Characters of Cork: Pat O'Connell loves working at bustling market

Pat O’Connell talks to Roisin Burke about life in the heart of Cork’s bustling English Market and getting away from it all at Garryvoe.
Characters of Cork: Pat O'Connell loves working at bustling market

Pat O'Connell in the Farmgate Café, English Market, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

KNOWN for his charismatic smile and his fresh fish, Pat O’Connell is almost as integral to Cork as the English Market where he has worked since the age of six.

“My mother opened in 1962, babysitters were in a short supply in those days!”

Originally from Ballyphehane and living near Lover’s Walk, the 64-year-old told The Echo about his draw to East Cork where he met his wife Margaret.

“We got to Garryvoe every weekend, we’ve been going there 40 odd years, that’s where we met! They had a caravan down there and we had a caravan down there aswell.”

A family business 

Cork’s best-known fishmonger, Pat runs a bustling business with his younger brother Paul, alongside Paul’s two sons Seán and Eoin and Pat’s daughter Emma.

Pat O'Connell at Grand Parade, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Pat O'Connell at Grand Parade, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

“Eoin runs the Bishopstown shop and Seán runs the smokehouse in Bandon. You can see why I’m busy!”

A positive soul, Pat said something he has learned over the years is to be kind to everyone and always remember anyone could be dealing with something you know nothing about.

“It’s doesn’t cost anything to be nice to someone. Everyone can be grumpy now and again, you can’t hold it against them. I understand a lot of people have a lot of things to put up with that other people don’t see. Treat everyone with the same respect you would expect yourself.”

With many decades of hard work behind him, Pat said he is proud of many things, such as building up the business and meeting the Queen when she visited the English Market in 2011, but on a personal level, he said his family make him very proud.

“Family is my proudest achievement, I’m very proud of my two girls, and grandchildren. Meeting the Queen is well up there, but we raised two well balanced girls, both married and happy and I think that is everything really in life.”

A retreat from city life 

A big fan of Garryvoe, his haven of retreat from the busy city life, Pat spends most of his weekends in a mobile home in the area and enjoys nothing more than a Sunday morning stroll on the beach.

“Chill, relax, read a book, read a magazine, go for a cycle, it’s only 30 miles away but you feel a million miles away for us. I love walking the beach on a Sunday morning, it’s fabulous. There are a lot of close friends in the caravan park, you have second and third generation in the caravan park, so it’s a real home from home. It’s really really nice.”

Dedicated to his business, Pat said he enjoys his work.

“I like being busy, I suppose it is something that we inherited from our mother.”

Pat believes the English Market has managed to retain a lot of the traditional elements of character and style that make it unique.

“Where I work, we still value the old values. It's still about the customer and having a chat, don’t come into the market if you can’t take a slagging! We are not just about the product even though we are very proud of our product.”

Not without regrets, Pat said he was a terror for working too hard in his younger years.

“I probably worked too hard when I was younger, but that’s the business it takes a lot of time. It doesn’t end at 6pm, you know, you’ve got to go chasing fish after that and I suppose that’s one of my regrets that when the kids were younger I worked too hard, but then you don’t get the lifestyle if you don’t work hard.

“The only other regret was my mother wasn’t there to meet the Queen. She never went beyond primary school, but she was one hell of a business woman. I think to have met the Queen would have been the icing on the cake for her, but then, could I have handled two Queens on the day? I don’t know!”

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