In October, O’Donoghue’s Public House, on College Street, Killarney, reopened with a fresh look and feel to celebrate the passing of the reins from one generation to the next. Director Gemma Ring talks us through the changes.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in December of 2021.
O’Donoghue’s is a landmark within Killarney, a second-generation business that has been at the heart of the hospitality and tourist industry for many decades. The pub has been restored and revitalised, showcasing craftsmanship throughout its interiors, including glossy dark wooden panelling, glistening marble tabletops, polished brass accents, comfy banquettes, and the golden glow of low-lit lamps. There are snugs aplenty, along with contemporary works from local artists that share the fascinating history of Killarney – and of College Street, in particular – from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
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There are also new menus featuring local suppliers and producers, including the Killarney Urban Farm – an O’Donoghue Ring Collection initiative – using herbs and garnishes harvested on site, thereby reducing food miles and offering guests the freshest produce, in a sustainable way.
Local produce and traditional recipes extend onto the drinks menu, which features many Irish beverages and spirits, including cocktails based around the original recipes that inspired the Killarney Mountain Dew and the O’Donoghue Irish Coffee.
“We have,” Gemma Ring explains, “undertaken a complete renovation of our public house, completely changing the exterior and interior – even removing the front wall of the building! We worked with master Irish craftsmen and designers to create a new public house based on old traditions, with features such as hand-carved wooden corbels and hand-carved wooden lettering on the frontage. All that remains from the original space is the bar counter, which was created by my late uncle Paddy, a gifted carpenter and joiner. The Patrick ’Paddy’ Ring counter remained, as it is very special to us as a family, and the snug beside the bar is dedicated in his honour.
“The new public house is a homage to our family heritage and the storied history of Killarney and College Street – full of character and old-world charm. Each photo and piece of art is connected to this history. We have several original pieces by renowned artist Ted Jones, who spent his later years in Killarney. Other work, such as the sketch of my late uncle and my grandmother, is by Jonathan O’Keeffe, a talented young local artist.
“Full of cosy nooks and snugs, each with a story to tell, O’Donoghue’s has a warm charisma and a family-friendly welcome. Even the food menu we created with the team is full of nostalgic memories for me and my own family, including the sherry trifle, which was the dessert that my grandmother Mai O’Donoghue served up every Christmas Day, before she passed away this year, at the wonderful age of 103. It is a privilege to use her recipe in the new O’Donoghue Public House. Other dishes, like the full Kerry mixed grill, remind me of dishes served in the Killarney Avenue Hotel – the first hotel in the collection, where I spent much of my childhood while my parents worked.”
Why have you made these changes?
We wanted to create an authentic pub, based on old ways, whilst honouring craft and tradition – a spot where locals can unwind and enjoy a creamy pint and the finest local traditional Irish musical talent. Although Covid delayed our opening, it allowed us to add more stories and detail for customers to experience. It was so important to us that we were as authentic as possible when bringing the experience to life.
Tell us the history of O’Donoghue’s so far.
The building, as a hostelry, dates back to the early 1800s, when the Slattery family began welcoming guests. Over the years, nearby premises were subsumed into the Imperial Hotel and the bar, affectionately known as ‘Mrs Slattery’s tea rooms’. The building and the street are steeped in history and tradition, and some wonderful local characters. It is also a place of sadness. The last person to be killed in the War of Independence was a waitress, Hannah Carey, who was hit by a stray RIC bullet on 11 July 1921. The hotel changed hands a number of times and was run by the Lyne family until our family purchased the property in 1989. This is the first major renovation of the O’Donoghue Public House since then, so it marks a very exciting time for us all.
How are you finding the sector at the moment?
The reopening has been much anticipated and in the pipeline for quite some time, as the renovation process began in March 2020. Much has happened since then, and many delays have made the process a challenging one. Of course, it’s been a difficult time in the hospitality sector, particularly for the traditional pub. It’s just amazing to have live music back, and the atmosphere has been brilliant, as customers enjoy the best of talent from the area.
What is the most challenging aspect right now?
Like most other industries, staffing has been a challenge, however, we are really lucky to be finally open, with a friendly and professional team led by general manager Brian Lawlor and deputy general manager Stuart Courtney. Of course, we are still limited by social distancing and restrictions, which cap our capacity. It will be a welcome day for customers and ourselves when we will be able to return fully to something like the old days, whenever that may be.
How do you think that the government has handled the crisis?
It’s been challenging for all of us, including the leaders of the country. This pandemic has been unprecedented and progressed at such a fast pace – people had to respond rapidly, without thorough forward planning. Tools like the PUP and Wage Subsidy Scheme have been positive steps towards supporting both employees and businesses in getting through the tough times.
What would you like to see happen for the sector in the next nine to 12 months?
The industry has lost much of its top talent due to the extended periods of closure and uncertainty that arose over the past year and half. I’d really like to see the sector reinvigorated with their return, as well as attracting graduates and new-hires to join us, as they embark on a long-term career in hospitality.
As global travel resumes, it would be great to start welcoming international visitors once again. They have been missed greatly, and we are ready to give them a heartfelt céad míle fáilte.
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