Cork town had 24 pubs... now there are just six

CHRIS DUNNE chats to William O’Brien, the fifth generation of his family to run The Corner Bar in Skibbereen
Cork town had 24 pubs... now there are just six

William O'Brien, proprietor of the Corner Bar, Skibbereen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

THE O’Briens of the Corner Bar, in Bridge Street, Skibbereen, go back a long way “Our family is now on 5th generation being here since 1877,” says William O’Brien, who features in The Bar Stool this week.

“I have four children who are all away so it is only my wife, Valerie and I who run the show. We get in casual staff when needs be.”

William O’ Brien could write a book about the characters that frequented his bar over the years.

“There are many characters who I cannot name but there have been so many funny things over the years that if they were recorded the book would be a best seller and probably would not be believed,” says William laughing. 

William O'Brien, proprietor of the Corner Bar, Skibbereen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
William O'Brien, proprietor of the Corner Bar, Skibbereen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

“It is those fun moments that make the job enjoyable and every day brings a new challenge. It gets easier to get to work every day when you have a different experience every day.

“Our customers are varied as we have a big mix in ages and male and female.

“On Monday we have traditional Irish Music. Tuesday is the quiet day and we close on Tuesday from October to May.”

There is always something happening at the Corner Bar.

“On Wednesdays we have locals playing music. Friday brings the after- work customers. Saturday is the big night and we usually have traditional Irish music,” says William.

William with his wife Valerie, daughter Ruth and granddaughter Saoirse. Picture Dan Linehan
William with his wife Valerie, daughter Ruth and granddaughter Saoirse. Picture Dan Linehan

“On the first Friday of every month, we have a singers’ club where people get to sing one song after the invited guest. That is good fun and very popular.

“Sunday has the Road Bowling followers analysing what went wrong or right that day in the score of bowls.”

The Corner Bar enjoys a variety of customers.

“The variety of customers between locals and tourists from the local hotel makes the time fly by and we all have a story to tell.”

Serious discussions take place as well as the banter in the bar.

“The problems of the world are analysed and dissected and solved at the counter and the more that’s drank the more intelligent the drinker gets! Overall the week flies by and it makes for a rewarding job in spite of the long hours.”

William O'Brien, proprietor of the Corner Bar, Skibbereen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
William O'Brien, proprietor of the Corner Bar, Skibbereen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

The O’ Briens are looking forward to a good summer ahead.

“The summer ahead should be good as people are anxious to get back to the old ways pre Covid,” says William.

Other conflicts in the world affect trade everywhere.

“However Ukraine and inflation may upset matters as it would have been a bumper year only for that,” says William.

William, like lots of other businesses in Ireland had to close his doors during Covid and during lockdown.

“During Covid I was closed for a year and a half and although I live up over the bar I never stood in the bar in all that time which was amazing,” says William.

How did he spend his free time when he wasn’t working?

“I spent my time walking reading and catching up on all TV films on Netflix that I had missed out on for the last 40 years,” says William.

“The time flew and I got a great trial run on retirement!”

The Corner Bar is a traditional Irish pub with different nooks and crannies for people to chat and converge.

“The pub is old-world with different nooks and corners,” says William.

People make good use of the spaces in the Corner Bar.

At the counter in the Corner Bar, Skibbereen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
At the counter in the Corner Bar, Skibbereen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

“We cater for small meetings in a separate small room and have a dart board and darts team which breaks up the winter nights for people,” says William.

“In the summer we have traditional Irish music on Mondays and most Saturdays throughout the year in the way of entertainment for people to enjoy and participate.”

People can also enjoy the great outdoors and watch the world go by outside the Corner Bar on Bridge Street.

” Since Covid we are using the outside footpath where we have five tables which capture the evening sun, which is lovely,” says William.

William’s working days are manageable.

“I do not open until 4pm so it is not a long day compared to old times when it was 11am opening in the morning!”

Time changed the landscape of Skibbereen.

“There are only six pubs and two hotels in town now compared to when I got married 40 years ago there were two hotels and twenty-four pubs!”

Time changed the nature of the local pub.

“That is about the right number of pubs for the population around here as people are going to pubs less often and most pensioners who were probably 30% of my trade have not returned since Covid,” says William.

William says there is a good living to be made in the pub trade.

“There is a good future for anyone willing to work, run a good quality house and still have a life,” says William.

“When people realise this the pub and hospitality trade can bounce back and the present trend of selling and closing pubs can be reversed. Onwards and upwards; that is what I say!”

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