The Story Behind The Island …

Blarney Island is located one mile off shore, inspiring our slogan “A Mile Away From Reality”. A legend on the Chain O’ Lakes dating back to the early 1900′s when Jack O’Connor and Shorty Shobin wagered their competing businesses during a poker game. Blarney Island has evolved to accommodate more people and activities than any other establishment on the Chain O’ Lakes while remaining the most recognizable landmark. Blarney Island has been called “The Key West of The Midwest”.

How It Began

In the beginning, Blarney Island was a houseboat sitting on the edge of the Fox River owned by Jack O’Connor. Across from Blarney Island was Shorty Shobin’s place known as Shorty’s. It was no secret that the two were competing for the same business less then 100 yards away from each other. As one could imagine there was a heated feud between the two. The long standing feud came to a head one night over a high stakes game of poker. In the last hand Shorty and Jack wagered their businesses and Shorty came out on the short end. Folklore has it that Shorty, having lost his business, left the poker table and took his life in the backroom of the bar. One night not long after Shorty’s death, Jack O’Connor’s house boat burned down forcing him to move ”Blarney Island” over to Shorty’s place.

Jack O’Connor continued to run his business over the years until he sold it in the 1930′s to Jack Pigensor. In 1939, the Stratton Lock and Dam was put up in McHenry, which flooded the existing riverbanks. The Dam created what is now known as Grass Lake. Once the lake took hold it cut off Blarney Island from any dry land access and made Blarney an official island.

Jack Pigensor owned Blarney Island until the 1950′s when Ed Walters bought him out. Walters would also experience something extreme during his tenure as Blarney Island’s owner when the whole bar was nearly destroyed in the spring thaw of 1952. Instead of cutting his losses and leaving everything behind, Walters decided to rebuild Blarney Island. Not wanting to lose all of the tangible evidence of the turn of the century business, Walters used pieces of the destroyed building to erect the new Blarney Island that spring.

Blarney Island would meet yet another owner a few years later when Bud Holtz bought it from Walters around 1963. Holtz bought Blarney Island after selling another tavern in Antioch, IL, known as Bud’s Tavern. He owned and operated Blarney Island for almost 9 years until he sold it to the Haley family in October of 1971.

The Legend Lives On

The Haley family began the process of expanding the business to accommodate more people and more activities. To make the Island more successful, the Haley’s started a shuttle service to and from shore in 1972. In 1975 “Nancy K. and the Associates” became the first band to ever play at Blarney Island. Then another tradition was born in 1978 when Blarney Island held it’s very first Boat Races. Over the years that the family owned the business, many members have held the role of General Manager / Owner. In 1988, one of the younger brothers, John Haley, bought out his remaining family members.

In 1992, the business expanded to what is now the land base of operations for Blarney Island known as Port of Blarney. The Port of Blarney is a year ’round restaurant and during the summer is an active marina, plus the home to Blarney Island’s shuttle service. In 2003, John Haley and close friend and business partner Rob Hardman formed Blarney Enterprises, LLC to bring in partners / investors to help manage and operate the expanding business, with the promise to keep the history and the legend of the Island alive.


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