Kilkenny man wins top US award as his business rises from the floods

Barry O’Donovan never expected it. Of course there was always that fear. With national news reports detailing the trail of destruction of Hurricane Irene, he hoped for the best for his new, family owned establishment at Cranford, New Jersey, USA. The Raw Way river had swelled and locals feared floods. But no-one could envision what greeted barry when he turned up at his establishment on at 8.30am on August 22 last year.

Barry O’Donovan never expected it. Of course there was always that fear. With national news reports detailing the trail of destruction of Hurricane Irene, he hoped for the best for his new, family owned establishment at Cranford, New Jersey, USA. The Raw Way river had swelled and locals feared floods. But no-one could envision what greeted barry when he turned up at his establishment on at 8.30am on August 22 last year.

Twelve feet of water destroyed his business. The cellars completely submerged - all inventory devastated. The dining area, the front bar - all gone. The Kilkeny House - while still standing - had been flattened by the sheer force of flood water generated from the effects of Hurricane Irene.

This was litterally heartbreaking for the man who had transformed the Kilkenny House not just in to a leading restaurant and bar with a very strong, traditional Irish leaning, but to an establishmnet that employed 22 locals and was very much at the heart of the Cranford community.

“It was just unbeleiveable, to see it all gone, I never had really worried about it before but everything just gone. All electrical, all inventory, kitchen area, computers, everything we had, literally washed away,” he said.

Barry, from Kilkenny had put his heart in to this establishment. He emigrated to America 32 years ago. Went for the summer of ‘79, and came back the following year to stay. He always worked in the pub and restaurant trade and had some landmark pubs in New York. Married and with a young family, he decided four years ago to set up the Kilkenny House inCcranford. He had set up home there, but the commute to his bars - the Henry Grattan and Judge & Jury among them - made him spend less time at home. So his focus was on The Kilkenny House. And he loves cranford, comparing it with his first home Kilkenny. Same population, same community spirit - and that showed in his hour of greatest need.

It was that spirit and sense of pride of place which saw Barry’s business rise again in the space of six weeks. An incredible achievement and a view obviously shared by the US Small Business Administration who will honour Barry with the Phoenix Award. They noted that in their citation of the award.

“Cranford is just great, everybody knows everybody and I am really involved in this community. I do the soccer coaching with the kids, can’t get them in to the hurling but everyone knows here that if its good for the community, The Kilkenny House is there for them. And that really showed when we were in trouble.

“The disaster was a real rallying cry for the community, people just waded in with their support. All the authorities got behind us, my staff helped tirelessly to get our premises open again. It was just sheer determination to get back up and running.”

$300,000 cost

When the water was pumped out and abated, the cost of the damange hit $300,000. Barry had a decision to make, and he did so quickly. He wanted to be back in business by October 15. The Kilkenny House had made a lasting mark on the Cranford community and they wanted their local back up and running well in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.

And the Kilkenny House was opened on October 7 - eight days earlier than what Barry had planned.

“When you consider what we suffered here in Cranford, 1,600 people could not stay in their homes - out of a population of 25,000. Families were devastated, all their personal belongings destroyed. But we built ourselves back up again, we all just worked hard,” he added.

And so Barry will accept the award on May 22 in Washington, and the night before attend a State dinner with Deputy Ambassador to the US Kevin Connolly in attendance.

Barry is married to Peggy Murray from Longford and they have two sons, Kevin and Tim. He has strong Kilkenny connections, a native of the city, he and grew up at Kincora, Dublin Road and 2 John’s Quay.

He went to school at St Patricks De la Salle, played for the St Patrick’s U-12 team under the guidance of Fan Larkin and Georgie Leahy, and also played with O’Loughlin Gaels - remembering well a famous U-16 hurling final of 1976. His father, Kevin O’Donovan was commandant of James Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny and later worked as manager with Mahon and McPhilips. His mother was Maureen Piert, a daughter of Thomas Piert of the drapery business Pierts once on the corner of Rose Inn Street and Kieran Street. His brothers and sisters, Gerard, Kevin, Ann, Claire and Declan were also very active in Kilkenny’s social and sporting life - a big golfing family. Declan is presently the Irish amambassador in Portugal.

Barry’s last trip to Ireland was in 2010 - celebrating his 50th birthday and taking in the All-Ireland final which Kilkenny unfortunately lost.

The citation concludes - “Barry O’Donovan displayed tremendous courage and resourcefulness in the aftermath of the flood, and he exemplifies the spirit one must have to rebound after a disaster like this.”

It’s that drive and determination from a proud son of Kilkenny that is being honoured by the US Government in two weeks time - as he sets an example to us all that out of the most desperate situations, great achievements are possible.