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'I think I came out of the womb with a bag of chips': The people behind Ireland's old-school chippers

From Jackie Lennox’s in Cork to the Monte Carlo in Monaghan.

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE popping into your local chipper for a feed of fish and chips wrapped in salt and vinegar-scented paper.

But who are the people behind some of the country’s most beloved chippers? And what’s the secret to their success? We spoke to some to find out.

Jackie Lennox’s, Cork

bury me in battered sausages 🍖

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Look up any list of chippers to visit in Cork and chances are you’ll find Jackie Lennox’s near the top. Situated on the Bandon Road in Cork, this family-run business has been serving fish and chips to locals for a whopping 67 years.

“My father was actually an Englishman,” explains Mary Lennox, daughter of Jackie Lennox. “He lived in England and his parents moved to Crosshaven in Cork.”

The Lennox family had a restaurant in Cleveleys, a small town near Blackpool. When Lennox’s father returned to Cork, he opened a shop selling cakes and pastries.

“My grandmother visited and she noticed he wasn’t doing much business,” says Lennox. “In Cleveleys, fish and chip shops were a huge thing so she suggested that he put in a chip pan and that’s where it started from.”

He moved to a purpose-built fish and chip shop on the Bandon Road and officially opened in 1951. He married his wife and the couple had nine children. The whole family lived above the shop and were all drafted in to help out at various points.

“It was like being in a farm,” says Lennox. “As soon as you were old enough, you were expected to give a hand.”

Over the years, Lennox has witnessed the shop evolve and change with the times.

“When we started off, the menu was very simple,” she says. “Fish, chips, fishcakes, maybe sausages. These days people are going for chips and curry, chips and garlic, burgers.”

She also recalls her father serving up what he called a ‘chicken supper’.

“It was a way of getting away from the fish,” she says. “The chicken supper was a big thing for a good few years.”

Of the nine children, four have stayed involved in the business. Mary now works there part-time, while her two brothers and sister run the shop. She says that this has helped contribute to the shop’s continued success and ensured that standards have never slipped.

“I think people know what to expect,” she says.” There’s the consistency. We go for the best ingredients we can. They know that it’s spotless.”

A lot of people say to me, ‘It’s lovely to still see a Lennox behind the counter.’

As for the next generation? They continue to give a hand where they can with Lennox’s own children working there during college. “It’s almost like a rite of passage for them,” she says.

“I think what keeps us going is our family pride and reputation,” she concludes. “We have great pride in the reputation that our parents have instilled in us over the years.”

Monte Carlo, Monaghan

original Source: Google Maps

Ask anyone for a chipper recommendation in Monaghan and the Monte Carlo is likely to feature. The chipper is known far and wide for serving some of the best grub in the county.

The Monte Carlo has been in the Neeson family since 1970.

“My father set it up,” recalls Thomas Neeson, the chipper’s current co-owner. “He had another restaurant on the street and he opened up The Monte Carlo at the same time. He put his brother-in-law and his wife running it for him for a while. Then he sold up the restaurant he had and moved into the Monte Carlo full time.

At first, the chipper kept lean hours.

“It was almost like his retirement business,” he says. “He didn’t open up until seven o’clock in the evening and it stayed open until half twelve in the night from Monday to Thursday so there really wasn’t very many hours.”

When Thomas and his brother Mark finished their studies, they got more involved with the business. These days, it has a staff of 28, but it’s still very much a family affair with his cousin serving as the general manager for the last forty years.

“My first cousin’s first cousin does the potatoes for us,” he laughs.

Last year, the chipper achieved national recognition when they won Best Takeaway in Ireland at the Food Ireland Awards. Neeson reckons it’s their hard work and refusal to take shortcuts that has kept them going for so long.

“Everything we do requires as much labour unfortunately as possible,” he says. “We’re doing our own fresh potatoes, we’re cutting fresh fish, we’re roasting raw chicken, we’re doing southern fried chicken from raw, we’re making our own hamburgers.”

Everything is crazy labour intensive but that might be why people like us so much.

Neeson says the chipper is popular with people from all walks of life.

“It’s a whole mixture of social classes and customers from every strata in life,” he says. “If you think of a fine dining restaurant, it’s more expensive and it gets certain customers. But you get everyone in here, which is great.”

And it’s popularity isn’t just confined to Monaghan either. A customer recently told Neeson of a conversation he had in the airport.

“Somebody was going through security in the airport and the person said, ‘Oh you’re from Monaghan?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, the Monte Carlo.’ He was saying that his wife was from somewhere up North and when they go through Monaghan, they stop in the Monte for chips. So it’s nice to see that.”

In two years time, the Monte Carlo will turn fifty years old. What’s the secret to their longevity?

“It’s a fresh product and it’s the amount of work we put into it that has helped us stay there,” says Neeson.

Murphy’s, Cork

Not many chippers can claim they were once hailed as the “soundest chipper in Ireland” by Samantha Mumba, but Murphy’s in Blackpool, Cork isn’t any ordinary chipper.

This local institution has been on the go since 1951. At that time, it was run by two sisters and continued to be until current owner Richard St Leger’s father bought it in 1979. He ran it for several years with the help of his siblings.

These days, St Leger runs it with the help of his brother Trevor and his cousin Paul Foley.

“I think I came out of the womb with a bag of chips in my hand,” jokes St. Leger. “I literally remember nothing else and I know nothing else, only that business.”

Murphy’s is an institution of sorts, serving everyone from locals to the schoolboys of nearby North Monastery Secondary School.

“The kids that go to that school come to us for their lunch for every day,” says St. Leger. “It starts there.”

It serves up all the usual chipper fare – fish, chips, burgers, sausages, pies  - but it’s arguably best known for the Sloppy Foley. What’s a Sloppy Foley, you ask? It’s taco, cheese and chips in a wrap.

So how did Murphy’s come up with such a thing?

“It was invented, like a lot of things, through mistake and error,” says St Leger. “Basically we were messing around the back with sauces. We were seeing, ‘Does that work, does this work?’”

Eventually they stumbled upon the Sloppy Foley. They instantly knew they were on to something.

“We were like, ‘That’s nice, like.’”

Manager Paul Foley fell in love with it so much that it was decided that they would name it after him. They put them on the menu, they sold like “hot cakes” and the rest, as they say, is history.

The chipper is also known for its community involvement.

“We’d be very well known for our generosity, I suppose,” says St. Leger.

The chipper counts members of local GAA clubs like Delaney’s GAA, Na Piarsaigh, Glen Rovers GAA and St. Vincent’s GAA among its most loyal customers. In turn, the chipper supports them with donations, sponsorship and the like.

Another act of generosity from Murphy’s went viral last year. On Mother’s Day, the chipper sent up a feed of fish and chips for all the mothers on St Joseph’s Ward in Mercy Hospital after a nurse told them of a patient’s craving for some Murphy’s fish and chips.

The random act of kindness was picked up by national media and ended up getting mentioned by Samantha Mumba on TV3′s Six O’Clock Show.

“Samantha Mumba actually called us – and I have it on record – she called us ‘the soundest chipper in Ireland’. Isn’t it great, like? We’re a regular chipper but when you have celebrities mentioning you, you’re kind of going, ‘Wow.’ It’s something to be happy and proud of.”

Nearly forty years since St Leger’s father took over the business, Murphy’s is going as strong as ever. Not only do they run the chipper, but they also supply some of their menu items wholesale to the likes of SuperValu. There are also plans afoot to launch a delivery service.

The next generation is already involved with both St Leger’s son and nephew demonstrating a keen interest in the business. His advice for anyone thinking of getting behind a chipper counter?

“If you’re afraid of hard work, forget about it.”

More: How burritos and doughnuts took over Dublin – and what you’ll be eating next>

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Amy O'Connor

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