Kay Doyle meets Ireland’s most popular hotelier, Francis Brennan who tells her how he honed his business skills in his parents’ grocery shop, and how he carries a set of Rosary beads given to him by a famous pope in his briefcase everywhere he goes

The brilliance of Francis Brennan’s business brain surfaced at a very young age.
Reared ‘on the job’, he began honing his customer-service skills in his mother and father’s grocery shop in Stepaside, on Dublin’s south-side, while still in short trousers. Naturally comfortable when it came to chewing over events of the day with the locals, his father wisely stationed him to the front of the shop.

Charming young Francis was ever courteous when helping people carry their boxes of groceries out to their cars, or further afield. But it was during one particularly harsh winter that the budding entrepreneur saw a silver-sprayed opportunity which presented him with a first taste of how satisfying it could be to make some cash of his own.

“My father took his position as a shop owner very seriously and would never ever let anybody down,” says Francis as he unwinds after his return from his annual visit to Lourdes, in southwestern France.

“He provided a delivery service for his loyal customers and one winter I remember the snow was absolutely bucketing it down, and we had to make a delivery to the scouts’ centre at Larch Hill, which is up in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.
“We persevered through the elements with hundreds of sliced pans that had to feed these hundreds of scouts. While we were up in the mountains, my father used to collect logs to bring back for the fire. When they were cut up, I decided to take two or three of them for myself. I cut a little hole into the middle of them and stuck a bit of holly into them.

“Then when it came to Christmas time I put them into a wheelbarrow and started to sell them to the neighbours as table pieces. The idea caught on and the following Christmas I had eighteen orders. Everyone knew who I was, and they would love seeing me coming along with the wheelbarrow. Then I had another idea.

“I was passing by the Hector Grey shop in Dublin, and I saw cans of spray snow in the window. So I went in and bought two cans. By spraying the white snow over the holly on the log, I was able to put the price of the log up by fifty pence. So instead of charging a pound for my festive logs, I could now charge one pound fifty, and the profits were all mine. It was big money at the time!”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own