Interview: Levis' of Ballydehob

Joe and Caroline of Levis'
“We had no great plan, just to help keep a magic place open.”

Gary Meyler speaks with Levis’ Joe O’Leary following the bar’s IMRO Munster venue of the Year award.

The below interview was published in Cork's Evening Echo on Thursday, 10th March 2016

From scaling skyscrapers with former band Fred to catapulting Levis’ Corner House to the top of the live music mountain with partner Caroline O’Donnell, Joe O’Leary certainly has a head for heights. Despite the cosy but limited capacity of 35, Caroline and Joe’s dedication and perseverance has pushed the Ballydehob bar to the fore of the Irish touring circuit, culminating in the recent Munster venue of the year IMRO award. Joe’s on hand to impart the history of his acclaimed public house.
“My great grandfather Michael Levis rented out the bar after he came back from the United States in the early 1900's”, says Joe, clicking straight into storyteller mode. “He later bought it outright, his wife Julia and himself developing it into a grocery store and public house. Two of his children Nell and Julia along with their brother Mick continued to run the premises and with charm and wit, welcomed the great, the good and the unwashed equally. As Nell grew older her niece - my mother Joan - helped keep the pub open. When Nell, then the last of the sisters, passed away in 2013 it coincided with Caroline and myself moving to west Cork and helping out in the pub. And sure the rest is history.”

Joe and Caroline’s presence has quickly filled the pockets of time with their own treasured memories, so many that Joe is already struggling to recount them all.
“The RTE documentary Keeping The Door Open that was done in the bar had an amazing reaction but the gigs really keep us alive. To see the likes of Mama Kin, Duke Special, Rachel Sermanni, Frank Yamma and Rozi Plain play to a tiny audience and get wrapped up in the place for a moment in time were all savage experiences. For a lot of punters it was the first time seeing and hearing these bands and that's where the magic lies. Then to be nominated for the IMRO award was amazing. To be judged Best pub in Ireland by The McKenna guide was pretty class too.”

With no rest for the wicked, the awards surely provides further incentive and motivation for more elaborate scheming. Joe is certainly not resting on any laurels.
“People make plans and God starts laughing!”, roars Joe. “Truthfully, simply to keep the doors open is priority number one but we've lots of little plans to keep us active and honest. We've got a lovely outdoor area for the summer so it'd be great to do events out there - maybe the odd barbecue - but Ballydehob itself has so much going on with half-a-dozen or so festivals every year. We're very involved in the Ballydehob Jazz festival which runs from 29th April-2nd May this year and brings a throng of musicians and punters into the village for an amazing vibe. This year we're bringing over Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns from New Orleans and Boston band Lake Street Dive. Both acts are only doing two shows in Ireland so it's amazing that they’re coming to Ballydehob.”

Although the focus is rightfully on the bar’s future for now, it’d be shameful not to sneak in one last yarn from yesteryear before our brief chat ends. Joe doesn’t disappoint.

“There was the time Gay Byrne did his radio show from the pub”, says Joe, reeling me in one last time. “He interviewed Nell and Julia and rather foolishly asked them: 'Well girls we're a great age now and you've always lived in Ballydehob. Have you ever been anywhere exotic like Cork?’ To which Julia immediately replied: "Oh boyeen, I think we passed through it on the way home from Rome one time.’”

For more on Levis' Corner House visit:

- Levis’ Corner House is situated on Main Street, Ballydehob, Co. Cork

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