There are five roads out of Killarney which, hotelier Francis Brennan says affords visitors to five days of day trips from the Kerry town.
One of those roads leads to Kenmare, home to the Park Hotel Kenmare, which is run by Brennan and his brother John. The hotel is celebrating its 120th birthday this year and is braced for any negative impact from Brexit.
Francis, who was born in Dublin and lived there till his late 20s, says the Park Hotel uses local produce as much as possible, while some of the staff are also involved in farming in the area.
His porter, who has worked at the hotel for the past 35 years, is also a farmer.
“The shift work gives the rural person time to be there in the morning or afternoon. We close for six weeks every year and it gives them a great chance to work at home.”
But it’s the local produce that Francis says is key to many rural hotels and restaurants. “I visited a restaurant in Kenmare recently and they had a big sign up that they were using Kerry lamb, St Tolas cheese, Gubbeen cheese from west cork and Sneem black pudding.
“Isn’t that brilliant that restaurant in a small town in Ireland is using so much local produce.”
In the Park Hotel, all the lamb comes from Sneem, their beef is from the midlands and the eggs and fish are from Castletownbere and it’s something that Francis encourages the businesses he visits on his TV show At Your Service to do.
While he acknowledges that Ireland cannot absorb all the food it produces, he says that there is a lot of doom and gloom around Brexit and the impact it may have.
“The problem here is we don’t have the population to take the volumes, but the UK will have to pay more for some food, as they won’t be able to replace it.”
And he also thinks that there may be no harm in getting a wake up call to see where else we can export to.
“In 2008, when the American market collapsed, we had to look at other markets, including the home market. It was difficult but the home visitors carried us through. Every business has difficult years and Brexit may be difficult but we will get over it. Human nature is that you work around things.
“People will always pay a premium for food. If you look at the US grocery market, the big mover at the moment is Whole Foods, it’s a premium supermarket brand, but it’s always the best and beautifully presented. There is always a market for quality, you just have to find it.”
His hotel, he says, not only benefits from the availability of local produce and a Kerry workforce, but it’s location is also key.
From football to tourism, it’s the people he says, that makes it so successful. The county has been catering to royals since the 1890s, so “we know how to handle people”.
He lauds the staff at his hotel and says their work attitude is second to none.
“All my staff have two jobs, they take people driving on their day off, they clean houses at the weekends, they work on farms, they might do a day or two in a bar, walking tours – which my barman does. They are not afraid to work.”
While the hotel, and most of Kerry, shuts down for six weeks after Christmas, he says the rest is welcomed by all in the industry as it gives them a chance to recharge their batteries. “It gives people a change to regroup as they have worked very hard for 11 months.”
The Kenmare Park Hotel is about luxury and additions to the hotel, including the spa, have taken place over the years.
From the moment in the 1890s that Lord Lansdowne began discussions with the Great Southern & Western Railways about the new Kenmare rail line it was implicit that a hotel would accompany it.
James Franklin Fuller was appointed as architect and surveyors produced their initial estimate in October 1894 and the hotel opened its doors less than three years later May 1, 1897. It cost £10,000 to build. Designed in the style of a Tudor mansion, the architect made extensive use of dressed Portland stone.
Today, the hotel has 46 bedrooms and in 2007 it built a destination spa.
“The spa has been a huge plus in the hotel. I travel a lot and it’s good to see what your competitors are doing. We are always on the look out and we never travel without finding something.”
The spa was part of an upgrade of the hotel to attract and keep a younger market, Francis explains.
“We were open almost 40 years and our market was disappearing. We built the spa so we’d get a younger client and that would give us 20-30 years from these new customers.”
Two cedar trees were cut down for the spa, but they were then used to make bespoke day beds in the spa, while the rock that was dug out for the spa was used on the inside of the spa.
The hotel is turning 120 years old this year and Francis was putting the final touches to a book on the history of the hotel when we met, he says it’s the hotel’s continued dedication to luxury and service that keeps it top of its class.
And with Francis’ drive and dedication behind it the hotel is sure to keep being a favourite for years to come.