Wild Geese: Stephen Tierney and Tanya Cregan, owners of Temple Bar Bolzano

Bar provides a neutral space for Italian speakers and German speakers to mingle, as long as they don’t discuss religion or politics

When Tanya Cregan and Stephen Tierney left Dublin for the Italian province of South Tyrol, it was more to do with a passion for the region than a cold, hard, business decision. In true Italian style, they followed their hearts to the provincial capital Bolzano, where they set up the Irish pub, Temple Bar Bolzano.

“I was sent over by Guinness in 1995,” Tierney says. “At the time, a lot of Irish pubs were popping up all over Europe, and I had the opportunity to go abroad, so I did. The position was originally advertised for Milan, so I went there for the interview and they sent me to Bolzano. They opened up a pub here and I stayed for two years. It worked out amazingly well – I made good friends and found this fantastic little treasure.”

South Tyrol, situated in the wealthy north of Italy, is a province known for its rich culture, its agricultural sector, and its award-winning wine. Despite the flood of tourists to the region and the globally successful companies based in Bolzano, the small community has always remained wary of newcomers to the region.

“People in South Tyrol in particular tend to be apprehensive,” Stephen reflects. “They’re afraid of opening up, and they’re afraid that somebody might take advantage of them.

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“The apprehensiveness comes in part from their history because their land had been away from them bit by bit, and they’ve always had to fight for their right to live here.”

Nessuna religione, nessuna politica

South Tyrol was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but was later ceded to Italy after the Allied victory in the first World War. Tension simmered in the region, arising from the clash between the two cultures, which is apparent in everything from the food, to its architecture, to the name of the capital city (Bolzano in Italian, Bozen in German).

Awareness of this history would later become valuable to Temple Bar Bolzano’s status in the town: the English-speaking bar serves as neutral ground for friends and neighbours.

“We only have one rule and that’s no religion, no politics,” says Creghan. “Because the city has these two cultures, some bars are predominantly German-speaking or predominantly Italian-speaking, whereas ours is completely mixed. There aren’t even cliques of German or Italian-speakers huddled together. People have the opportunity to meet people they normally wouldn’t meet or come in contact with.”

Grande cuore

It is to those loyal customers that Tanya and Stephen attribute their win as the “Most Authentic Irish Pub in the World Outside of Ireland”. Because of the small-town mind set of Bolzano, the bar required no advertising campaign, relying instead on the news spreading by word of mouth.

“From the very start, we said that we would take it easy. There would be no publicity, and it would spread by getting to know the people. We’ve never done any print advertising or anything like that, we’ve just let the people find out about it themselves. We also do a lot of sports, music and charity events and got involved in the local community, everything from the national rugby team, to the table tennis club.

“This comes so naturally to us in Ireland, but was strange for the Italians to understand why we would involve ourselves in such a way.”

On that same basis of integrating the bar into the community, Tierney and Cregan involved the locals in contributing to the decor of their Irish pub. The bar is adorned with paintings of pints of Guinness and different sports jerseys, including a jersey signed by the national Italian rugby team.

At one stage, one wall of the bar was covered with postcards sent by their customers from all over the world.

“A good Irish pub at home is always centred around the community, so we took the same mentality that’s in Ireland, and we brought it to Italy.”

Prossima settimana

To those looking to emigrate and start a business in Italy, Cregan and Tierney warn of bureaucratic delays.

“The paperwork is a nightmare,” Cregan sighs. “The amount of photocopies you need, the queuing, getting things stamped and then doing all of that twice. But that’s how the country works. So what we would say is make sure you have the patience for the paperwork.”

“And be ready for cock-ups and expense,” Tierney adds. “If you think your business is going to cost you €20,000, be sure it will end up as €30,000.”

Another Italian quirk that’s important to note before making the move, is the month long holiday Italians take in August, when parts of the country virtually shut down.

“We came across in July and, in August, everything froze – all the building contractors, all big corporations, even some of the restaurants and bars close. Would you believe it. That really slowed us down.”

When asked to give the best Italian business phrase they have learned, both smile and say “prossima settimana”. That’s part of the Italian lifestyle – leaving everything until next week.