For one Donegal man, life presented a major challenge when he took over the reins of a successful business that his family had run for almost 75 years in Donegal Town.
The Abbey Hotel in Donegal Town had been synonymous with everything that happened in the town in bygone years - everything revolved around the Abbey. Not only was it an hotel it also housed a petrol station, a shop, the fire - station, the Social Welfare office, CIE depot and that famous mecca of entertainment in South Donegal, the Market Hall.
The business has been in the Breslin family for nearly 75 years and today Michael Breslin carries on the proud family tradition of hospitality in Dom’s Pier 1 with his wife Geraldine.
Speaking to the Donegal Democrat Michael said, “My grandparents ‘Old Dom’ and his wife Bridget originally set up the business in the town and I suppose my parents “Wee Dom” and Mary just evolved into it as Geraldine and I have today - it was one of those things that just fell into place.
“I suppose I just grew into the business - I went to school locally in the town and after school my father would make sure I was straight down to the hotel for work.
“My first job, I think I might have been only 8 or 9 years of age, was on the petrol pumps. These were far from the large service stations of today - there was no green or unleaded, it was just simply petrol or petrol and it had to be personally served.
At the time there were two sets of pumps on the Diamond so as you can imagine it was a pretty busy place.”
Michael’s main interest in life in those early years was football - both gaelic and soccer, an interest that he has retained to this very day.
“From a very early age I always had a ball at my feet - I was involved with the Town Soccer Club and the Four Masters even though the infamous ‘Ban’ may have been in place and played with them at all levels from underage up to senior level.”
Did all his efforts on the football pitches ever reap any rewards? “Well it did manage to bring in a good customer base,” he joked, “But on a more serious note I did manage to get an under 21 county title with Four Masters and have quite a few medals from the old IAWS Cups and the Soccer Summer Cups.”
Still in his teens Michael progressed through the various departments in the family business and thankfully without ever having to visit the Social Welfare office down the back yard!
“I went from the petrol pumps to the bar, kitchen, restaurant and then eventually looked after the entertainment aspect. You could say that I was the young Louis Walsh of Donegal Town. We had two dances a week in the Abbey - Country on Wednesday night and Pop on Sunday and we packed them without fail.”
Michael’s close connection with the Four Masters in Donegal Town was to play a large part on how the rest of his life was to pan out.
“In 1983, I went off with the club on a month long trip to New York and to be honest as soon as I landed there I was smitten with the place. There were just so many opportunities, new things to try and do - I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I would return.
“The beauty about it was that there were so many Donegal people there already - realistically it was like a home from home.”
Michael returned home with the club but was soon to return across the Atlantic to gain some further experience in the hospitality business.
“I had met up with a fellow Donegal Town man, Rory Kilfeather from Tirconaill St. who had his pub, “The Roaring 20’s” near Gaelic Park and he had me behind his bar on the Bronx the day after I landed at Kennedy.
“It was like a home from home - a very busy pub with great music and people from every part of the country.
“It was there that I met my wife Geraldine - mind you being from Tipperary she hadn’t a great knowledge about football but then again, I would have been no great expert on the sliotar! I will have to admit that she wasn’t long learning and would now be one of Donegal’s best supporters.
“Geraldine and I decided to get married in 1992 and home we came for the wedding. Talk about a year - it nearly killed me !
“My brother Vincent was getting married , then there was myself and Geraldine and then a few unscheduled and unexpected events - an Ulster Champpionship, an All Ireland semi - final and then a victorious final aginst the Dubs - all in the space of three months!
“It was Ballygowan time and back to NY for Gearldine and myself where once again we set up with Rory where we set up the successful bar and restaurant “The Heritage” in Yonkers.
“We spent a very happy five years in Yonkers and gained a wealth of experience in the restaurant business but deep down we knew that sooner or later we were going to return to Donegal - New York was just not the best environment to raise a family - the quality of life was just so much better at home.”
In 1997, Michael and Geraldine returned to Ireland and Michael went to work at the new 4* Harvey’s Point Hotel outside Donegal Town.
He recalled, “At that time Harvey’s Point had simply set a new standard in hotel - keeping in Donegal - it was luxurious, had an unbelievable location and level of personal service which it has retained to this very day.”
The experience that Michael gained at Harvey’s Point prepared him well for a new development that his father Dom had been quietly working on.
“My father sold the hotel and set up Dom’s Pier 1 where we are located today and offered a much more compact and state-of-the-art building.
“Located directly overlooking Donegal Bay and the River Eske and adjacent to the town’s largest car park we just couldn’t have found a better location.”
Dom’s Pier 1 has a maritime feel about it with a lot of natural light coming in from the Bay and a lot of marine bric a brac sprinkled throughout the bar and restaurants. It resembles a restaurant you might stumble across in the Quincy Market in Boston or in a fishing village in Maine. It has that American feel about it and the wealth of experience that both Geraldine and Michael have picked up throughout the years is evident in the high level of service and great food in this famous hostelry.
The tradition of sport still lives on in Pier 1 as Michael still takes an active role in the Four Masters as a mentor of this year’s minor team and after any match you will be sure to find plenty of company in the bar to discuss ‘what might have been if only..’
With the 75th anniversary of the Breslin family in hospitality in Donegal just around the corner we can remain quietly confident that one of Michael and Geraldine’s three children, Kevin, Conor or Aoife will continue this life long tradition.