Tomás Leydon was just 17 when he left his home in Ireland and joined his brother Aonghus behind the bar at the Auld Shillelagh.
The pub recently celebrated 30 years in Stoke Newington. In 2015 it was crowned The Best Irish Pub in the World (outside Ireland) by the Irish Times and, according to Daragh Curran (The Guinness Guru), it serves the best pint of Guinness in London.
The Leydon brothers grew up in County Roscommon – their mum was a teacher and their dad a farmer. There were eight siblings altogether and Tomás was a champion Irish dancer.
He said: “When I stopped Irish dancing Michael Flatley arose and it became sexy!
“I wasn’t into farming – I wanted to go to London. ‘The people will educate you’ – that’s what my dad told me.
Aged 22 Aonghus moved to Stoke Newington and took on the lease of what was then The Horse and Groom on Church St –Tomás joined him two years later and they lived in the flat above.
Tomás said: “The pub was much smaller when we took it on, there was a makeshift kitchen at the back. It was only in the last 15 years that we got the money together to improve it and make the space bigger.
“Stokey wasn’t as pretty as it is now – it was very run down and a bit dodgy if I’m honest. It has changed – property prices have driven local people out and that makes me sad because they’re the backbone of the community.”
Seven years after he arrived at the Auld Shillelagh, Tomás took over the pub’s day to day running. The brothers also run WB Yeats, a gastropub in Finsbury Park.
They’ve a strong team behind them – Eimhéar manages the Auld Shillelagh now and Vera, who works behind the bar, has a loyal following of customers who come just to see her!
“Vera is like a second mammy to us and she keeps the place immaculate too”, added Tomás.
“It’s a place where people can come on their own and see a friendly face – there’s a great mix of young and old and people from all over. We pride ourselves on our Guinness – we make it our point of sale and everything centres around that.
“I’ve learnt so much over the years. Customers are always educating me and I’ve made some fantastic friends. Some customers would bring their children in and now those children are all grown up and bringing their children in. I’m godfather to some.”
Tomás has two children (aged 15 and 4) and he hopes one day they’ll “learn the value of money” helping out in the pub.
Every other Friday there’s live Irish music – everyone gets up to dance and, concludes Tomás: “the place is hopping!”
The pandemic was especially tough – Tomás and Aonghus made the difficult decision to close the day before St Patrick’s Day, before the Government forced pubs to close. They used the time to revamp the garden and double the amount of outside seating and Aonghus spent a lot of time in Ireland helping their elderly parents.
They also missed out on the pub’s 30th birthday party but they’re planning “a big hoo-hah of a party” to make up for it!