“You can never be a prophet in your own land.”

If ever a statement rang true for the owners and managers of Irish pubs beyond the confines of our emerald isle, then that is it. 

For Billy Lawless, it could not be more fitting and his recent appointment to the Irish Senate reaffirms his stellar work lobbying for immigration reform and in Chicago’s hospitality sector.

As Illinois Senator Dick Durbin famously stated “the Lawless family is restaurant royalty in Chicago. The family start with 10 employees, now they have 300.”

Notably, before relocating to Chicago in the nineties at the tender age of 48; Lawless had been a prominent publican and hotelier in Galway. During this time he was President of the VFI from 1982-84. 

His key action points were:

– Reinforcing the importance of the pub for tourism. 

– Laying the groundwork for the development of food service in pubs. 

– Focusing on standards of service within the industry. 

On arriving in Chicago in 1998, Billy quickly set about opening the Irish Oak, his first pub in the US. The family business has grown over the last two decades, with 6 restaurants open: The Gage, Acanto, The Dearborn, The Dawson, The Beacon and Coda Di Volpe.

For Irish Diaspora in Chicago, he is totemic. Symbolic of both Irish hospitality at it’s best and an advocate for the Irish community across the US.

With the unenviable commute from Michigan Avenue to Leinster House, he will be representing the largest constituency of all: The Diaspora.

The brief is clear. Representing the Irish overseas and supporting those who seek to maintain their connection to Ireland while pursuing life overseas. The plight of the undocumented Irish in the US is also a topic to which he has campaigned for years, stating, “Every time I go home to Ireland I go on as many radio stations as I can to tell young people, please, do not come to the States if you want to emigrate but don’t have a visa. Go to Canada or Australia or England or New Zealand, where you will be legal. But I understand completely that America is Ireland’s natural emigrant home.

Senator Lawless will formally open the Irish Pubs Global Gathering on September 27th.

The challenges facing pubs in Ireland today are akin to those faced by the international pub owners 10-15years ago. Through connecting the leading operators both home and abroad together this coming September at the Irish Pubs Global Gathering, under the theme; ‘Creating a Destination Pub’, we aim to build further on our work to date – providing the only dedicated platform to connect Irish pub owners, managers and staff the wide world over.