley, who are a cousin and niece of John’s,” says Catherine.

“Most had no bar experience, but all have a great attitude to learning, taking instruction, have a magnificent work etiquette, are versatile, obliging, work well as a team, and above all are great with the customers. We are blessed to have them.”

Things are back to normal at Buckley’s after the pandemic.

“The buzz and craic are mighty, especially now that the counter seating is back, and the masks are off,” says Catherine.

“Buckley’s is not short-changed in the character department with our clientele and our staff alike, especially our head bar person, Mary O’Shea, who brings passion, compassion and an enthusiasm for people, runs a tight ship and is like a mother to all the staff and customers alike,” says Catherine.

Who frequents the friendly bar?

“Our clientele is varied (and of all ages - which is great) but united in their love of a quality pint and the friendly banter,” says John.

“We love the bar because of the interactions we have with our clients, everyone has an opinion, or a story, and it is lovely to hear their take on events or current affairs.

Three of the staff members (from left) Sean and Joe Dennehy and David Buckley at the pool table.
Three of the staff members (from left) Sean and Joe Dennehy and David Buckley at the pool table.

“The banter between the customers themselves and the staff can be simultaneously heated and hilarious.

“During the busy times, the adrenaline is flowing, but there’s always time for a friendly greeting and a smile!”

Buckley’s has an ideal outside area for its patrons.

“Our outside area, ‘THE VENU’, is heated with mood lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system and is a safe haven for the youth and the not so youthful!” says John laughing.

“It hosts music bingo/discos on Friday nights with DJ Redzer. Saturday features live music, with both local artists including Ultraviolets, Dillon Brickley and Julie Buckley, also we have incredible artists across all of Cork county including Bermuda CC, Gerard Ahern, One of Us, Sarah Lou and Ron Fitz, to name but a few.

“There is a food truck on site - Food Dudes - every Saturday night and it serve a fresh delicious menu every Saturday and on party nights. We offer different party packages suitable for all occasions, including music and catering,” says John.

“We are delighted to host our local sporting and social clubs, including Whitechurch GAA and Macra na Fermie, Blue Hat Drama and Whitechurch Tennis Club and hunting clubs.”

Tom Buckley relaxing in his chair in the bar. Picture Denis Minihane.
Tom Buckley relaxing in his chair in the bar. Picture Denis Minihane.

John fills me in on some of the history of Buckley’s.

“It is a landmark in Whitechurch, established in the mid-1800s. Everyone in Whitechurch and further afield hold great memories of drinking in Buckley’s down through the ages.

“The pub has always occupied a special place in the life of the community. It provided a place to meet, to swap stories and exchange gossip. 

"It provided a place of warmth, where one could be sure of a good fire,” says John.

“Cards were a favourite pastime, and games of 45 could be played any night, but coming up to Christmas, monster 45 turkey drives were organised. The GAA for a number of years relied on these drives for fund-raising, and huge crowds would converge on the old Buckley’s bar. Today the GAA continue to fundraise, and the 45 drives are still a tradition at Christmas time in Buckley’s.

“Throughout the ages, there has been great joy and celebrations held here, and some wonderful memories including New Year’s Eve parties, culminating in the Millennium Celebration, John A Mulcahy’s victory of World Mastermind in 1979, the first ever World Bowling championship in 1985, and the annual Holy Communion Teas organised by my mother, Rose Buckley.”

Staff members (from left) Mary O'Shea, Kate Buckley, David Buckley, Sean and Joe Dennehy and Sheena Buckley in the outdoor area.
Staff members (from left) Mary O'Shea, Kate Buckley, David Buckley, Sean and Joe Dennehy and Sheena Buckley in the outdoor area.

Buckley’s bar enjoys a great legacy.

“My parents were John and Rose Buckley, Rose was a Collins from Wilton, a city girl, but loved the countryside and the people of Whitechurch,” says John.

“Before the local community centre was built, Rose hosted all the communicans and their families to tea and cakes after the ceremony in the pub. She always went out of her way to welcome newcomers to Whitechurch, remembering that she once was an outsider, she was renowned for being a kind person who had great faith and always lit candles and said prayers for the community.

“Everyone loved Rose in the pub as she was incredibly positive and life-giving.

“John Snr was both a dairy farmer and a publican, it’s difficult to know which he loved most, but he was wonderfully jovial, an entertainer and an incredible singer, and created a great friendly atmosphere in the pub,” says John. “He loved the sing songs, and had his signature bodhran and his bull horn to announce the start of a sing song or closing time.

“John took special pride in having the brass bar rail sparkling each morning.

“Rose and John were a wonderful team, they worked incredibly hard, put the community first, and served them behind the bar, giving them good cheer and a fantastic pint. They both loved working in the pub and meeting and chatting with customers, they had a huge interest in everyone and were always there to help anyone in need.”

Jack Buckley and Mary O'Shea serving pints in Buckley's Bar.
Jack Buckley and Mary O'Shea serving pints in Buckley's Bar.

Tom, John’s uncle, who is now 85, was a milkman, and also worked in the bar throughout his lifetime. Today he continues to visit the bar every weekend and takes up pride of place in his mother’s chair in front of the coal fire.

Tom is the President of Whitechurch GAA and is their main fundraiser for their annual Christmas draw.

He knows all the customers and has a huge interest in knowing all the news, he has his finger on the pulse and everyone is surprised at what he knows and from where - but he never reveals his sources!

Covid and the pub closures never stopped Tom. A large sign was put up on his wall to ‘Say Hello to Tom’ through the window and people did stop, but Tom always went to the door to greet the caller in person.

PLANNING AHEAD

Catherine said: “We have recently introduced a pool table, dart and ring boards, and hope to have plenty of local competitions. We are currently redecorating the lounge area with the help of interior designer Maura Hickey of Interior Design to cater for parties and occasions.

“For the summer, we plan to open a beer garden with an outside bar and cocktail area featuring outdoor entertainment, live bands and DJs, which will be great to host events.”

The distinct sections of the lounge, bar and outside VENUE offer a completely distinct experience for everyone to find a place to call home.

“We at Buckley’s hope to evolve with our clientele’s expectations and demographic in the months and years to come,” says John.

Mary O'Shea, head bar person, in the bar.
Mary O'Shea, head bar person, in the bar.

“As a family, we couldn’t survive without the incredible support of the Buckley’s team, headed by Mary O’ Shea, we are incredibly grateful to our families, friends and the Whitechurch community professionals, which have helped, advised, and stepped in to fill the gaps when we weren’t able. It’s all good.”

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