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'We use the downtimes to repair': How The Bulman Bar turned an ancient pub into a foodie haunt

The owners of the Kinsale institution share their story.

Image: The Bulman

LOCATED IN picturesque Summercove, Co Cork, The Bulman has lived many lives. It is believed that a pub has existed on the premises as far back as the sixteenth century. Once upon a time, it existed as a single-storey pub-shop-post office known as The Thatch. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was rebuilt and renamed Barry’s after the family who owned it.

Over the years, it has passed through many hands, but these days, it’s run by husband-and-wife duo Pearse and Mary O’Sullivan.

“Ten years ago, we took over and we’ve been there ever since,” says Mary. 

Pearse O’Sullivan comes from a long time of hoteliers – his grandfather Toddie O’Sullivan ran the Gresham Hotel for many years. He was educated in England and raised in Jamaica, as his father managed hotels in the Caribbean. Steeped in the hospitality business, he grew up and became a chef. Mary, meanwhile, worked in banking.

“I think a good chef always need a good banker behind him because you need to watch things very tightly,” she laughs. 

The couple moved to Brussels together in 1994. There, Mary O’Sullivan worked in the European Commission and Pearse worked as a chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Eventually, the couple returned to Ireland and worked in a hotel owned by Pearse’s family. There, Mary learned the tricks of the trade and the couple later opened their own restaurant, Toddies.

“We’ve been at it a long time,” she says.

When they took over the running of The Bulman, they brought Toddies with them. They now serve food both upstairs and downstairs, and have acquired a coveted recommendation from the Michelin guide. 

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Named for the Bulman Buoy, the pub overlooks the sea. “You’re literally ten feet from the Atlantic Ocean,” says O’Sullivan. 

As such, it boasts idyllic views of both Kinsale and the ocean. 

“One direction you’re looking out at Kinsale Town and the other direction out at sea,” she says of the views from the window seats. 

During the summer, the area is busy with people jumping off the pier and children playing on the beach. 

“You come into the pub and you can have someone in a wetsuit ordering a pint,” she says.

At this time of year, it’s a place where people cosy up and watch the world go by them. 

“In the winter time, you could sit with the fire lighting looking out the window for a whole day,” she says.

When people aren’t coming for the views, they are coming for the seafood. Think lobster, wild salmon, mussels, and seafood chowder. Crucially, everything is fresh. 

“We do not have a holding area in the pub,” she explains. “The kitchen is the smallest part of the pub. Every single thing is delivered on the day. When we sell out, we sell out.”

One of the most popular dishes is, of course, fish and chips. Customers tuck into them on the wall outside the bar while taking in the views and fresh sea air. How bad? 

Things tend to get quieter at this time of year, says Mary, as they experience a dropoff after the Cork Jazz Festival and recent midterm break. 

“We’ll be quieter now until Christmas Eve and then it all kicks off again,” she says.

However, she says the quiet period has gotten progressively shorter since they took over the business at the height of the recession ten years ago. 

“We used to be looking at five months downtime. Now we’re not really. You’re looking at two weeks in November, two weeks in December, January is okay and February is quiet. Then March we’re back off and running again.”

“We really use those downtimes to paint, repair whatever needs to be repaired, reupholster, do the floors.”

And then they get back into it all over again. 

More: ‘It’s the best pub I’ve ever worked in’: Why Walsh’s in Stoneybatter is loved by staff and locals alike>

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Amy O'Connor

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