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'We'd never pulled a pint before opening night': How Kennedy's in Dingle became a pub... again

Opening a pub was an unexpected move for Michael Murphy.

IN 2013, MICHAEL Murphy returned home to Dingle from the UK following the sudden death of his father. His mother had passed away three years previously and he had no siblings. There was a farm to be tended to and paperwork to be taken care of.

There was also the small matter of Kennedy’s, the family pub. Murphy’s grandparents had purchased it after returning home from the United States in the 1930s. For years, they operated it as a public house and grocers. 

Eventually, Michael’s parents took the reins and continued to operate it on an infrequent basis. His mother worked as a teacher while his father worked as a farmer. When Michael was born, his parents decided to put the pub on the backburner and focus on their day jobs. The pub became the family home and that’s how it remained for much of Michael’s adult life.

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#dingle #kerry #ireland

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Michael always believed he would take over the pub one day, but figured it wouldn’t come to pass until further down the line. With bills mounting and a licensed premises at his disposal, he decided to take the plunge and reopen Kennedy’s. 

“We opened up on the June Bank Holiday weekend in 2014 on the Friday evening at six o’clock,” he recalls. “That was the first time any of us had pulled a pint.”

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Settling in for the night. #dingle #wildatlanticway

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Walking through Dingle, it’s impossible to miss Kennedy’s. With a striking purple facade and blue lettering, it’s quite unlike anything else on the street. It’s a far cry from when he took over. 

“It was a bland terraced house on the street – grey in colour, didn’t really stick out,” he recalls. 

He decided he wanted to give the building a lick of paint, preferably in a colour that would catch people’s eyes. 

“Dingle is quite colourful so I drove around and made a note of what colours weren’t used,” he says.

He settled on purple at the behest of his girlfriend. The signage was painted a shade of teal in a nod to his time in Brighton. 

“Teal is the city council colour for amenities in Brighton so you see that everywhere,” he explains. 

We put them together and they both complimented each other so it ticked all the boxes. 

He says the exterior belies what’s going on inside. 

“You think, maybe it’s this new funky modern pub and then you step in and it’s this pure traditional Irish pub,” he says. 

Cosy is a word that comes up a lot when talking about Kennedy’s. It’s something that Murphy has actively tried to nurture in the pub.

“When we opened up first, we were wondering how do we start creating an atmosphere? We just don’t use any lights. It’s all candlelit. That sets off the whole cosy environment – open fires, somewhere you want to sit down and hopefully spend an hour or two.”

Murphy also sought to create something that would stand out among the glut of pubs in Dingle. For instance, he saw a gap in the market for a pub with a solid craft beer offering. He started supporting microbreweries around Ireland and had upwards of twenty beers on offer. 

“We now have four craft beers on draft and we only have nine taps so you’re at nearly fifty per cent,” he says. “You’re selling as much craft beer as Heineken or Carlsberg.”

Likewise, the pub is stocked with spirits you don’t typically find in rural pubs. Think coffee tequila, mezcal and even absinthe.

Similarly, Murphy has taken a different approach to music in the pub.

“In terms of bars in Dingle, we didn’t really want to go down the traditional music route. There are a lot of bars in West Kerry where you have your trad sessions and we do have those, but we never really have planned music bar one event per week. It’s an Americana acoustic session.”

“It suits the size of the bar. There are great acoustics because one room is literally concrete floor and concrete wall.”

Aside from that, Murphy says he’s open to people showing up and banging out a few tunes. 

“You might be preparing to open up for the day and there’ll be a knock on the door. There’ll be five lads outside and they might be in until one o’clock in the morning with you. It’s sporadic, but it’s an open door policy. If you want to play a few tunes, you’re more than welcome to come in.”

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Ever get tired of all the brand new buildings being built in our cities, housing everything from bars/restaurants to apartments? . . . One of my favorite things about Ireland was just the historic character everything had, and old world feel. This bar in Dingle was an old house from the 1500 or 1600’s (not sure exactly, but super old) that was converted into an awesome bar with a great courtyard outback! It was also one of the few places that offered some Irish craft beer options, outside the standards. . . . . #mondaymotivation #ireland #dingle #dinglepeninsula #dingleireland #travel #travelmore #traveladventures #traveladventure #adventure #adventures #travelblog #travelblogger #travelblogging #travelireland #visitireland #traveloften #honeymoonadventures #travelphoto #travelgram #travellife #wildatlanticway #tourismireland @dinglepeninsulatourism

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Murphy says there’s no one type of customer who comes into Kennedy’s.

“We wanted to have a good vibrancy in the pub,” he says. “It can’t all be one of anything, regardless of what it is. Even our customers and clientele are very diverse and mixed.”

Since reopening, he has met numerous people who used to drink in the pub when his grandparents ran it.

“There was one guy shortly after we opened and he could remember coming in here when he was a kid and he couldn’t actually speak any English. He was a pure Gaeilgeoir. I remember that night there was a couple from Kentucky and he was just sitting down by the fire. The Americans were trying to start up a conversation and there was no go because he was just pure Irish.”

Four and a half years ago, Murphy had never so much as pulled a pint. Now he’s au fait with being a publican, running a business, and being a boss. What is the biggest lesson he has learned? 

“You might have thoughts of someone coming in like, ‘They’re going to cause havoc’ and they turn out to be the nicest person in the world. You have to be open minded to everyone who comes in the door.”

“You have characters in every town and I think every character is due their own chance. You can’t go by hearsay. Someone might think a character isn’t suited to the pub but sometimes people give off different impressions to different people. You basically shouldn’t judge a book by its cover is what I’m saying.”

“There are chancers out there as well, but after three or four years you’re able to identify them straight away!” 

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Amy O'Connor

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