Irish expat brings the blarney to downtown Kingsville brew pub

The Banded Goose brew pub in downtown Kingsville has a lot of things going for it: good location, good service and great beer.

But it has one attraction that sets it apart — an Irish bartender. Seamus Cunningham not only dispenses beer, wine and spirits, he also dispenses generous measures of charm, wit and blarney.

His view on bartending is simple. “People come in every day that have never been here before and I’ve never met,” he said. “And your job is to read that person and figure out a way that you can make their day a little bit better.”

Cunningham, 25, comes from Oldcastle, a small town about 50 km northwest of Dublin. The town of 2,000 has eight pubs and the main employer is a mattress and bedding company. Its most famous citizen is a singing priest, Father Ray Kelly, who made it to the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent in 2018.

Cunningham’s road to Kingsville was circuitous and includes stops in New Jersey and multiple trips back and forth to Ireland. It was at a wedding in Ireland that the plan to come to Canada was hatched.

“There were a group of Canadians at the wedding, six couples, and they said I should come to Canada, it’s better than the States and I said OK, that could be a lot of fun,” he said.

He came to Kitchener in 2017 to stay with a cousin, found work with a mechanical contractor as a general labourer and had a part-time job at Fionn MacCool’s, an Irish pub. He had already worked supervising pubs in his hometown.

Cunningham was working on a job for Kitchener-based Baseline Constructors in Leamington when he met Kodi Page, now his wife, and ultimately made the decision to make Kingsville his home.

Later, in 2019, he was offered a job as an apprentice electrician; he was given two weeks to mull over the offer.

“Just then I saw a job advertised for a bar manager here and I viewed it as a sign. I didn’t care to wire greenhouses so I ended up meeting with Trevor,” he said.

Trevor Loop, operations manager for the Banded Goose, knew Cunningham was his man the moment the Irishman opened his mouth.

“He’s got an Irish accent,” Loop said. “Who’s fooling who? That never hurts you. The Irish accent, it’s almost like cheating in this business.”

He said Cunningham’s people skills are off the charts. “He has a passion for customer services. In this day and age, that’s a rare commodity.”

Soon after he was hired, Loop and Cunningham were discussing proposed names for a new Irish Red the brew pub was unveiling. Cunningham suggested Suckin’ Diesel, an Irish expression for someone who walks into a pub after a tough day at work.

“We give them a pint and they have leave-me-alone written across the forehead, they don’t want to be talked to,” Cunningham said. “Then you come around a little later and say how’s it tasting now and a lot of people will say, now I’m suckin’ diesel. You know then they’re good to talk to.

“It’s a change in attitude. It was probably a bad day, but it’s not a bad day now.”

“A lot of things are said about the Irish people, they’re this, they’re that, but no one says they don’t know how to have a good time.”

Like many Irishmen he is never short on words — they flow off his tongue like a smoothly poured Guinness. But on occasion words get lost in translation, even by his wife. It can be a tough time penetrating her husband’s brogue when he’s talking with his family or a fellow Irishman.

“When they get together they get louder and their accents get thicker,” Kodi said.

And then there’s the colourful way the Irish swear and use profanity. You know you’re in an Irishman’s good books when you’re called a silly … whatever.

“As I got to know and talk to people, they liked my accent and I found that some people would ask me to say curse words,” he said. “I thought this was very strange and then it happened to me again a few times. They’d say I just love it when someone with an Irish accent curses.”

Banded Goose regular Steve Danford is still waiting to be the target of Cunningham’s vivid, varied vernacular.

“He’s a super guy,” Danford said. “He goes out of his way to make sure customers are always pleased. He’s quite humorous. He puts a smile on your face.”

The Irish are different. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said Ireland was the world’s largest open-air mental asylum.

“A lot of things are said about the Irish people, they’re this, they’re that, but no one says they don’t know how to have a good time,” Cunningham said. “I think that why there are so many Irish pubs; they just like to laugh and joke.” But he agreed with Shaw. “Everyone in Ireland is a little bit nuts.”

In his interview with Loop, Cunningham made it clear he wants to open his own Irish pub in Kingsville ten to 15 years down the road. “I had to be honest; that’s always been the plan,” he said.

Brew pub plans winter patio

The Banded Goose brewery has set up a patio on Main Street for Open Streets, but it also has extensive patio space at the rear of the building.

Trevor Loop, whose family owns the Banded Goose, said there are plans in the works to use that space for a heated winter patio. “In light of COVID, it’s made it more important for us.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story described George Bernard Shaw as English. He was Irish. So it appears he knew what he was talking about when he said the Irish were all a bit mad. Apologies to my Irish pals.

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