Creating some Irish magic in city pub is a dream job

Eamon O’Sullivan, manager of O’Neill’s in George Street, Oxford

Eamon O’Sullivan, manager of O’Neill’s in George Street, Oxford

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

There is a corner of Oxford that will forever be Ireland, thanks to Eamon O’Sullivan.

And the manager of O’Neill’s pub in George Street absolutely loves the fact his clientele is an eclectic mix of local workers, students, international tourists and of course, fellow Irish.

“There are no strangers in Ireland, just friends you have not met yet,” he said.

The 40-year-old hails from Killarney in County Kerry which seems to have nothing in common with the Dreaming Spires. But he disagrees.

“The demographics coming through Oxford are very similar to what I saw growing up,” he said.

“People would come to Killarney by bus to see the sights and drink the Guinness.”

At university in Dublin, he studied environmental health and worked in that industry for about six months.

He wanted to travel, so when a friend who had emigrated to the USA offered him a summer job with his father’s painting company in Seattle, he jumped at the chance and spent the months between his second and final year at university painting people’s houses.

After university, he returned to Seattle and stayed for two years, moving on from the painting company to a building site.

“The money was incredibly good and I liked the way we would start at 5.30am but be finished by 2pm,” he said.

Another thing he loved about America was the popularity of Gaelic football there.

His grandfather, also Eamon O’Sullivan, was “the Alex Ferguson of Gaelic football” who managed the Kerry football team and took them to eight All-Ireland titles between 1920 and 1960.

Growing up in Killarney, his school was St Brendan’s College, a ‘footballing nursery’ for the Kerry team, with many students going on to play professionally. Mr O’Sullivan has played Gaelic football from childhood, and has an All-Ireland medal from 1992 but has never felt he measured up to the sporting excellence of his grandfather.

Mr O’Sullivan came to England to stay with his brother who was working at a pub in Bournemouth.

Pubs were in the family blood, as his mother’s family had owned one and he had grown up hearing stories about those days.

“But I never imagined I would end up running pubs,” he said.

His brother’s boss asked if he would do some environmental health work for the company, checking kitchens of the pubs, and eventually he trained as a manager.

It was while on the training course at a Birmingham pub that he met his wife Mandy.

They have been married for 11 years and have four children.

He worked in pubs in Stafford, Preston, Leeds, Birmingham, High Wycombe and Northampton before coming to Oxford in 2001.

And as he became more experienced as a manager, his role shifted into opening new branches for the company.

After four years in Oxford, he and Mandy decided to sell the family home and move to New Zealand for a time.

“I arrived in Christchurch with absolutely no work lined up but quickly found a place to live, got the kids into school then started applying for jobs.

“I got chatting to a woman who was asking me about Ireland and gave me her business card.

“It turned out she was deputy mayor of Christchurch and before I knew it, I was working as an environmental health officer for the city council.”

He said: “I dealt with everything from beached whales to noise complaints and food hygiene breaches.”

Since Mandy came from Oxford, it made sense to return here, and the family now live in Bletchingdon.

He rejoined O’Neill’s and was initially sent to manage its Solihull branch, before opening a new one in Northampton and then returning to Oxford.

He loves the multi-national clientele the pub attracts. Then there are celebrities appearing in theatre such as Emma Watson, who pop in for a pint.

“And that’s typical Oxford. I’ve worked all over the world but I would say Oxford is the one place where I believe anything can happen.”

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