Paul Daly, Irish pub owner, Munich
Paul Daly: “I don’t think there is a more thriving, safer place in Europe at the moment with such a good standard of living as Munich.”
Music has been a subtle signpost at various junctures in Paul Daly’s career. As the man behind some of the most successful Irish pubs in Germany, it was a love of music that first set him on this road.
Leaving Dublin in 1979, Daly’s wanderlust trumped the security of his job as a bank official with AIB. “I knew I didn’t want to stay in the bank for 40 years. I’d always been involved in playing music, so I went off to sow my wild oats.”
Over the next two years, he “had a ball”, playing Irish music on the streets, in pubs and at universities in Paris, Copenhagen and Germany.
Returning to Dublin, he took a management course with then State training agency AnCo, but while playing in a Dublin pub one night, he had a fortuitous meeting with Barney Rush, the composer of such hits as Nancy Spain. “Barney had a pub in Erlangen in southern Germany. He’d been playing in the pub all this time and, in 1983, I took over and played five nights a week.”
Learning German while there and getting experience in the bar, Daly soon realised there was opportunity for him to get into the business himself. Opening his first Irish pub in Regensburg in 1985 proved so successful that he decided to open another in the city centre before someone else did.
“Irish pubs were very popular with Germans at the time. You didn’t need a restaurant then. A good pint and a couple of Irish pictures on the wall were enough to attract people in. But that’s all changed.”
Daly opened the Shamrock pub in Munich in 1989 and, while he moved on from the Regensburg pubs, over the next six years he added a further five to his portfolio. He also started importing products from home. “We wanted Irish products in the pubs and they weren’t available. Self-help became the way forward. We started importing crisps and then got into drinks. We were the first importers of Magners cider into Germany and we got the import franchise for Magners for German-speaking countries, including Austria and Switzerland. ”
Daly says Germans continue to come to Irish pubs for the “friendliness, atmosphere, the opportunity to speak English, to watch football or to have a pint of Guinness”. But Irish pubs have “changed completely” in his time there. Often in prime city centre locations paying high rents, they are not cheap places to drink but they offer quality, good food and entertainment. Smoking restrictions introduced in Germany from 2008 proved a boon for pub food sales, but the Celtic Tiger played a role, too.
“The number of Irish in Munich dropped. Most of those remaining were not the young computer contractors or building workers but an older generation who had settled down and didn’t go to pubs. We realised that we had to adapt and go for the Germans.”
Daly has pruned his empire over time and he now has two pubs in Munich – Kilians Irish Pub and Kennedy’s Bar & Restaurant. “I think in your 40s, you look at things. I’d been working very hard, building up all the time. At some stage you have to consolidate. I sold my interest in the import business and reduced down to the best two pubs. It was the best thing I ever did because I was able to breathe again. I got back into playing music and started my band up again.” He employs 120 people, 45 full-time, many of whom are Irish.
Despite our fiscal woes, he says Ireland is viewed positively. “Ireland is seen as the Musterschüler, or model pupil, of those countries in difficulty.”
The Anglo tapes didn’t help though. “Merkel is a very [well] liked leader so that didn’t go down well, but it doesn’t really darken the picture.”
Daly does more than his bit for German-Irish relations too. Heavily involved in promoting Irish culture in Munich, the city now has the largest St Patrick’s Day parade on mainland Europe. “It’s coming up to its 19th year. We started with 3,000 people coming, now there are 20,000. It’s become a festival weekend.”
He’s also involved in an Irish folk festival held in June, where performers include Irish dancers from a school that began in his pub. At the annual city foundation festival, Ireland is the only country to have its own dedicated stage. Daly plays in a céilí band the first Monday of the month. “All of this helps give a positive image of Ireland, but it’s what I like doing. It’s just good fun.”
His four children are bilingual and work part-time in his pubs while studying. He finds it surprising that German isn’t encouraged more in Irish schools.
“I’ve never understood why this generation of Irish people have completely ignored opportunities in Germany. A lot of people are going to Australia or New Zealand, but I don’t think there is a more thriving, safer place in Europe at the moment with such a good standard of living as Munich.”