“My dad was a manager of a pub in Cork city. He overheard a conversation about a pub for sale in Kinsale, cycled down the next day, then borrowed money off his dad and took a punt on it.”
Forty-seven years later, it’s clear the punt has paid off. New proprietor Liam Edwards says that it’s hard to keep his retired father, Jim, away from the business he built as a young man.
Jim Edwards pub sits just off Kinsale’s harbour at the mouth of the River Bandon. For the last half-century, it has remained a fixture for locals and a must-visit stopover for the thousands of tourists beginning or ending their journey along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
The pub, decorated with ship wheels, miniature galleons and other nautically themed paraphernalia, has even attracted members of the showbiz elite, including Bob Geldof, Jack Charlton, Tori Amos and David Gest.
Good food, good drink and good relationships
Thirty-five years ago, Liam’s father, not being one to rest on his laurels, made another brave decision: transforming his simple bar into a ‘gastropub’, offering ‘working man’s lunches’ of steak and fish. “Because it was a real local pub, there was a revolt against serving food in the pub, but [my dad] took a chance,” says Liam.
Despite initial scepticism, the pub’s new menu soon caught on. Since then, Jim Edwards’ classic Irish dishes, cooked with high-quality ingredients like freshly caught sole and Atlantic Irish prawns (which Liam believes are the best in the world), have won praise from critics and restaurant associations alike. One writer for the Irish Examiner described the food as “the epitome of cheering simplicity and the value of good, fresh ingredients”. Another successful punt for Jim Edwards.
Of course, Dingle Bay crab claws and East Coast scallops need the right drinks pairings, and in Kinsale there’s no shortage of local breweries and distilleries.
“We’re very lucky in this town,” says Liam. “We have Stonewell Cider, which is probably one of the first craft cider companies in Ireland, about six miles out the road. We use Blacks Distillery and Brewery for gin, IPA and lager. We’ve also used Kinsale Gin…and we’ve recently got Kinsale Mead on the market now, the oldest alcoholic drink in the world.”
Unsurprisingly, Jim Edwards has built up an incredibly strong network of local suppliers over the years. “It means everything to the local community when you use local produce,” says Liam. “When the recession came, we said if the pub business isn’t doing well, that means local suppliers, like farmers and craft brewers, aren’t doing well. We had loyalty to local producers and a lot of it. If we’re seen to be supporting local producers, locals will see that and support you.”
Business is good for Jim Edwards and the staff take it in their stride. “The satisfaction you get is a job well done. If you have a busy weekend, the customer satisfaction is there. You feel good about that and you can get that every day and every week. That’s the highlight,” says Liam.
Still, he admits that bumps in the market have him worried. Events across the water have introduced a new element of uncertainty not just to his pub, but to businesses across the region. “We’re in Kinsale, we’re dependent on the tourist industry. It’s our bread and butter,” he says. “Obviously, there are worries about Brexit…. We have felt that the early season has gotten quieter because of the decline in the English visitor.”
However, Liam has a secret weapon to help him overcome these challenges. He says that his father instilled in him a strong work ethic and resilience. “Nothing comes easy in this industry,” he says. “You have to keep seeing the trends and concentrating on what’s in those four walls. Look after your business and put in the hard work.”