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'We have 10-15 Ed Sheeran fans a day': O'Connells, the Galway pub that accidentally went global

And Ed Sheeran isn’t even the biggest draw.

SITUATED ON THE east side of Eyre Square, O’Connell’s is one of Galway’s most iconic pubs. Dating back to 1862, the pub was originally a greengrocer and pub with lodgings located above. 

“The original family who had it were the O’Connells,” says Gary Colohan, marketing manager. “They never had any children so a niece of theirs came to live with them.”

That niece was Maureen O’Connell. She eventually took over and ran the pub for many years before she passed away in 1998. (She left the pub to St Vincent de Paul and the charity continues to administer the Maureen O’Connell Fund on her behalf.)

Before her death, she leased the pub to David Lonergan. His son Patrick Lonergan continues to run the pub today. 

O’Connell’s is a listed building and has a preservation order, meaning that the interiors of the front bar have remained gloriously intact. From the shopfront to the distinctive tiled flooring, it’s all the original article. The ornate ceiling might just be the highlight, though. 

“It’s a pressed tin ceiling and that lovely colour comes from the smoke over the years,” remarks Colohan.

In recent years, the pub has expanded and rooms once occupied by Maureen O’Connell have been renovated and converted. A yard once used by traders going to market to park their horse and carts is now a beer garden. 

“It was wasteland for years and about eight, ten years ago, it was cleared back and a basic job was done on it,” says Colohan.

In 2016, the beer garden was transformed into a plush outdoor area. Split into two zones – Beer Street and Gin Lane – it is designed to resemble a Victorian street and draws frequent comparisons to Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series. Unsurprisingly, it has proven hugely popular. 

“It’s unbelievable the amount of people we get in daily,” says Colohan. “We’ve had weddings in there, a few fashion shoots. We had a fashion brand from Scandinavia come over and shoot their portfolio there. It’s been very, very popular.”

The beer garden is also home to a food truck run by local pizza impresarios Dough Bros, which has proven a perfect fit for the pub.

“We took our time at it because we wanted to get a food offering in there, but it had to be the right one and it’s been a perfect match with the guys,” says Colohan. 

The pub achieved worldwide fame last year when it played a supporting role in the video for Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl. Colohan says he was approached by people who claimed they were making a Discover Ireland promotional video.

He was reluctant to agree to it initially, but he was assured it would be in his interest to agree to it. 

The guy said to me, ‘You really want this in your bar.’

After doing some detective work, he deduced that this might not be a tourism ad after all.

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“I did a little bit of Googling. It had to be shot on a Tuesday and I had seen that Ed Sheeran was in Dublin on the Wednesday night. I put two and two together. I told my partner when I went home and she said, ‘You’re crazy.’”

His suspicions turned out to be correct and the video propelled the pub to international renown with Ed Sheeran fans traveling from all over the world to visit it. 

“You could have anything up to ten or fifteen a day,” he says. “The most recent one that stood out was we had a woman who came over with her daughter from Belgium for her 16th birthday to come and see the bar. Another time, two girls came from Spain and they reshot the music video. It’s insane.”

But that’s not even the biggest draw, he says. 

Last year, US-based street artist Kelsey Montague painted a mural depicting a pair of wings on a wall in New York City accompanied by the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou. Passersby were encouraged to interact with it and take photographs in front of it. One person who did exactly that was Taylor Swift.

Montague’s piece quickly went viral and she became an overnight sensation of sorts. Colohan watched the whole thing unfold from Galway and decided he wanted to do something similar. He got in touch with Montague and commissioned her to recreate the mural on a wall outside O’Connell’s. “The whole Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran tie-in – it all made sense,” he recalls.

It proved to be a shrewd decision. Flick through the pub’s geotag on Instagram and you’ll see countless photos of people posing in front of the mural.

“To be perfectly honest with you, we probably get five times as many people coming for the wings as we do for the Ed Sheeran thing,” he says. “If you sit outside of O’Connell’s on any day of the year, you’d see twenty or thirty people taking photographs. Easily.”

“I’ve had big offers from breweries to have their brands on that wall. They’ve offered us a lot of money, but we wouldn’t cover up those wings because of the amount of people it brings. They don’t all come into the bar, but it’s great.” 

More: The Easter Rising holdout where a Leinster captain pulled pints: The incredible history of the Swan Bar> 

About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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