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

Irish Examiner - Magazine - - Contents - Es­ther McCarthy

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 for

her for the Os­cars in 1955, was a low key guest at the

ho­tel

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