Lillian O’Donoghue, from Glanmire, Cork, is one of Ireland’s most talked about Coca-Cola collectors. She’s been featured in a number of newspapers and on radio chat shows for turning her home into a ‘Coke shrine’. Read about some of the gems in her collection and why she loves the brand.
How long have you been collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia?
I’ve been collecting since August 1984. My friend Aileen and I went on holiday together to Austria, and back then you had to fly into Germany, before getting a bus from the airport. On the bus they were selling cans of Coke, so I bought one and thought how funny it was that I was drinking the same drink between two different countries. From that day on, I decided I would collect different cans of Coke from around the world.
What inspired you to decorate your house with them?
Sixteen years ago my youngest son Robin had Coca-Cola wallpaper in his bedroom, and then years later I was watching Come Dine with Me and saw that one of the ladies had a huge Coca-Cola sign in her kitchen. I told my husband, Barry, that I wanted to decorate our kitchen with Coca-Cola. Six months later we had the whole room done up.
How many items are in your Coca-Cola collection?
I’d say about 300 - including bed clothes, a clock, waste bin, salt and pepper shakers, glasses, tins, lots of different cans and even a onesie! When I went to Cape Town in South Africa people were making animals out of used Coca-Cola cans, like elephants, giraffes and lions, so I bought all them and took them back home with me.
How did you build your collection? Did friends and family help?
Yes, they have. A friend of mine went to Denmark, and she brought me back three Coca-Cola dinkies. And, when I was in New York I went to Times Square and picked up loads of different items from a shop called Grand Slam. When friends go away they always bring me back a trinket. My cousin’s friend, Ian Campbell, had also collected Coca-Cola memorabilia for 25 years, and when he heard I was doing up my kitchen he gave me his collection, so we have all of that on display too.
Are there any rare or limited edition items in your collection?
Brian Quill from Coca-Cola Hellenic recently visited after hearing about my love of the brand, and presented me with a limited edition bottle, explaining that it’s the 100th year of the Coca-Cola Contour Bottle. Just one hundred limited edition bottles were created across Europe and Coca-Cola wanted to give me one! We’re going to make a glass dome around it and put it on display.
Do you remember your first sip from a glass Coca-Cola bottle?
It was when I was younger and my father took me to twelve o’clock mass in Cork city. After, we went to the pub to meet his two brother-in-laws, and that was when I had my first sip from a Coca-Cola bottle. Back in those days, you used to get a straw and you would enjoy it with a packet of crisps!
What’s your favourite item from your collection?
It has to be the sign my husband made out of wood from the shed, which is hanging on the wall in the kitchen. It’s a red board with white letters, and he made it especially for me, including the glass bottle chandeliers. Also, two years ago he gave me a USB stick with all the music from the Coca-Cola adverts down through the years.
What do you like most about the vintage adverts and packaging?
I love everything! I love red, and red and white are the colours of Cork. But even before that I’ve always loved the Coca-Cola logo, a lot of thought went into creating it.
What do friends and family think of your Coca-Cola home?
I’m very lucky as my husband never says no! It’s very well put together, so when I invite people over to a party and they go “oh my god”, and think it’s going to look tacky, they end up falling in love with it.
With so many collectibles, how do you keep them clean, safe and tidy?
My mother was a top class cleaner but it never rubbed off on me, so Barry does all the cleaning in the house. Once a year he takes them all down and gives them a clean. It takes a whole day but he’s full of patience – not like me!
Are you a member of the Coca-Cola Collectors Club?
I'm not yet, but it sounds very interesting and I’d love to go to one of the Coca-Cola Collector's Club events. I have no interest in the value of the items, I just collect them because I love them. I won’t be selling them, they’ll be going in my will to my children who I hope will pass them down to their children.
Do you have any special Christmas decorations?
Yes, they’re some of my favourites. I have a Santa and Coke tin and it’s beautiful. I also have Christmas tree decorations, and four Coca-Cola puppets. I always watch out for the ‘Holidays Are Coming’ advert. The Coca-Cola Christmas Truck also came to Cork once, and we got our photo taken with it which is still hanging on the wall in the kitchen.
Have you tried cooking any Coca-Cola recipes in your kitchen?
Barry bought me the Coca-Cola cookbook for Christmas, and I tried making the Coca-Cola pork chops. That’s the only one so far, but I’m going to try the Coca-Cola Cherry muffins soon.
Our summer campaign is called Choose Happiness. What makes you happy?
Getting ready for the Coca-Cola parties I host, putting up the decorations and being full of excitement. We have big opening ceremonies and get a cake made, and there’s ribbon for guests to cut.
Finally, what advice do you have for people interested in collecting?
If they want to do it, go ahead and do it. It’s easy to pick up things now, because you can look online.
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