Thomas Connolly is Sligo’s oldest traditional Irish heritage pub. First licensed in 1861, the pub came about during a time of plentiful maritime trade; deliveries of rope, linen and tea came into Sligo on ships from Europe. There was once a grocer’s shop at one end of the pub – popular for making sugar, selling tea and bottling whiskey. Highlights of the pub’s storied past include a visit from Charles Stewart Parnell, plus Thomas Connolly himself becoming Mayor of Sligo in 1890.
Owner Paul O’Donnell is particularly proud of this rich tapestry of history: “The unique part of our business is that we are a heritage pub with lots of history. I get great satisfaction in telling stories of old to all the visitors who come through our doors.”
Today, Connolly’s also offers a wide range of drinks and entertainment for customers. “We have introduced many local and national Irish craft beers both on draught and in bottle,” Paul explained. This also includes a recent local collaboration to bring in their own Thomas Connolly IPA and Red Ale on draught. The pub has introduced a premium whiskey offering of Irish, Scotch, Japanese and Bourbon whiskies, with over 100 variations currently available, and provides whiskey tasting trays and information sessions on request.
he growing demand for premium gin has been reflected on their shelves, as the bar has “Continued to invest in variations of Irish and International gins, premium drink mixers and a wide range of garnishes to finish,” said Paul.
For the customer who enjoys hot drinks, Connolly’s also offers speciality coffees such an Irish, Baileys or Kahlua coffee, served with fresh cream. “We are also happy to grind you a fresh espresso or make you a cappuccino with our unique 1938 100% Arabica coffee blend,” said Paul.
Paul attributes a large part of the success of the bar to their high level of activity on social media. “We use social media to advertise all our live music and regular tasting experiences as well as providing our customers with regular updates on new craft beers or premium whiskey and gin additions,” he said.
He continued by saying that as the business is constantly evolving, social media provides an efficient and cost effective way to promote in real-time and reach new and existing customers both in Ireland and Internationally.
Social media has made it easier to advertise for staff, which for Paul has not been a problem: “We’ve also invested in our own website and online store, where customers can purchase souvenir Thomas Connolly t-shirts and limited edition prints by well known local illustrator, Annie West”.
When it comes to entertainment, Paul prides the pub on regular live music and live sports coverage. “We are very fortunate in Sligo to have so many talented musicians in residences”. The bar offers customers everything from swing jazz, traditional Irish sessions, trad fusion and acoustic nights with regular touring international musicians and groups. The pub is well known for great nights of sport and has the ability to show multiple sporting events simultaneously live across three large TVs in different areas.
However, Paul is still a bit wary and acknowledges that there are challenges ahead such as the uncertainty that Brexit will bring. “As a business in Sligo and along the Wild Atlantic Way, a challenge is also to attract greater numbers of people to our town. Sligo tourism do a great job with what resources they have but are under resourced at the moment compared to funding of other tourism bodies in neighbouring counties.”
In order for the continuation of growth for the business, and the area, Paul believes that stronger support needs to be put in place. He is hopeful that in the future there will more investment in the area and as a result business will increase, allowing him to employ more people locally.
Connolly’s approach to business is to constantly adjust their offerings to customers with varied experiences throughout the year. Obviously, there is an increase in tourism during the summer months in particular but the aim is to offer customers a reason to visit this heritage pub at any time of the year.
As the custodian of the establishment, Paul hopes that he d”Does a good job of telling its story and keeping its tradition alive and well”.