Saturday 27 December 2014

Waking Hours: Francis brennan

Francis Brennan, 55, is proprietor of the five-star Park Hotel in Kenmare. Born in Dublin, he lives in the beautiful bucolic setting of Tahilla, Co Kerry

Francis Brennan, proprietor of the five-star park Hotel, Kenmare.

The minute the alarm goes off, I turn on the radio and get the 7.30am news on Radio One. When the news is over, right before the sports starts, I hop out of bed. I'm terrible, I wouldn't know the first thing about sport.

Then I go into the bathroom, brush my teeth, and turn on the shower. The towels have to be the same size all the time. If I take a small one, I'll go mad. Because I work in the hotel business, I'm aware of all these little things. There are hand towels, hand cloths, bath towels and bath sheets. I like a bath sheet, a huge sheet to keep your back warm -- you know that spot that gets cold with a skimpy towel. So I wrap the towel around me, shave, blow-dry my hair and get dressed. I wear a white shirt every morning and I set that up the night before with cufflinks, and studs to go with the collar. Then I go to the wardrobe, take out a suit, and pick a tie to match the suit. I'm all set. Everything is organised. I always have my shirts ready.

You could tell me now: "Go home, we're going to Hong Kong today at 11am", and I'd be ready at 10.45am. You couldn't live with me, I'm a nightmare. Everything is always in the same place. The scissors are where they're supposed to be and the Sellotape is where it's meant to be. I suppose, if you're living on your own, that's the way it gets.

Every morning I have cuttings from the papers which I bring in to work. I read voraciously, and every night in bed I'm cutting bits out from the newspapers. They could be about making the hotel better. This morning, I had an article on tulips for the gardener. My brother, John, who runs the hotel with me, doesn't read the papers at all. You'd want to see me on Monday mornings, coming in with 15 bits of paper. They'd never say it, but I know they go mad. I think it's all to do with the detail. For example, I polish my shoes with real polish every day -- none of that shiny stuff with a sponge. I drive 11.3 miles into work, and contemplate life on the way. I say three Hail Marys as I pass the church for my dad, who died.

I have a very good spiritual life, and a full belief in the afterlife. I'm absolutely not one bit afraid of dying. That's what we all want -- the whole world is looking for sustenance that the day they die, they'll be happy going across that line. If a fella walked in here with an AK-47 and said: "You're going," I'd say: "Fine." It's such a blessing in life to know that your faith is secure. I'm not a holy Joe, not a bit, but it's just that I live my faith. I'm always good and kind to people. For the past 25 years I've been doing pilgrimage work in Lourdes -- pushing 10 wheelchairs, washing up for about 700 people. Why, you might say. I think it's because I'm just lucky to be alive, and every year when I come back I thank God that I am able to do it. I'm a devil for helping old ladies across the road. When I'm on an aeroplane, I clean up the bathroom. I leave it spotless.

I get into work for 8.30am. Generally, nobody has checked out by then. The first thing I do is come into reception and say hello to all the gang, then I walk around the ground floor. I'm looking for finger marks on glass-top tables. I'm looking for a magazine not in line, or flowers which might need a few leaves pulled off them. Then I walk into the restaurant and say hello to Ciaran, my head waiter. In the kitchen, I always talk to the wash-up boy first. The wash-up boy is very important. I talk to him and then I go over to the chef on duty. I have a chat and an auld laugh. It's like sprinkling sparkle dust throughout the hotel. It's about saying hello to everyone and keeping them all happy. My father was a grocer, so I suppose I got good customer skills from him. I've been at The Park Hotel, Kenmare since 1979. I came here with black hair and I have pure white hair now.

Why the hotel business? Well, every house has a wardrobe of clothes and my Dad had a tailcoat, a Fred Astaire coat. He bought it to get married in. I used to dress up in it. When I was nine, my parents hatched plans, which never came to fruition, to open a guest house in Sligo. When they announced this, I said: "Great, I can wear the tailcoat as a porter." I was always a bit of a fashion eejit. Then, when I was 15, I worked as a waiter in the Step Inn in Stepaside. It was incredibly busy, the first pub in Ireland with food, and they did it very well. I love waiting. I had the ability to keep 15 tables happy, and if you were waiting, I'd be so nice to you, you'd think you weren't waiting.

On the television programme At Your Service we critique everybody -- in B&Bs, small hotels and guesthouses -- but we leave them happy. I told them that I wouldn't be an aggressive person, that I wouldn't be using bad language. There's no language in the hotel. It's just not right, so I don't allow it. And I'm always Mr Brennan to my staff. John is John, but I'm older than him, and maturity demands a bit of respect.

I'm always nice to other people. Although I had a go at one of our members of staff yesterday for something he'd done wrong, I didn't disrespect him. Years ago, I worked for a hotel manager who was tough and unfair. He made a receptionist cry on Christmas Day and I told him that I didn't think it was very fair. He went away, and didn't come back for the rest of the day because he knew I was right. I could have lost my job over that but he got the message.

The thing that's nice about the Park Hotel, Kenmare, is that everyone is real. We have lovely porters who are genuinely interested in the guests. Every year, when the season is over, we bring our staff on holidays, our staff and their spouses -- this year we're going to Egypt.

During the course of the day there are thousands of things happening. There could be seven ovens going wrong, or there's a gardener with the lawn mower stuck up the yazoo, or at reception there might be a paperclip stuck in the printer. I'm always there to deal with these things. The afternoon is always check-ins. I hover around reception from four to seven. At 6.45pm my dinner comes. It can be anything. Then I chat to everyone, and go back into the office to check arrivals for the next day. When I see the night porters, I know it's time to go home. This will be around 10.45pm.

When I get into the house, I read the papers, have a cup of tea, and talk to the Aga. I don't watch television. I never saw Sex and the City, I never saw Friends and I'm not a bit worried. I listen to Late Date, and I might phone some friends in America. I turn the light out after the news at two in the morning. I say a decade of the rosary when I get into bed, not with beads, but I do actually have a lovely set of beads which Pope John Paul II gave me. My faith is a big help, and it does me no harm at all. It's as easy to be nice as not nice. I go fast asleep. I never have any nightmares, and I don't have any worries. If I died in the morning I'd die happy. And I was always a good employer.

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