Irish restaurateur (79) in Algarve calls time on business ‘you love or hate’

‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have this to occupy me,’ says Rita Osborne who took her first job in a hotel aged 14

Irish woman Rita Osborne was 14 when she got her first job in hospitality. Now, aged 79, she is finally ready to put down her pots and pans.

Having opened her own restaurant, The Bird’s Nest, in the Algarve, Portugal, around 15 years ago, she decided as she approaches her 80th birthday in May, now was the time to sell.

“I just felt I’m getting to that age. I made a very long and thoughtful decision that it’s time for me to hand it to somebody else to bring it forward,” Osborne said.

Originally from the Liberties in Dublin, Osborne’s mother’s family lived in Northern Ireland. For some reason unknown to even herself, she decided to live with her grandparents and was educated in the North.


While there, she attended domestic science classes in Banbridge once a week. Her teacher had a hotel and when she turned 14, she was offered a job there.

“I took it and that’s where my career started,” she said.

That career has been long and varied. She travelled a lot, worked for a company that is believed to have set up the first English pub in Spain, and, afterwards, she went to the Far East and worked for the Sultan of Brunei in Borneo.

“That was interesting. What my role was, without building myself up as this great person, my role was to organise outside catering for polo matches, that kind of thing.”

She and her family returned to the UK, where they bought a house, in order to allow her daughter to finish her education. That life, however, was “boring for me”, she said, prompting her to try something else.

She bought her first hospitality business in north Wales, later opening a hotel in Wexford. But Osborne missed the warmth and the weather that other countries had offered her.

“It started from going on holidays to Portugal. It had everything to offer. It has blue skies, the sunshine, I like the way of life. Not worrying about the traffic and driving to work and all of that,” she said.

“I saw this place [what is now The Bird’s Nest] advertised. I came to see it and just decided it was for me. It was like one of the roses on the front door.”

Originally, the family used the premises as a holiday home. Then, they employed a Dutch builder to see how they could turn it into a business. And so, The Bird’s Nest was born. A two-storey building, it has three bedrooms, a restaurant downstairs, and a swimming pool.

“It took three years to get it where it is and we’ve been here ever since.”

The normal retirement age is around 65 years, but Osborne said she “wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t have this to occupy me”.

“I do everything around the place. I’m very active. My husband, of course, helps. He was air force, but I dragged him into it and sent him off to the Darina Allen [cooking] school for three months to learn a bit more,” she said.

“So we’re both very hands on when needed. My husband is wonderful at making breads and desserts. The thing is, this is a business you love or hate and I love my business from every side.”

The property went up for sale in November for €1.6 million by JLL Real Estate. Now that she will no longer be working there, what are her plans for the future? Relaxing certainly isn’t on the agenda.

“I do know that I’m not going to sit down and read a book. I will do something that will keep me occupied. It may just be a house with some little outhouses that I could do holiday lets, or Airbnb or something.”

Working in hospitality for 65 years, did she ever get tired of it? No, she said, adding that it has been her passion her whole life.

“I would do it again because you get to meet a lot of nice people. You make a lot of friends. You’ve got entertainment every day of the week.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times