From firefighter to bar owner in West Cork

CHRIS DUNNE catches up with Paul Foley, owner of Mick Finns in Clonakilty, to talk about the challenges of the past few years
From firefighter to bar owner in West Cork

Paul Foley, publican, in Mick Finns Bar, Clonakilty.

“MICK Finn’s Bar is a traditional, relaxed Irish bar in all aspects,” says owner Paul Foley.

“ We would be a very friendly welcoming venue, over three floors, open seven days a week, serving food 12-8 daily,” he adds.

Where did the name Mick Finn’s come from?

“It comes from a Clonakilty legend himself, Mick Finn, who togged out in the green and red for many years, winning county titles and captaining Clonakilty senior footballers,” says Paul, who features in The Bar Stool series.

“Even though it has changed hands down through the years, the name has remained steady over the door.”

There’s a lot going on at Mick Finns.

“Sports would be a big aspect of our bar, with numerous darts teams, pool team, supporters groups, and eight screens for viewing all sports from GAA, soccer, rugby, Formula 1, boxing, etc,” says Paul.

Paul Foley, publican, at Mick Finn's Bar, Clonakilty.
Paul Foley, publican, at Mick Finn's Bar, Clonakilty.

“While remaining as neutral as possible, we would have a large following of Liverpool fans, who just love to enjoy the craic and support their team. Friendly banter between other sets of fans is par for the course here and you can leave your feelings outside if you’re not up for the craic in big games.

“We regularly travel to Anfield for matches and had seven trips in the last season to various, league, cup and European matches. In my own opinion, nothing beats the atmosphere of being there.”

Covid had a ripple effect on activities in the bar.

“Darts and pool have suffered since Covid and are very slow to return to the once height they reached as an integral part of socialising and business.

“I am involved in the Mid West Darts committee and this year, trying to finish old leagues curtailed during restrictions was problematic. We have lost maybe 20% of teams, venues, etc, some teams are struggling to find venues to play in as the nature of bars has changed drastically for a lot of operators since pre-Covid. There will be a balance in time and growth will return to bar sports in the future.”

How is the food trade faring?

“Food trade and outside catering will be a long time recovering; it can vary from towns to cities. Working from home took huge numbers of people out of cities and office areas, which has seen numerous eateries struggle and close in some instance. People just got used to making lunch, bringing it with them, because they had to,” says Paul.

“Footfall is down massively as less people are walking past outlets. Speaking to a coffee vendor recently, they said big city areas are down 50%. 

"Outside catering was great when we had to, but it is Ireland we live in, weather can be cruel, politics slows any great development, and space is short for a lot of venues.”

Paul Foley, publican, in Mick Finn's Bar, Clonakilty.
Paul Foley, publican, in Mick Finn's Bar, Clonakilty.

Was lockdown tough?

“Lockdown was tough, no point in saying otherwise, the restrictions imposed on us were ridiculous,” says Paul.

“Doing all you can to abide by them, and keep your customers, staff and family safe, was a stressful period, made worse by those who didn’t care and completely flaunted the guidelines. Big divides were created between publicans in various towns. Nobody was right or wrong, but the policing of any guidelines was non-existent.

“I guess I am lucky to have a strong team which worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. We opened and created as a safe an environment as we could at every opportunity we were allowed. 

"I would like to think our customers appreciated our efforts and can look back understanding we did our best at ever chance.

“While Covid is still among us, I feel we are finally moving forward and, fingers crossed, the future will see steady recovery.

“Personally, I was lucky, I had a lot of hobbies that allowed me keep busy and active and pass the time.”

Finn’s, like most pubs, has the usual suspects.

“A number of characters pass through our doors. One of our staff, Ger Smiler O’Sullivan, was around a long time before me and he still works one night a week, he is well known, well liked, always smiling, and always full of information about everything going on in the locality. If there was something happened Ger didn’t know about, then it just didn’t happen.

“Eleven years in Finn’s, ‘Pops’ as he is known to us all, is the kindest, friendliest customer you could ever wish to have, a living legend is how best to describe him, he would be known and loved by everyone in every pub, a real gent of Clonakilty. A creamy pint of Murphy’s is his chosen drink and he always has a story to tell and keeps the staff laughing and entertained with his witty one-liners. Every single birthday, Pops arrives with flowers or chocolates for the staff. He really is just the best.”

Some characters are legendary.

“Two real local legends that epitomise the banter in Mick Finn’s, Mr Tim Murnane, an avid Liverpool fan, and Ronan Archibald, a die- hard Man United fan. 

"These guys enjoy the craic to the fullest, slagging and winding each other up, but both are very well respected in Clonakilty, both can belt out a few tunes and get a crowd going in seconds, it really is just about the craic.

“Pat Harte a great friend of Tim’s, never misses a Liverpool match, is a go-to guy for anything, he is a gentleman who helps at every opportunity no matter what the problem.

“Block, Sutty, Seamus, all real sound guys, who are not just customers but friends to Mick Finn’s.

“I am blessed with the staff I have working in Mick Finn’s. I can honestly say I never needed to recruit throughout this pandemic and recovery from Covid,” says Paul.

“I could always do with one more chef to add to our team, but we manage. We create a friendly atmosphere of work hard and enjoy life at the same time.

Paul Foley, publican, in Mick Finn's Bar, Clonakilty.
Paul Foley, publican, in Mick Finn's Bar, Clonakilty.

“Many staff who have moved on are always available to help out if we ever need them. We have a good mix of senior experienced staff and others willing to learn and develop in the trade. The characters and regulars mentioned above are also like private bodyguards to the staff, the staff always feel safe, and relaxed, and plenty of watchful eyes mind the pub as much as the staff do. Mick Finn’s is a friendly, safe local, with a fun, relaxed atmosphere.

Paul is very familiar with the hospitality business.

“The business for me is something I enjoy,” he says.

“Since I was 18, I have worked in hospitality, so 24 years at this stage. An interesting fact, I run a pub but don’t drink, never tasted a drop in my life, that in itself is a very interesting over the counter chat regularly, especially with foreign tourists who can’t seem to comprehend a man running a pub in Ireland doesn’t drink.

“From an early age, I knew I didn’t want a desk job, was active, enjoyed sports and the outdoors, and began working in pubs while in college, studying Business Studies Recreation & Leisure Management.

“I became a fireman at 21 in Ballincollig and served for 12 very enjoyable years before opening Mick Finn’s and moving to the beautiful West Cork.

“I play darts on the pub team, admittedly poorly, and serve on the Mid West Committee, I play with the pool team, slightly better than darts, enjoy the Liverpool group of lads, and travel regularly over to matches.

“I am heavily involved with Clonakilty Golf Club on the Management Committee and am Chairman of the West Cork Vintners Golf Society of 2022.

“I am a very social person as you can see by the activities I’m involved in. I do enjoy the relaxed easy0going lifestyle of a nice, friendly local bar, but behind all that there is a serious amount of work which makes for many long days, the perception of sitting at the bar watching a match with the lads isn’t at all how a day really goes, but I enjoy the business, Mick Finn’s and West Cork.”

It’s a busy place.

“Entertainment is regular, we show all live sports, we have regular DJs and bands, always looking for more musical talent to try in our venue, if a musician or band reads this article, give us a bell, we will try get you a gig and see how it goes.”

Has anyone famous ever pass through the doors of Mick Finn’s?

“To answer your question, here in Mick Finn’s, famous or not, you are treated the same, we don’t make a fuss or big deal, famous people want to enjoy a pint and the craic as well,” says Paul.

“Over the years many famous hurling, football, and camogie players passed through our doors, rugby legends, Irish internationals, Liverpool legends, Irish actors and musicians all passed through.

“I’m not really one for name dropping, sorry, but I will say many of our own locals would be famous West Cork people in their own right.”

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