1998 --- 2013
WESTERN PEOPLE DEC 2013 (download pdf) www.facebook.com/brennans.lane _______________________________________________________________________________________________ Last Friday evening marked the end of an era for Ballina couple Keith and Siobhan Brennan who spoke to editor James Laffey about their departure from the pub they built up over 15 years. ___________________________________________________________________________________________ On Friday afternoon last a young Ballina couple were issued with their P45s. Normally such an event would not make for a news feature. In these days of economic recession, the issuing of P45s is sadly an all too common occurence. But this was different. This was a young couple who had invested 15 years of blood, sweat and tears into a landmark Ballina business, a young couple who had given employment to countless locals, a young couple who had made an invaluable contribution to their community. Ballina natives Keith and Siobhan Brennan have been running Brennan's Lane pub and restaurant on Garden Street since December 1998. Anyone who has watched their voyage over those 15 years will have admired their ambition, endeavour and endless energy. They developed their premises from a little snug bar into one of the finest public houses in the West of Ireland, creating a magnificent entertainment venue that would not be out of place in most capital cities around the world. Along the way, they espoused the very best in community values, always lending a helping hand to local initiatives and treating their staff and customers as one would a family member. Brennan's Lane was just the sort of business a town like Ballina needs. Keith and Siobhan's only mistake - if one could even call it that - was to have wanted the very best for their business and their town. They dreamed big, took the sort of risks many others would have shirked and worked tirelessly to make those dreams a reality. But ambition, courage and hard work weren't enough. Like so many of their generation, Keith and Siobhan's dreams have been buried amidst the rubble of the Celtic Tiger economic collapse. When they announced on Facebook on Saturday afternoon that they had received their P45s from the business that still bears their surname, Keith and Siobhan never anticipated the incredible outpouring of emotion from the general public. ''After 15 great years at Brennan's Lane, time has come to say goodbye'' began their statement. "[We] have been isused [our] P45 from the receivers and all hopes of claiming back our business have ended with bitter disappointment. "We are sad and heartbroken but we also have great memories of nights we all shared over those 15 great years." Within minutes of the statement appearing on Facebook, messages of support started to flooded in from all over the world. It was an extraordinary response, utterly unprecedented in this writer's experience and totally reflective of the esteem in which Keith, Siobhan and their families are held in Ballina and beyond. "It meant an awful lot to Siobhan and myself that so many people took the time to express their support and say such nice things," Keith told the Western People yesterday (Sunday). "Our customers were tremendously loyal over the years and some of them were with us from the very first day in December 1998 when we opened the pub. Those regulars were part of the family, as were our fantastic staff to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Our business was nothing without the people who worked inside it and some great people who we consider friends worked there down through the years." It has been an exhausting year for Keith and Siobhan. On December 12 last year, receivers moved into Brennan's Lane after Keith sought refinancing of the company's loans with his bank. The Brennans had hoped a deal could be brokered to allow them continue to run Brennan's Lane but nothing was forthcoming and last month the receivers decided it was time for them to move on. ''We left everything on the pitch and, in that sense, we have no regrets,'' says Keith. "'We could not have possibly done anything more to claim back our business.We worked tirelessly with the receivers to negotiate a deal but it was not to be. There was nothing else for us to do but agree to walk away from the business - as hard as that is.We have to get on with our lives and start afresh.'' But walking away is not easy. Keith's family have been in business in Ballina since the 1940s and he grew up on Garden Street. The premises that was to become Brennan's Lane was his ''playground'' when he was a child. Back then, it was a series of derelict buildings at the rear of Martin Boland's snug in an area known as Ball Alley Lane. Keith and Siobhan (nee Boland), who have been together since they were both aged 16, were living in Dublin in the mid- 1990s when Keith decided to come home to help run the family newsagents after his father became ill. "Keith persuaded me to join him back in Ballina,'' jokes Siobhan. "'We've worked as a team ever since "98 when we first opened the pub.'' Brennan's Lane was built up incrementally over a period of 15 years. Keith and Siobhan were both in their mid-20s when they opened and they brought the ambition and enthuasiam of youth to their new enterprise. ''We were constantly improving, always looking to make it better,'' explains Keith. ''We undertook our big development in 2007 when we dug down and opened up the basement bar, which greatly increased the size of the pub, and opened the upstairs restaurant.'' The new-look Brennan's Lane opened its doors to the public in July 2008 and the public feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In the space of a decade, Keith and Siobhan had transformed their little pub into a magnificent allpurpose entertainment venue. But the storm clouds were gathering. Two months later, in September 2008, the banking crisis erupted and the rest, as they say, is history. Yet despite everything that has happened in the past year, Keith and Siobhan refuse to look back in anger. Last Saturday's dignified, measured statement was typical of a couple who have always demonstrated integrity and honesty in their business dealings. They wanted nothing more than to build up a sustainable business, to create jobs, to offer a top class facility to locals and tourists alike and, most importantly, to contribute to the economy of their native place. Now they will have to look elsewhere for employment. Keith was studying accountancy before he returned to Ballina in the mid-1990s. He has resumed his studies in recent months and hopes his experiences in Brennan's Lane will hold him in good stead for a new career in accountancy. Siobhan qualified as a pharmacy technician and is now considering a return to that profession. Brennan's Newsagents remains in the family's ownership and will continue to trade as a separate entity to the pub, which will now be run by the receivers. Some might view the last 15 years as a lost period in the lives of Keith and Siobhan but they don't see it that way. Nor do the 1,246 people who had shown their support on Facebook by 6pm yesterday evening, expressing thanks to Keith and Siobhan for giving Ballina a business it could be proud of. ''We sincerely want to thank everyone who has been so good to us,'' says Siobhan. "'Our families, friends, loyal customers, fellow business people in Ballina, they have all been fantastic. But we want to pay particular tribute to our staff, both past and present, and especially our 2013 senior members - Edel, Barry, Kav, Jonathan, John and Lauren - who have helped us physically and emotionally through this last year and without whom I don't think we could function. Our head chef Jonathan gave us sterling service and we wish him the best of luck as he goes off to his new venture. ''We will miss the craic at Brennan's Lane but maybe not the late nights.'' Keith and Siobhan ended their Facebook statement with a poignant appeal to the people of Ballina: ''Please keep supporting local businesses, they are the heart and soul of our economy.'' Ballina lost a valuable locally run business last Friday when Keith and Siobhan Brennan were handed their P45s. The town will be a poorer place for the absence of a talented, hard-working couple who gave so much to their native place.