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Quote Unquote: Bill Comerford, One of Hawai’i’s Best Known Irishmen

Bill Comerford is co-owner of O’Toole’s Irish Pub, Kelley O’Neil’s, Anna O’Brien’s and The Irish Rose Saloon. He’s also spokesman for the Hawai‘i Bar Owners’ Association and promotions chairman for the Friends of St. Patrick of Hawai‘i.


Photo: Odeelo Dayondon

IN RHODE ISLAND, I spent all my summers at a place called Matunuck Beach. It had two bars on it. I was pretty much raised in those bars. It was often said I was babysat with a roll of nickels. Half the roll went into the pinball machine, half the roll went into the jukebox. That’s where I saw Irish music, and the atmosphere of the Irish pub.


MY MOTHER’S NAME was Frances Kathleen O’Neil, my father was William Joseph Patrick Comerford. All the families were big Irish families. My wife says, “You’re American,” and I say, “Yes, I know,” but I was raised very Irish. Not necessarily from the communities I grew up in, but from the families I grew up in.


ON MY 27TH BIRTHDAY, on Oct. 4, 1979, I left (the Mainland) with about 4 inches of snow on the ground. I thought it was a good time to come to Hawai‘i.


I WAS very successful as a bartender; bartending is a good occupation here in Hawai‘i. But, as you age, you find that you can’t be doing the job. It’s a physical job all the time, it’s long hours, it’s hard hours. I was often going in at 8 o’clock at night and leaving at 5:30, 6 in the morning.


 I would tell people, “Don’t expect green beer.” If you’re really Irish, you should be drinking Jameson’s and Guinness.


IN 1998, the owner of The Irish Rose Saloon, Jim Fessenden, and his wife chose to retire. I had been looking for places about a year or two. About that time I was in my mid-40s and thinking it was time to make a change.


MANY OF THE ISSUES I’m arguing are to protect small business. It’s not to protect smoking or drinking, it’s to protect the business and our industry.


ONE OF MY proudest moments for my mother was when I was named Irishman of the Year in 2006 and got to lead the parade.


ONE OF the nicest things about Hawai‘i and Ireland, if you’ve been to either, is the sense of welcoming. In Hawai‘i, we call it aloha; in Ireland, they call it 100,000 welcomes—Ceade Mille Failte in Gaelic. I have many people tell me this: Wherever they go, if they’re uncertain what to do, they look for an Irish pub. Because they know they’ll be welcome there.


WE CONSIDERED (serving green beer) over at Anna O’Brien’s because it’s close to the university, but we haven’t done it. What we do have is live Irish music all day on St. Patrick’s Day in all our bars.


THE BUSIEST DAY of the year is St. Patrick’s Day. Have a smile all day. Exercise extreme patience. You will be spilled upon, you will be splashed upon, you’ll have people drunk and partying. I can honestly say, for the size of the block party, most people have a good time on that day. They’re not violent; they’re just intoxicated. My goal is not to make everybody Irish, but to at least make them Irish for one day a year.


Did you know? The annual Emerald Ball, featuring Irish food and entertainment, happens March 7 at the Japanese Cultural Center. March 17 marks Honolulu’s 48th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.


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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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