Following a brain injury-inducing fall in Spain three years ago as a result of a stroke Tom Moran’s family were left in no doubt that if the veteran publican survived there was every possibility he’d require care for the rest of his life. Most likely he’d be blind and paralysed.
At the beginning of this month Tom abseiled down the side of the Red Cow Moran Hotel to raise funds for St James’s Hospital Foundation for helping him pull through the nightmare.
Today, the hotel’s Chief Executive feels like a new man – well, almost…
“I’m doing great now, thank God” he explains, his focus still firmly on his recovery, “but the last three years have been challenging to say the least.
“You know they said that there was every possibility I mightn’t walk again, that I would be blind and brain damaged and need care for the rest of my life but as anyone who knows me would agree, I’m a pretty positive and determined person so accepting that bleak prognosis was never an option as far as I was concerned.
“I can’t say I’ve come out the other end completely unscathed though; I do tire easily and my vocal cords have been compromised slightly so I find it hard to project my voice. But these issues are a small price to pay for being around to see my 17 grandkids (and one on way) growing up.”
The abseil – the reasons behind it
After spending six weeks in Carlos Haya Regional Hospital in Malaga he was airlifted to Dublin and put under the care of neurologist Dr Colin Doherty and his team at St James’s Hospital who back then hadn’t exactly envisaged him abseiling down the side of a building three years later. But thanks to their care Tom was able to don the hard hat and ropes earlier this month and raise some money for the hospital.
He really wanted to do something for St James’s to show his appreciation for getting him back on his feet.
“If it wasn’t for Dr Colin Doherty and his neurology department and the rehab team in Mercers Institute for Successful Ageing I may not be here today and maybe not enjoying the quality I have after such a serious injury,” he states, “I think you have to have a positive outlook in life and believe strongly in what you want to achieve. For me it was always about getting better, there was never a question that I wouldn’t recover.”
In fact such was the positivity of his family that he was only six months into his recovery when son Michael suggested the idea of him abseiling for the hospital.
“It gives me great pleasure to be able to turn what seemed like a crazy idea at the time into reality,” he states.
The abseil – preparations behind it
For any fundraiser there’s a world of activity behind not only the promotional aspect but also the logistical and operational side for the duration of the event.
“In 2011 we did the Tomathon – a walk from West Limerick to Dublin for Pieta House and the work involved in co-ordinating this was pretty daunting,” he recalls, “But we did it and managed to raise €191,000 for the charity. I’m not underestimating how hard it will be to achieve our goal of €200,000 for St James’s Hospital though as this time the event runs for only one day whereas the Tomathon ran over 10.
The early years
A West Limerick man brought up in Toureendonell, Athea, Tom moved to London in his early teens, initially undertaking a series of jobs including construction work before joining his brothers Sean and Patrick in the pub trade.
“In 1971 my wife Sheila and I took over our first management contract for the Man of Kent pub in Eltham. We stayed there for three years before moving to the Tulse Hill Tavern, Norwood Road, South East London.”
In 1980 they decided to move their young family back home.
“When we moved home initially it was back to Athea in West Limerick where I bought The Top of The Town,” he recalls, “Before actually moving we also bought the Country Club (formerly Stacks) in the neighbouring village of Carraigkerry. It became a bit of a one-stop shop as we developed a bar, restaurant, takeaway, supermarket, petrol pumps, post office and undertaking business.”It also included a large music hall where he featured the big names in country at the time: Big Tom, The Fureys, TR Dallas, Philomena Begley and Margo. “It was a phenomenal success as one of the most popular show band venues in the country for many years and attracted people from far and wide.”
The Red Cow years
It was actually a chance opportunity that saw Tom and Sheila purchase the Red Cow Inn in 1988. “A friend of mine, Gerry Foley from Carlow, rang me to say that this pub on the Naas Road was up for auction and asked if I’d be interested in going along for a look. I had already purchased a property for development in Limerick City (Jack Bourkes) so another ‘buy’ was not on the cards (or so I thought) at the time. “Gerry can be very persuasive and finally it was agreed that Sheila, my eldest son Tommy and I would travel up to Dublin on the 30th of July 1988 to view the Red Cow Inn and attend the auction. The rest, as they say, is history.”
The Moran family moved to Dublin in September of that year to take over as new owners of the Red Cow Inn. From there Tom continued to build his portfolio of pubs. These included The Playwright and Madhatter pubs in Blackrock, The Central Bar in Clondalkin, The Pierhouse in Skerries and The Crown in Cricklewood, North London. “We sold all but the Crown in the 90s when we decided to expand our hotel chain,” he explains.
Today’s trade vs yesterday’s
Some things are very different, while some are very much the same, he states.
“People drink less – and less often – but won’t put up with a below-standard offering. They look for more choice than ever. The importance of friendly and efficient service is as much of a draw as they ever were.”
The habit of drinking at home is the biggest trade challenge in Tom’s eyes.
“Nothing beats the atmosphere of an Irish pub and we need to help the younger generation become aware of this,” he states, adding, “We need to keep our offering fresh and relevant to this generation too though.
“There are other challenges, of course, such as staffing and spiralling costs which we’re all facing.
“I know it can be a challenge to attract young people into the business but I’d say to them to give it a go – even part-time. It offers great life lessons on how to interact with people and chatting to people across a bar counter beats social media any day of the week!”
Growing importance of food
Food has been important for as long as he’s been a publican “… but perhaps people are acknowledging this more now as people drink that bit less. Pairing food and drink can be wonderful and we try to stay up-to-date with changing tastes while being true to our old favourites.
“Appreciating the increased importance of coffee and soft drinks within the trade also opens up opportunities for us to maintain our traditional position as the community’s meeting point.”
Best of both worlds
There must be advantages & disadvantages to running a pub as part of a hotel compared to a stand-alone operation.
“We obviously have both bases covered with the Red Cow Inn and Red Cow Moran Hotel,” he responds, “I enjoy that we’re able to look after guests from breakfast through to bedtime.
“The hotel allows us to widen our net a bit and attract guests from further afield which is always interesting. The pub, on the other hand, can feel a bit more local which is also very rewarding as you build up a link with the regulars especially.
“Both the Inn and the Hotel have become focal points for celebrations – weddings, christenings, birthday parties and the like – so we really do have the best of both worlds.”
Today, Tom’s interests revolve around family, the business and Limerick GAA in that order!
“Sheila and I have 17 grandchildren so far and they provide plenty of entertainment ahead of anything else,” he explains, “I’ve worked in the industry since I was a teenager so for well over 50 years. It’s given me and my family a life full of friends and full of laughter.”
Which can’t be a bad resumé for one of Ireland’s most positive publicans.