*Mary O’Connor with her children Brendan and Annemarie.
IT BEGAN as the sweetest of stories. Two young apprentices arrived at Murphy’s Bakery in Kilkee to learn the craft of confectionary but got more than they bargained for, as Pat and Mary O’Connor would soon marry and settle in Ennis where O’Connor’s Bakery was established in 1961.
Fast forward to 2021 and O’Connor’s Bakery is one of Clare’s favourite businesses, famed for its sumptuous hand-baked cream buns, hearty griddle breads and birthday cakes. From humble beginnings on Parnell Street where the bakery was operated by Mary and Pat, this year O’Connor’s Bakery celebrates 60 years in business and employs around 145 people across its bakery on the Tulla Road and eight shops across Ennis, Shannon, Limerick, Gort and Galway.
While famous for its confectionary treats and breads, the key ingredients to the success of O’Connor’s Bakery have been hard work, family, staff and loyal customers. Those early days were marked by pure dedication, each day starting at 3am for Mary and Pat – who also initially held down a full-time job in Shannon. Daughter Annemarie, who is herself an award-winning confectioner, explains, “It would have been just the two of them running the business in the beginning, baking in the morning and then Mam running the shop while dad went to work during the day in Shannon. The growth of the business happened organically bit by bit over the years. Mam would have been the businesswoman really, truth be known. She would have seen the opportunity to open a new shop and then the coffee shops followed after that.”
That work ethic has been passed down not only to their five children but also many of the staff who in some cases have loyally served the bakery for decades. Two of the five O’Connor children are actively involved in the running of the business, Annemarie and her brother Brendan. Their three siblings continue to be a support behind the scenes while all of 11 grandchildren have worked in the shops or bakery at various stages. “My mother is still very much involved at 85 years of age,” Annemarie tells The Clare Echo. “It’s her life, it’s what keeps her going. She can be found on the floor anyplace, she could be moulding bread, boxing birthday cakes; she could be doing anything!”
The traditional offerings at O’Connor’s have been complimented by newer products as people’s tastes have developed, with new breads and grains such as spelt becoming a regular sight on their shelves, along with those of retailers across the Midwest who support O’Connor’s such as Dunnes, Supervalu and Centras. The arrival of Covid-19 to society also allowed the O’Connors time to focus on their online offering which has been a huge success and customers can now browse https://www.oconnorsbakery.com/ where they can order and pay for the entire range of goods, including customised cakes.
That being said, it’s the retail shops that offer the optimum visitor experience where the inviting scents of baked goods first welcome customers. Annemarie says, “Customers come in not only for the product but also for the chat and the interaction that they do get from the girls behind the counter. For the centre of a town, if you don’t have those small retail shops there would be no life in the town. Ennis is a very good shopping town and it’s the collection and variety of different businesses in the town.”
While Dad, Pat sadly passed away last October, the entire O’Connor family is proud to have overseen the growth of their business and served the entire Midwest over the last six decades. However the overriding emotion is that of gratitude. “I suppose we are very proud but of course we wouldn’t be here without the customers and the staff that we have. A number of them would be with us over 30 years. We have that work ethic that was handed down to us by both my parents, and that’s been handed down to not only us as a family but also the staff in their work ethic and how hard they work in the bakery. It is very much a skilled craft in that everything is handmade. Without them we wouldn’t have a business and we never take it for granted.”
Annemarie hopes the family can continue to grow the O’Connor’s Bakery business into the future, “We will hopefully continue to grow the business and keep doing what we’re doing, and keep the customers happy.”
O’Connor’s Bakery has shops in Ennis, Shannon, Gort, Galway and Limerick. For more information or to order online, visit www.oconnorsbakery.com or call 065 6822860.