At your service 120 years of the Park Hotel
As The Park Hotel marks 120 years in business, Francis and John Brennan reflect on decades in the hospitality industry — and their successful transition to TV. reports
It seems like destiny had a hand in Francis and John Brennan’s involvement in The Park Hotel. Many years before he owned one of Ireland’s most-loved luxury establishments, the then-owner offered the young Francis a job there.
“I was working at Parknasilla in the Great Southern in 1978. A gentleman there saw me working, and said he had bought The Park Hotel, the old Great Southern in Kenmare. He asked me would I consider running it for him and I said: ‘Well now I’m only out of college since June and there’s no way I’d be able to run a hotel because I have so much to learn. Thank you very much, I appreciate the offer but no, not for the moment.’
“My reasoning was that if I went into the hotel business as the boss at 22 years of age, I would end up maybe not being a success and then things would fall apart.”
Following a couple of years as deputy manager at the Victoria Hotel in Cork, he was courted again.
“At this stage I had run a hotel for a year and a half, understood how systems worked and all that, and all working fine.
“The next day I shook hands on a deal to become GM at The Park, and I came here. We opened the hotel in July of 1980. And that’s how it all came to be that I was here.”
When the hotel fell on hard times, he told the liquidators: “Listen, a hotel open is worth more than a hotel closed,” and ran it under lease.
There was foreign interest. “The guys looking at it were all international hoteliers and fortunately for me, they knew nothing about seasonality. The idea of being closed from October to March was like ‘what?’ and they all just ran a mile.
“I must have gone to ten banks up and down the South Mall, looking for assistance. Every one of them said: ‘No no, you’re too young, too big a deal’.” Eventually, Francis secured the finance to buy the hotel. His sibling, John, was managing a hotel in Sligo but joined his brother in 1994.
This year, The Park (and its predecessor, The Great Southern) celebrates its 120th birthday in business. The Brennans have marked this milestone with the publication of a book charting the hotel’s colourful history.
John says the siblings really got to know each other when they worked together, as there was a big age gap between them.
“When I came here, I came from a three-star hotel which was totally different. It was a huge step up for me when I came here, and Francis was very hands on, and operating from the front desk, so you absorb everything that he has learned over the years. I’d know how he’d think and he’d know how I think. But then again there is a 13 year difference in our age so we wouldn’t have grown up together. We only got to know each other when I came here in reality.”
The brothers say that much has changed since those early days. In the mid-1990s, they point out, you couldn’t buy pasta in Kenmare and there were just two restaurants. Now there are 42 different places to eat in the town.
Business is good as Ireland seems to be enjoying a tourism boom, and the hoteliers firmly credit The Wild Atlantic Way with bringing visitors to the west of Ireland.
“The Wild Atlantic Way is the most significant tourism development since Aer Lingus crossed the Atlantic,” says John. “It goes out to every peninsula right up and down the west coast. It has also brought an experience to guests at no charge throughout the day.
“Our costs are competitive with overseas destinations, but to keep a family active for a whole day can be expensive. The Wild Atlantic Way,
and the cycle ways of Waterford and of Westport, they’re fantastic. Off you go and have a great day for nothing. It was an ingenious development whoever put it together.”
“It’s unbelievable the way it’s progressed, all the way to Donegal,” adds Francis. “I travel a lot for the At Your Service show and the amount of people along The Wild Atlantic Way is unbelievable and that is all the way to Donegal and all the way to Kinsale, and everything in between. It’s made a huge difference.
“That was something that was always there, so, you know, you don’t have to invent the wheel every time. Sometimes you just need to tweak it a little to make it sound more exciting and more sexy.”
Grace Kelly, photographed here wearing a green dress that Edith Head designed forher for the Oscars in 1955, was a low key guest at thehotel