Characters of Cork: Mark is raising the bar for hospitality

Roisin Burke talks to The Shelbourne bar’s Mark Lonergan about his career in the hospitality industry and the characteristics he believes are key to being a great barman.
Characters of Cork: Mark is raising the bar for hospitality

Mark Lonergan with his dog Charlie at Shandon. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

“What gets measured gets done,” says whiskey connoisseur and manager of The Shelbourne bar Mark Lonergan, offering The Echo the best piece of advice he has received in his 33 years.

Originally from Tipperary, the front-of-house expert, who is known for his moustache, has been resident in Cork since 2016 when he moved to the Rebel County for college.

“The moustache started as a joke a few years ago,” he says.

“I just thought it would be hilarious. Then it became a thing. I became recognisable around the place. I was somewhere in Dublin and someone said to me, ‘oh you work in the Shelbourne in Cork’ and the same thing happened somewhere else and then I realised it was the moustache and it became synonymous with the Shelbourne.”

After a turnstile of courses at St John’s College, University College Cork, and Munster Technological University, where he participated in a number of IT and computer- focused studies, Mark got himself a job at The Shelbourne bar and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I started in The Shelbourne and was going to go work there for a year and go back to college and that was 11 years ago,” he says.

“I started, funnily enough, the day after the all-Ireland final in 2010. I’m not a GAA fan but I remember Tipperary beat Kilkenny. I’ve zero interest in the GAA, but I remember that.”

Chatting about his work, Mark says he enjoys people-watching and has a knack for sizing up someone the minute they come through the door.

“I would say I get a read of people straight away, just from being around people. I’m a suspicious person anyway.”

While Mark is mad about his job and has a long-established career in hospitality spanning two decades, he says he doesn’t regret his stint in academia, of which, he told The Echo, he has many fond memories.

“I didn’t really apply myself in college — the social life was too good. I was good in school, but the second I got the freedom of college I went for it,” he says. 

Mark, who is married to the love of his life, Siobhan Ward, whom he met during his college years, has now settled in Cork, after buying a home in the city six years ago.

Mark Lonergan wirh his dog Charlie at Shandon. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Mark Lonergan wirh his dog Charlie at Shandon. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

“We met in college, we fell into the same circle of friends, we started going out in 2010,” he says.

“We got married twice — we did a registry office and a humanist service with friends and family at St Peter’s Church on North Main Street on December 29. It made sense with work — it was easy to take January off.”

The pair have an ageing border collie, Charlie Kelly, which they “rescued” from a Tipperary farm belonging to a family member. “She was on my aunt’s farm up in Emly,” says Mark.

“She was an outdoor dog, but she was too soft. We were up there one day and she gave Siobhan the paw and Siobhan wasn’t really into dogs, but she was smitten and Charlie arrived down to us a few weeks later.”

A man with a dark sense of humour who enjoys the shock value of his words, Mark said a life lesson he learned the hard way was not to say the first thing that comes into his head.

“I would have a very dark sense of humour,” he says. “I get some very funny thoughts but I have gotten better at saying them afterwards!”

Outlining the characteristics of a good barman, Mark gives a list including being quickwitted, having impeccable manners, a healthy level of confidence, and a keen eye for spotting problems before they escalate.

“To be able to see a problem, to see someone walk in, and say hello with eye contact, simple as that.

“The ability to be able walk over to a table and talk to someone.”

After almost 20 years working in hospitality, Mark says his managerial style is fair and measured.

“Never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. We have a really good team and I don’t think I have ever asked someone to do something I wouldn’t get stuck into,” he says.

An accomplished self-taught guitarist, Mark enjoys playing acoustic classics from artists such as The Pixies and Damien Rice.

“I have a few acoustic guitars. I picked it up when I was 14. I couldn’t do lessons,” he says. “I couldn’t do it. They were teaching me music theory and it didn’t make sense to me. So I probably play the guitar wrong, but it works for me.”

Describing himself as an “easy breezy type of guy”, Mark said his life motto is “it’ll all be grand”.

“I’m a different person outside work, more chilled. My personality is overemphasised for the job. I like it, as long as I get to turn it off. It can be a bit showbizzy at times.”

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