Walking into O’Connell’s pub in Galway, you would be forgiven for thinking you have entered into a time warp. Boasting all original features including tiled floors, antique lighting, stained glass windows, solid wooden seating and an authentic pressed tin ornate ceiling in the main bar, O’Connell’s sets itself apart from other Galway pubs. The ceiling is dating from 1862 and has a preservation order because it is the only one left on this side of the Shannon. According to current owner Patrick Lanigan, it is valued at €1 million. The bar itself is third oldest pub in Galway and yet very different to the others.
When asked if the recession has impacted on business the answer is surpising.
“I’ve never been busier. We’re improving year on year and it’s all because of the beer garden”.
O’Connell’s appears to be one of the few pubs to see improved sales during a time when pub closures and staff redundancies are rife. This is partly due to Galway being a popular tourist destination for both foreign and indigenous folk, and also because of events such as the Galway races, the Galway Arts festival, and the Volvo Ocean Race. Currently the bar has fourteen staff.
Once a pub and B&B run by Maureen O’Connell, it was sold off after her death in curious circumstances. With no children of her own, Maureen left the pub to charities, specifically St. Vincent de Paul. In 2006, it sold for the expensive price tag of €14 million, €7million of which went to St.Vincent de Paul - the rest divided among other charities, legal fees and family. It only went on sale eight years after her death due to the discovery of two contradictory wills and legal battles.
Originally the pub consisted of just the front main bar, with Maureen taking up residence in the back rooms. These rooms have now been converted into smaller snugs - featuring many a treasured find from the building when taken over by the Patrick Lanigan and his partner in 2006.
When converting the pub, Patrick discovered the old cash registers, ornate furniture and much more in a hidden back room and decided to display them around the pub. The benches were custom built in the back bar where you can save yourself the walk to the main bar by ordering through a hatch. There is an overwhelmingly relaxed atmosphere about the place, whether you sit by the original old range stove-which used to heat the entire building but now serves as a place to rest your pint, or engage in conversation with Casey-the golden retriever that follows Patrick wherever he goes. This is a dog friendly bar, as Patrick himself says. “Everyone’s dog is welcome. I couldn’t say no. They kind of come in and hang out at the beer garden”.
The most impressive area of O’Connell’s however, is the spacious beer garden, featuring an outdoor bar and wall murals set to look like a village street. One door hosts a function room but is a kitchen during the Galway races. There is food catering available from the neighbouring Foster Court Hotel, “high end, low end, whatever the customers want” says Patrick. They host barbeques every Friday and Saturday and Bacardi run a garden games night with giant Jenga and Operation for prizes. Despite its success Patrick still has plans for expansion with a “secret beer garden to make the most out of it...and we’ll probably do upstairs, we’re just waiting on leases. We’ll do the next floor up”.
The building stretches up four floors with large rooms once hosting the B&B. The plans for expansion could be truly amazing. Four floors of quirky pub rooms and they plan to keep as much of the original features as possible.
O’Connells will be the first pub in Galway to hand-pump English Ale while already they have Guinness, Smithwicks, Pilsner, Paulaner, and Tiger on tap. A Guinness will set you back €3.80, a lager €3.50, €4.80 for a long neck, while wine is standard at €5. €6 will get you a short and soda, with some on special for €5. The clientele, Patrick says “are locals, tourists in the summer but it ranges from 25-45, solicitors and bankers on a Friday, average Joe-soaps Saturday to Thursday. Everybody; a nice congenial mix.” They have also been adopted as the Connaught Rugby Supporters club.
Whether you are local or a visitor the staff and the quirky warm atmosphere O’Connell’s will definitely charm you.
This article first appeared in Hospitality Ireland.