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Michael & Rose Frawley - 50 Years Of Outstanding Hospitality In Kinsale

Writes Leo McMahon

This year marked the 80th birthday of Michael Frawley, who, along with his wife Rose, recently reflected on half a century of top class service in the hospitality sector and helping to develop Kinsale into one of Ireland’s premier tourism destinations, most notably as proprietors for many years of the internationally renowned and award winning White House Boutique Guesthouse, Bar and Restaurant.

It was back in 1973 that the young married couple travelled from Ireland’s Mid-West in what was ‘a spirit of adventure’ to take over the running of The Spaniard Bar in Kinsale, followed by The Folk House in 1987 and ten years later, The White House. However, their story goes back much further and far removed from the hospitality sector and the world of gourmet food.

Born on August 30th, 1943, Michael hails from the townland of Tonlegee near the village of Ballynacally, Co Clare, the son of Timmy and Mary Margaret Frawley. ‘I grew up on a medium sized farm, the second of eight children. I was helping from the time I was able to walk milking cows, going to the creamery in Lissycasey, saving hay and corn, cutting turf and going to the fairs in Ballynacally and Kildysart’.

A winning combination in Kinsale for 50 years. Rose and Michael Frawley, Kinsale outside the restaurant which was renamed Frawley's at The White House this year - photo Leo McMahon

‘My parents decided to further my education by sending me to the Vocational School in Ennis which I would cycle to and from every day, 18 miles each way. I learned a lot including carpentry, mechanical drawing and specially liked metalwork and I completed the Group Cert.’

Jobs in rural Ireland were virtually non-existent but the new Shannon Development state agency established by Brendan O’Regan in 1958, offered hope for the Mid-West and Michael got his first job with NW Robbie tufted carpet manufacturers in Ennis.

‘I stayed there about two years and then decided to use some of my Vocational School training to work as a cycling mechanic for Ranalow and O’Brien, also in Ennis, and then applied for a job in a new company that was opening, Gardinex, who made terylene curtains.

‘My grannie Jane Kelly said to me ‘travel is the best education of the lot’ and in January 1962, I was sent to Switzerland for six months training. It was my first time on an aeroplane.’

Not long after his return, Michael was approached by a Scotsman Sam McKenzie, foreman with Robbie’s and because he was being offered a better salary (around £7 per week) and wouldn’t haven’t to do shift work, he took it.

Not long after that, his grandmother advised him to get a state job with a pension such as joining the Gardai or working at Our Lady’s Hospital in Ennis. He applied for both and was successful for the Gardai except that he failed Irish so he got a job in the hospital training as a psychiatric nurse.

‘Going in as a young fella, you got all the dirty work and mainly night shifts. I didn’t like it so but I stuck it out as long as I could and then decided to go to England. I left on April Fool’s day 1968 and on the boat, met a man who told me that contractors Balfour Beatty were recruiting for major work on the Blackwall Tunnell in London.’

Michael, who had digs arranged in Hampstead Heath (and later Tuffnell Park), said he got the job with Balfour Beatty straight away, bought working gear from the Army and Navy Store and his first task was using a very heavy hammer for cutting concrete.

‘After two weeks, I had decided that this was going to be a ‘temporary little arrangement’ and in the Evening Standard, I saw an ad for hourly paid work in Ford’s, Dagenham. I applied, passed the medical, got the job and worked on the Cortina body, mainly spot welding but also lots of other jobs for men when they were on their break.’

It was well paid but unfortunately at that time, Ford was crippled with strikes, so much so that he could come back to Clare to cut turf etc. ‘I decided to stay in Ireland. Out of the blue, my brother Ted, who worked there, phoned me to say there were jobs going with Castle Tours in the new Bunratty Folk Park. The manager was Christy Lynch and I got the job as head guide and that marked my introduction into the hospitality and tourism sector and where I was to meet my future wife’.

The good looking Clareman even managed to supplement his income from modelling Aran sweaters and Viyella dressing gowns for the Shannon Airport mail order shopping guide.

Rose Frawley’s parents were Patrick and Catherine Lees from Newport, Co Tipperary. Like Michael she had seven siblings and her father worked for the county council.

‘I attended Convent of Mercy, Newport primary and secondary schools. A careers guidance teacher suggested hotel management but I didn’t do that. After the Leaving Cert., I worked as a demonstrator in sales with Singers (sewing machines) in Limerick and I also worked in the Royal George Hotel in the city as a receptionist.’ Rose then got a job in sales and as a guide in Bunratty Castle Folk Park.

Michael said: ‘A man called Jack Orpen, who was a driver for Shannon Development, told me: ‘there’s a smashin’ bird after starting in Bunratty. I must chat her up’. That was Rose, so I made a beeline to introduce myself to her first and we had tea and scones in the Golden Vale cottage in the Folk Park where the staff would take their break. I offered her a lift home in my car after work but Rose was having none of that and used the bus as usual’

‘About a week later, I drove to Newport and knocked at the door of Lee’s pub and asked if Rose Lee was in. The lady looked at me with confusion saying ‘there’s no Rose here’ I told her that I worked with Rose in Bunratty and she realised I was looking for Rose Lees, not Lee. It was the wrong place. There went my expectations of possibly inheriting a pub! When I reached the Lees’s home, the good china was out and I was met with a huge welcome’, said Michael to which Rose added: ‘He was there to be inspected!’.

On July 31st, 1971, they got married in the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Newport and with the help of Michael Doorley (later Shandon Travel) who worked for Tom Mannion Travel Agents in Limerick, they went on a very elongated journey for their honeymoon to Ca’n Pastilla, Majorca.

The couple had bought a house at Kilmorane, Ennis on the Kilrush Road. Rose had got a job in Mangan’s Cash and Carry, Ennis and then Shannon Airport Duty Free. Hard working Michael meanwhile, after his day time shift from nine to five in nearby Bunratty Castle, also got a job as a barman from Roger Porritt, who ran the famous Durty Nelly’s pub in the village.

Michael was then offered a full time position as head barman in the pub where the pay was good.

Off to New York.

When ‘Blood Sunday’ happened in Derry in January 1972, said Michael, tourism was badly hit and fearing ‘The Troubles’ would get worse and spread, he wrote to his cousin in New York, also named Michael Frawley, who told them to just get their fare and come over, which he did thanks to a loan approved through Michael Meaney, manager of Bank of Ireland in Shannon Airport.

‘We were young and it was all an adventure so we went in April 1972’, said Rose. We stayed at his cousin’s apartment in the Bronx.’

Michael quickly got work as a barman in a saloon run by a Kerry man not far from Gaelic Park and Rose worked as a waitress in a small restaurant. Although they had good times with Michael and his other cousins, the Dolan’s, Michael said ‘faraway fields weren’t as green as we’d anticipated’. Living in an apartment wasn’t ideal and work hours were unsociable. After six months they decided to return to Ireland.

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