School Daze - Ernest Cantillon: 'My da taught me most important lesson in life'

School Daze - Ernest Cantillon: 'My da taught me most important lesson in life'
Ernest Cantillon: ‘I believe in karma. It makes rolling with the punches easier. I think every dog has its day.’ Picture: Clare Keogh

On my first day at school I sat next to a boy named Donogh Roche. We agreed we would go to each other’s houses after school but we never told our parents. I was four. I thought he would come to my house, he thought I would be going to his. Both of us ended up waiting outside our gates. It was heartbreaking for us at the time. We hadn’t figured out the logistics of it all, but we’re still best friends to this day. Donogh is also involved in the development of my new business, whiskeygift.com

We made the most unlikely pair. I am very tall, about twice the size of him, and I was very sporty and he wasn’t sporty at all.

I have a terrible habit of bouncing my leg and, sitting next to me at school, Donogh got used to it. Teachers would separate us for chatting in class but would always have to seat us together again as he was the only one who could put up with the leg bouncing! We were destined to be next to each other. In secondary school, rugby was what I remember most. I was never particularly good at it but I enjoyed the team buzz.

School Daze - Ernest Cantillon: 'My da taught me most important lesson in life'

I liked school and I liked rugby. I was good at both but never a star player. I was in the middle ground. I like all sports but particularly rugby. I went to secondary school at Christian’s. I would say you had a better experience if you liked sports. I made a lot of friends that way and learned the importance of qualities like loyalty and team-building. Sport definitely stands to you in business.

I was an extremely talkative child. I spend most of my days chatting to people over a counter. I don’t mean I was extremely popular at school but just I was happy to chat to people who would chat to me. It meant I got invited to birthday parties. I was easygoing, never wild, no angel, just happy out.

I am an eldest child and have a sister and two brothers. My brother Rory is moderately physically and mentally disabled. It meant, growing up, we understood people have different paces. That probably changed the dynamic. Rory plays a massive part in my life.

I had lots of good teachers but particularly good business and economics teachers, Mr Foley and Mr O’Callaghan. These were subjects I was interested in but they were really great teachers.

School Daze - Ernest Cantillon: 'My da taught me most important lesson in life'

I had no great desire to go to college. I wanted to be a chef and I did train later. But I had a ball in UCC. Going to college, you get to delay the real world for a few years. I had great craic and got to play rugby. I did a Commerce degree and I was interested in most of the subjects.

It was actually my Da more than anyone who taught me one of the most important lessons in life: It’s nice to be nice. My father certainly has lived by that mantra and whether it’s rubbed off me or not I am always aware of it. My father has always been respectful of everyone.

In school, you might see bullying and people not being included and sometimes you find yourself on the outside, and when someone includes you it’s just transformative. It’s nice to be nice and it’s stood to me.

I would not be a particularly religious person but I would be quite interested in history and theology and I believe in karma. It makes rolling with the punches easier. I think every dog has its day.

As for what I would say to my own children? I’m a believer in karma and if you look after people and treat them right, most will return the favour. My Da was always self- employed so worked all the hours under the sun, yet managed to never miss a sports day or school play. As a kid I took that for granted, but now I’m self-employed and with children, I have no idea how he did it.

School Daze - Ernest Cantillon: 'My da taught me most important lesson in life'

I gave up alcohol when I was 20 or 21. It just wasn’t for me. It’s funny, I make my living selling it but I suppose being Irish it’s hard to escape.

I have tried lots of things in life that haven’t worked. I had a good old punt at things and very little that I regret.

I think my first disco was Harlequins Hockey Club, 25 years ago. I was a year younger than all my friends because I turned four the August before I started school, so they were seasoned disco-goers by the time I went, but I remember I adored it. I went on to run nightclubs. Although I gave up alcohol, I love all that goes with it: bars, nightclubs, discos and dancing.

Both my parents are solicitors, and my brother and sister became solicitors afterwards. I did business in college but took law as a subject. I kind of kept the door open. But I realised I didn’t want to work in an office.

As for what I think is more important than ever before in these strange times? Business coach Aodan Enright told me once just forget about the word “should”.

School Daze - Ernest Cantillon: 'My da taught me most important lesson in life'

My kids are one and three. They will never again be one and three again so I am enjoying this time. My wife and I split the days so that one of us looks after them at one part of the day while the other is working.

Most nights we are in bed by 9pm, reading books. I hope to keep my businesses afloat and my goal is to enjoy 2020 and unpause business in the second half of the year. I was 23 when I opened Sober Lane bar. I never had a break like this before and I’ve really enjoyed the time.

Ernest Cantillon opened Cork pub Sober Lane in 2006. Five years later he established Electric Bar and Fish Restaurant. He now also has a new gin venture and a whiskey brand, www.whiskeygift.com

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