Joseph O’Leary. Photo: Shane Huntson

Cork Profile - Joseph O’Leary

Ballydehob Jazz Festival Director

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?

I had no clue but being sound isn’t a bad idea.

Tell us about your career progression to your role today:

Having moved to Ballydehob nine years ago, we started putting on shows in the family pub Levi’s Corner House, and then about a year later I went along to a Ballydehob Jazz Festival meeting and a few weeks later, I found myself in charge – and now I can’t get out. That’s the thing with living in a small community, if you stick your hand up, even if you were actually only asking ‘Cá bhfuil an leithreas?’, you could end up never getting your hand back. My advice is to keep your hands down at all community meetings!

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?

The diversity and openness of the Mizen area, artistically and creatively, anything is possible when this community comes together and little bits of magic and positive energy do happen all the time here.

What motivates you?

Survival and seeing implausible things happen and startling folk. Overall, just bringing people to gather to celebrate art, music, creativity and diversity and feeling the energy that emanates from that.

What advice would you give your 15 year old self?

Start making mistakes way younger.

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?

Turf cutting or growing strawberries; something simple please!

What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date?

Having kids and Caroline sticking with me is pretty impressive.

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?

My folks surely. Even if I don’t always remember it from younger years, a good work ethic is priceless. Keep busy, keep active, keep dreaming. Music has also played a major influencing role.

What is the life dream now?

I’m living it, but one day it would be nice to run away from running the Ballydehob Jazz Festival. Now that I’ve said that out loud they’ll probably blow the bridge to prevent my escape!

How do you switch off?

Talking s**t whilst supping pints and listening to live music. Growing stuff in the garden is fab as well.

What is your favourite Cork memory?

Numerous, but right now, cos I’m in B’Hob Jazz Fest mode, well, the time we hired a horse from a lady out Bantry way to lead our first ever jazz funeral parade many years back.

The Cork School of Music or the Barrack Street Band were right behind the horse that was pulling the coffin in a cart. I had checked with its owner that the horse wouldn’t be startled by the brass band behind it, and I was guaranteed the horse was so used to music and noise it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

Alas, the horse was so taken aback by the music, it ended up doing about 30 miles an hour up the main street with the marching band trying desperately to catch up, but of course, the faster they went the faster the horse went. Fairly comical in real time and in retrospect.

What is your favourite place in Cork?

Dozens! It used to be Shandon, Callanan’s Bar, Fota Wildlife Park. Now it’s West Cork islands – any of them, Ballydehob, Minihans Bar, Roaring Water Bay.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?

I don’t think so, except maybe, ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’.

When are you at your happiest?

That Monday or Tuesday morning when the bands are gone home and they’ve played unbelievably well and everyone is happy. Then hanging with the family and friends and knowing we don’t have to open that day.

What is your hidden talent?

Forgetting people’s names.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Well, it’s not a surprise anymore, but I can’t remember your name!

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

No, but you really ought to visit us in Ballydehob some time to listen to music, talk s**t and drink Murphys!


Name and position: Joseph O’Leary, Levi’s Corner House and Ballydehob Jazz Festival Director

Age: over 40, under 50

Lives: Ballydehob and Lisheen, both Olympian in different ways.

Family: Loads of family! Caroline and our two beauties Johanna and Lucas and the grannies and granddads and siblings, and then there’s the pub and Ballydehob village. Overall it’s a family affair.

Pets: Baineamh, a Tamworth Saddleback sow just passed away few weeks ago. We had her nine years so no replacement yet, but I hear there’s good money in lamb at the moment so you never know.

Favourite thing about Cork: Immense diversity in its size.

Least favourite thing about Cork: Very close to Kerry… only messing, relax will ya?

One thing you’d change about Cork: I will yeah!