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For artisans, entrepreneurs and grande dames, too, you must adapt to survive


Breda Maher, Cooleeney Cheese, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Breda Maher, Cooleeney Cheese, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Bastien Peyraud, The Imperial Hotel, Cork

Bastien Peyraud, The Imperial Hotel, Cork

Jack and Tim McCarthy of McCarthy's in Kanturk

Jack and Tim McCarthy of McCarthy's in Kanturk

Geraldine Fitzpatrick and Marco Pierre White

Geraldine Fitzpatrick and Marco Pierre White


Breda Maher, Cooleeney Cheese, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Th butcher: In 1892, having received a bad cut of meat from a local butcher, Callaghan McCarthy put away his dough hook and opened the now-legendary McCarthy's of Kanturk. His descendants, the ebullient Jack McCarthy and his son Tim - the fifth-generation butcher in situ - are as enterprising as their antecedent.

"Standing at the front door of our shop on Main Street, Kanturk, at the height of the first Covid lockdown, it hit me that no other door was open or trading on our street. Two lockdowns later, we're in the same position. Footfall has fallen dramatically. A decade of hard work carving out a niche within the food service trade with our breakfast products was closed en masse. We were hit hard," says Jack.

Luckily, in 2008 they'd developed an online shop so they immediately ramped up this service by adding click and collect, free local delivery, nationwide delivery using couriers, and increasing the number of products available.

"We're so proud of our locale and have always sourced our animals here," says Tim. "We started to champion this local connection, branding the farmer and their product, including native Irish breed Dexter cattle, more visibly, which has opened more local suppliers' doors. Adapting to survive is what every small owner-driven business has to do, especially in rural Ireland. Many small traders, restaurateurs and family businesses like ourselves have been decimated financially and their plight ignored.

"The recovery for businesses won't be a vaccine but an investment led from Government and support from the people who want to see rural Ireland survive and prosper."



The cheesemaker: The Maher family are fourth-generation farmers at Cooleeney Farm, outside Thurles, Co Tipperary, who began making cheese in 1986.

Breda Maher tells me how Covid has affected them. "As we started 2020, the future for Cooleeney Cheese looked great, with lots of plans to move forward. By the end of March, the dreams and hopes for 2020 were on pause.

"Covid had arrived and our business took an immediate hit, with a 52pc drop in sales. Our cheese stocks were high and it looked like we wouldn't find a market for this cheese. We felt shocked and frozen and simply didn't know which direction we should turn."

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Breda says their first thoughts were for their loyal staff who've been the backbone of Cooleeney Cheese over the years. Thankfully, with the wage subsidy scheme, they held on to their full-time staff. With production reduced to 50pc of normal, they started planning for the future while waiting anxiously to see an improvement in sales. "In September, things were looking up and with Christmas coming we hoped we'd be in a better place for Q4. We were, and are, so grateful to our many customers who made this happen.

"It has been a hard year, it felt like an earthquake had hit our lives and business. We will be forever grateful to our loyal dedicated team and to our truly great customers."



The restaurant: Geraldine Fitzpatrick is one of the founding members of the Fitzers Restaurant Group, and a proud member of the Fitzpatrick hospitality clan whose name is synonymous with good food and service. She told me how her business had been faring.

"In 1980, I, together with my partner Des and brothers Frank and Padraic, founded the Fitzers brand," says Geraldine. "We've overcome many challenges, including two major recessions, and like to think our longevity can be put down to our ability to adapt in line with consumer demand while keeping abreast of culinary trends.

"As such, our collaboration and partnership with Marco Pierre White in 2007 has proven very successful."

Indeed, both their MPW Courtyard Bar & Grill in Donnybrook and Steakhouse & Grill in Dawson Street proved a triumphant success, becoming mainstays for the Dublin restaurant set. But that was all before Covid.

"Closing and reopening at short notice has been a disaster for us. When the pandemic struck, we made a promise to our customers that we would keep them safe. All of our staff were immediately trained in correct safety procedures and all wore masks from day one. In addition, our dining spaces were remodelled in line with HSE recommendations."

Understanding the importance of outdoor occupancy, they set about making changes to the available space.

"In our MPW Steakhouse in Dawson Street, we redesigned our terrace to mirror our main dining room. We believe the significant investment we've now made in constructing private rooms and comfortable outdoor dining spaces will pay dividends in our MPW Courtyard Restaurant in Donnybrook, which has recently been selected to be featured as the Ideal Courtyard Setting by the Brennan Brothers in their new show this autumn. We've developed an excellent reputation as a wedding venue in The Courtyard due to its luxurious outdoor terraces."

Geraldine adds: "I really feel for our fantastic loyal staff, many of whom have been with us for over 20 years and, like ourselves, cannot wait to open our doors again to welcome our customers back."



The hotel: The Imperial Hotel in Cork's South Mall is a legend which has seen many famous people stay and dine under its impressive roof. Franz Liszt gave a piano recital, Charles Dickens gave a reading, William Makepeace Thackeray took tea in the lounge, Daniel O'Connell addressed a glittering assemblage, and Michael Collins spent his last night in room 115 before his fateful journey to Béal na Bláth. Its general manager, Bastien Peyraud, tells me how they have been coping.

"Obviously March dealt us a huge blow but I never in a million years thought we would be in lockdown now. The effect on my team, my incredible work family, some who have been with us for 40-plus years, has been the most difficult thing for me to accept and my main objective throughout has been to keep them at the forefront of my decision-making."

Bastien says he's been very conscious of protecting people, keeping lines of communication open, and making sure there are jobs to come back to.

They launched an Afternoon Tea takeaway which sold out in only two days, and came up with a sustainable food concept at their Thyme restaurant and cocktail bar, building charity donations into the menu, and using the best Cork products and suppliers.

"We completely refurbished our beautiful ballroom and meeting suites, and have a new bar launch upcoming. In lockdown, the first quarter will be an even bigger challenge, but we are hopeful and ready to fight. The vaccine is here, we've built a strong team, and we have some very ambitious investment in 2021. We'll make it a successful year, and, I can tell you, it'll be fun, stylish, sustainable and safe. I'm very excited for the future of the Grande Dame of Cork.


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