Dicey Reilly’s of Ballhyshannon — profit in diversity

“People come in from Northern Ireland to buy and people ‘on the road’ from all over the country often call in to purchase.”
“People come in from Northern Ireland to buy and people ‘on the road’ from all over the country often call in to purchase.”

Nobody was more surprised than Brendan and Sinead O’Reilly when they walked away with this year’s NOffLA Off-Licence of the Year award. But the O’Reilly enterprise in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, is more than an award-winning off-licence. That forms but a third of the overall O’Reilly operation there. Pat Nolan pays them a visit to see for himself.



22 April 2013

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In looking forward to seeing this year’s NOffLA Off-Licence of the Year in person I’m almost prepared for the long long journey to Ballyshannon from North Wicklow.
I’m not disappointed.

Dicey Reilly’s Bar & Off-Licence sits tucked into a steep hill in the County Donegal town.

Back in 1992, what was then a small pub budded an off-licence facility squeezed into a cubby-holed corner of the old pub back before the full-scale off-licence operation came along some years later. Now proprietor Brendan O’Reilly has added a third leg to the stool with the move to microbrewing at the back of the pub.

Dicey Reilly’s Off-licence
A small ramp walkway leads me up to the front door of Dicey Reilly’s Off-Licence. Once inside, I’m struck by how clean and neat all the shelves are – and how well stocked!
But how small it is!

Then I turn around and look up to realise that there’s another whole mezzanine level full of an impressive display of wines.
The ‘Wow’ factor lies in coming into the pristine premises and then noticing the wine section upstairs!
If the off-licence has become famous over the years for just two attributes it would have to be range of offering and knowledge of product thanks to Patrick Gallagher, Brendan’s Number Two, who works in the off-licence together with a number of part-time staff.
















All-round wine offering
The wine side came about through his wife Sinead’s gaining a Diploma in Wines & Spirits. She looks after the wines although Brendan has taken a Certificate in Wines & Spirits himself.

On the shelves you’ll find some well-known labels alongside more boutique wineries.

“People benchmark you on a label so they can decide what value you’re giving,” he says. Thus he buys in a limited range of these brands to give customers his best value.

“We try and get a good price and keep to it for the consumer rather than continually dropping the price and then hiking it up again as is done in the multiples. We try to help people who’re used to buying a certain brand feel comfortable with us moving on to recommend a different brand of wine. We’d always had an interest in developing that side of the business as we’d a good focus on wine and craft beers even from an early stage.”

But living just four miles from the border meant that the early days were more difficult for retailing than elsewhere, having to deal with the border itself and its siren call of cheaper drink on the other side.

However the reduction in duty alongside the travails of Sterling have helped cut this temptress out.

They run a successful wine fair every Christmas and also run various wine tastings throughout the year.
There’s also a famous connection with B&G Wines.

Thomas Barton, known locally as ‘French Tom’, was born in South Fermanagh, in Boa Island just outside nearby Beleek. His mother was a Dixon from Ballyshannon and he went to shcool in Balllyshannon, one of Ireland’s great ports at the time.
When Tom finished school he went to work for his two uncles, merchants in the town, marrying a local girl and living where Dicey Reilly’s off-licence now stands.

Dicey Reilly’s pub
The pub came into existence in 1856. In 1975, Brendan’s father John, formerly a craftsman at Beleek Pottery, bought it.
Back then it was a smaller premises altogether but this changed with Brendan’s return from college in 1996. They refurbished the bar from what had been a 60s-style ‘formica’ affair, giving it its present rustic image.  In 1998 the pub expanded into the old family home and garden. A  function room was built upstairs in 2003 and a stand-alone off-licence was installed next door to the bigger, better pub.

The award-winning bar offers a range of craft beers.

“We’ve got a name for having a good selection of craft beers in both bottled and draught format,” smiles Brendan.
Indeed the pub was one of the first to have Erdinger on draught 10 years ago.

Since then a variety of draught beers have appeared among Dicey’s countermounts including Porterhouse Plain and Bitter & Twisted.

“We also had Franciscanner here for a time as the importer worked in Dublin but had a holiday home in Dungloe, so we’d order some cases from him,” recalls Brendan. This also led to the bar stocking Boon Krieg beer – truly novel at the time.

They use the attractive function room upstairs during the week for meetings and workshops etc but it finds its niche at the weekends hosting  parties and fund-raisers — and during the many festivals there, the room would host live music.
But the biggest surprise at Dicey Reilly’s is the third operation here, the microbrewery which has led to the birth of the Donegal Blonde.

Dicey Reilly’s Donegal Blonde

Last year Brendan moved into microbrewing with the launch of Donegal Blond, a light blond ale served on draught and in 500ml bottles, now available nationwide via local and national wholesalers, says Brendan.

He only began last November having attended various courses in brewing down the years.

So far, a couple of other pubs and restaurants around Donegal have taken on the draught.

“We brew up once every couple of weeks and do a small batch of around 600 litres,” he says, “We’ve our own bottling and labelling plant here so we can brew and bottle on-site.”

Of late he’s even got involved in hosting tours of the microbrewery and is presently negotiating with local companies and coach tours to host a few more tourists and tasting sessions this year.

If God is in attention to detail, then an award-winning off-licence and an award-winning pub should shortly be followed by an award-winning microbrewery.

Brendan O’Reilly certainly keeps himself busy. But there again, there’s profit in diversity.

Dicey Reilly’s is famous for stocking a huge range of craft beers (ground floor). Brendan claims it’s the biggest craft beers retailer in the North West.

Dicey Reilly’s is famous for stocking a huge range of craft beers (ground floor). Brendan claims it’s the biggest craft beers retailer in the North West.




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