For many years, there were only two cafes situated in The Square, Roscommon town. One was owned by the O’Reilly family. The other one, located on the site now occupied by ‘Newsround’, was the ‘Emerald’ cafe, owned and managed by the late Finola McCrann.
The opening of the first tourist office in the Old Jail (now Stonecourt Centre) in 1967 brought an influx of tourists to the town. However, it was in January 1972 that the people of Roscommon were suddenly transported into an exciting and innovative culinary world with the opening of a new restaurant in The Square, Roscommon.
The story begins at ‘Lisheen’ Guesthouse, Castlecoote. At about 8 pm on a warm summer’s evening, tourists arrived by car asking for B&B accommodation. “And could you give us an evening meal now” the driver kindly asked. “We stopped in Roscommon but there was no restaurant open”. Nonie Golden, proprietor of the guesthouse, began preparing the evening meal. In a hushed voice and nudging her husband, Jimmy, she said: “We can’t going on doing this – why doesn’t someone open a restaurant in the town?” She added: “If no-one else will do it, we’ll have to do it!”
Entrepreneur Nonie was no stranger to business undertakings and suddenly found herself catapulted into a new venture. Nonie and Jimmy Golden wasted no time in making enquiries about a suitable premises and quickly spotted the small advertisement in the Champion newspaper advertising Miss Finola McCrann‘s premises, on the site of what is now ‘Newsround’.
Negotiations for the premises completed, Nonie – now eager and excited – travelled to locations she had researched within the hospitality sector. “I travelled to top hotels and restaurants in order to see what was on offer and get a sense of what the public were looking for. I gathered up some information and together with my own ideas soon had plans for the type of restaurant that the public would want to dine in”.
Nonie discussed her ideas with Terry Leyden, who at that time was a dynamic architect. Together they focused and worked on a multitude of ideas, finally emerging with a plan of what they envisaged would be the most futuristic restaurant which would captivate the masses.
That first late-night restaurant, the ‘Golden Grill’, stood as a beacon in The Square in Roscommon town. It was full to capacity most nights, with advance bookings for celebratory occasions. A popular dining venue for the local community in Roscommon town and county, it also attracted diners from other locations. It became a tourist attraction, with buses pulling up in The Square constantly throughout the day and evening, their occupants’ destination being ‘The Golden Grill’. Buses stopped on the way to Knock Shrine on Sundays for 7 am breakfast, including a hearty breakfast for the driver, and on the return journey for an evening meal. There were rave reviews and it became a regular household question – ‘Shall we eat at the ‘Golden Grill’ tonight?’
And so the remark made by Nonie to her husband Jimmy on that summer’s evening, in their ‘Lisheen’ guesthouse, resulted in many years of enjoyment and success within the walls of the first late-night restaurant in Roscommon town.
Nonie was born Nonie Mannion, into a native Irish speaking family in the Gaeltacht village of Lisheen na Heilta, Glenamaddy, Co. Galway. Consequently she speaks fluent Irish. She had three daughters – Marie Therese, Annie, Flaney (twins) and one son, Seamus – and is a proud grandmother to Armand, Laura, Annie Lee, Alanagh, Jamie, Honor, Gearoid, Chloe, Kayleigh and Colin, and a great-grandmother to Coran. She has left behind the rush of the business world, living a contented life in the beautiful village of Castlecoote, Co. Roscommon, happily surrounded by her family.
Newsround in The Square, Roscommon town, situated where The Golden Grill restaurant was, is like a ‘STOP’ sign. Barry O’Connor has being operating here since 2009, after taking over from his uncles, Noel and Christy. They had originally opened Newsround in 1986. Barry says this is how it all began for him…
“I suppose it was a natural progression through the family business. I always loved Roscommon, coming down from Dublin every weekend and holiday when I could. When I finished college it was never in question but that I’d move West!”
Conducting a business retailing books, newspapers, stationery, plus a range of gifts takes much effort and planning. It is a very competitive business within a changing landscape and one which you have to be ready to adapt to.
Newsround has expanded and changed over the years to reflect buying trends and the changing needs of the people of Roscommon. Wedding gifts and toys have reduced over time, to be replaced by stationery and books in recent years.
The premises is large. There’s a daily supply of local and national newspapers. It is more than just a newsagent’s; Sarah, the book expert, is selective in her choice of books, particularly frequent offers for adult fiction and an expansive choice of children’s books. She will also order any book customers require (if not available on the shelf), with prompt delivery.
Upstairs there is all manner of school supplies, from folders to pens, diaries and writing materials, complementing an eclectic and unique selection of personal gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.
I asked Barry what his aspirations are for the future for this very popular outlet in what is a fast-moving market. He said: “We just want to keep the customers happy, with the right products at the right price and a smile from our staff. If we can keep doing that, I’d be very happy”.