Friday 22 March 2019

'We left stress behind in Dublin, now we just laugh' - Pair who moved to small village to open dream restaurant

Fun-loving David O'Halloran and Martin Buckley fulfilled a long-held ambition by opening a restaurant

David O'Halloran and Martin Buckley own The Lifeboat Inn in Courtmacsherry. Photo: Steve Humphreys
David O'Halloran and Martin Buckley own The Lifeboat Inn in Courtmacsherry. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Andrea Smith

David O'Halloran and his husband Martin Buckley enjoyed getting married so much, they went and did it twice. The first time was just by themselves, while they were on a wine appreciation trip to Napa Valley in California. The reason behind getting married abroad was that they wanted full marriage rights, not thinking marriage equality would come here, but their families were disappointed they weren't present.

So when the law changed here, they did it all over again, this time having a humanist ceremony at Maryborough Hotel in Cork.

David's mother Susan gave him away, and Martin's sister Geraldine gave him away as his mum Mary has passed on. They had a Celtic hand-fasting ritual and the City of Cork Male Voice Choir provided the music for the ceremony.

Mind you, Martin (29) was sure that he wanted to get married early on in the relationship and wasn't taking any messing around, so he gave David (33) three years to put a ring on it, so to speak. "Martin would have gotten married the very first month," laughs David. "I packed a picnic basket with champagne and proposed to him after two-and-a-half years on Rossbeigh beach in Kerry."

Martin and David live and breathe their passion for food and hospitality, and now own their own gastropub, The Lifeboat Inn, in Courtmacsherry in Cork. Martin is the chef and David looks after front of house.

The pair met in 2009 at CIT, as David was there for 10 weeks as part of his training to become a plumber. Martin was studying professional cookery while working part-time at Hayfield Manor.

They first set eyes on each other at a college LGBT society support group, and were mutually smitten. The following week, David asked Martin and his best pal Mary Jo to go for a drink, and they ended up becoming each other's first boyfriends. "David was different and very cool and honest and I really liked that," says Martin. "I was very nervous that first date because I had really fallen for him. I always felt that I could be honest around him and be who I was, and he's a very loyal person too."

David was first drawn to Martin because he's so jovial. "He makes me laugh every single day and that's the foundation of our relationship," he says. "He's very bubbly and we're a pair of messers and we don't take anything too seriously."

The problem was that David was in Cork for only 10 weeks, and after that he returned home to the family farm in Portroe, Tipperary. He has a huge family there, as he's the baby of Susan and the late Con's 14 children, and already has over 40 nephews and nieces. They had a long-distance relationship initially as Martin, the youngest of Tim and the late Mary's five children, grew up on a farm in Inchigeela, Macroom, Co Cork, where he used to be based.

The recession was kicking in then and David lost his job, so he decided to move back to Cork to be with Martin. He left plumbing aside to work in a restaurant, as it was an area that really interested him. He and Martin were together only a month when his dad Con passed away from heart problems, and Martin's mum Mary died from cancer a few months later.

The two deaths made them focus on their futures, and they knew early on that they wanted to open a restaurant together.

First they needed to get top-class experience, so they went to London for three years to work in Michelin-starred restaurants. Martin spent the three years at Michel Roux's restaurant Le Gavroche while David went to Chez Bruce for a year, followed by two years at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. "I worked 80-hour weeks and it was a very tough restaurant, but it very rewarding and I learned a lot," he says.

They then moved to Dublin, where Martin spent a year at Chapter One and David took up a position as restaurant manager at Cliff Townhouse. Martin joined him there after a year as a chef de partie, and they got valuable experience in seeing if they could work together. The fact that Cliff's walls are still standing is testament to the fact that it worked. "We found that we had the same standards and goals and way of thinking," says Martin.

Last year, they took the plunge and decided to move to Courtmacsherry in West Cork, because they loved the idea of living in a community. They bought The Lifeboat Inn and opened it in June 2017. They serve wholesome food in a casual and relaxed setting, and lean towards seafood. They live above the restaurant, and say that the first year has been challenging and a labour of love but they are loving it all. The restaurant has become very popular already and they love the community around them, who are very supportive.

While they hope to keep developing the restaurant and really putting it on the map, Martin and David also hope to have a family of their own one day in the future. For the moment, their cockerpoo Murphy keeps them on their toes, and makes them take breaks and get fresh air.

While many couples find working together stressful, they love it and say they rarely fall out. "We left that behind up in Dublin," says David. "Even now, if we get into an argument, one of us would say something smart after two minutes and we'd start laughing again."

The Lifeboat Inn, Main Street, Courtmacsherry, Cork. Tel. 023 886 4656.

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