Winner: Hayfield Manor, Cork
What makes a great Irish welcome? The initial greeting, of course. But it goes beyond that.
A genuine ceád míle fáilte is about warmth - a natural, unforced interest that makes people feel at home without being fawned over or hovered around. It's an authentic helpfulness; an intuitive, human connection in a world of systems and screens.
Cork's Hayfield Manor ticks all the boxes, you said, naming Ireland's Best Welcome in our Reader Travel Awards 2020. It provides "the friendliest, warmest welcome around".
The five-star hotel's staff are "all suitably friendly in a very genuine way", offering a mix of "excellent customer service and experience". This is a place where guests are "always met with a fantastic welcome", you told us - a fact verified by one of our judges on a visit just last month, when "lovely, really warm hospitality" was on offer.
Set beside University College Cork, Hayfield Manor took on life as a hotel when it was acquired by Joe and Margaret Scally in 1995 (their collection also includes the Killarney Royal and Great Southern hotels).
Those who have stayed will be familiar with Hayfield's easy mix of traditional manor-house charm and city-hotel cosmopolitanism, as well as the effortless warmth of its staff - an effortlessness, of course, that takes a lot of effort to pull off.
"Hands down the best customer service I've had," one reader said. "High-end dining with a friendly relaxed atmosphere. No snobbery or stuffiness."
Another shared the story of a special anniversary visit: "It was the most welcoming place I've ever stayed, from start to finish. The reception staff, the man who brought our bags to our room, the waiter at dinner, the staff at the spa and the cleaning staff were amazing!"
With signs of a softening in overseas visitor numbers, Ireland's ceád míle fáilte is more important than ever. If you need a reminder of its impact, here's where to start.
Contact 021 484 5900; hayfieldmanor.ie
What makes an Irish hotel welcome special? We spoke to Susan Flannery, concierge at the award-winning Hayfield Manor, to find out.
Help us to understand the concierge’s job. How do you handle an arrival?
The concierge is the person at the front door of Hayfield Manor, so they’re the first point of contact. We’re the first people to say hello and welcome guests to the hotel.
What makes our welcome so special? It’s because our whole team is in sync with each other, and we all work well together. Everything works hand in hand.”
Do you speak to guests beforehand?
Prior to their arrival, we would be in communication with our guests, most of the time over email, unless they prefer a phone call. We arrange any special requests that they have, dining reservations, or any surprises that they want to arrange.
Just recently we had a proposal that we set up in our greenhouse, for example, which we decorated for the occasion. It was very romantic, with small lights, rose petals everywhere, a red carpet and champagne.
Does a great welcome matter more to Irish or international guests?
The welcome is the guest’s first impression of the hotel when they come here. If they’re international, it’s probably their first interaction with Irish people — a lot of them come straight from the airport to the hotel, and it’s their first impression of our country.
But even for local guests, I think it’s really nice to have a warm welcome, a friendly face. Just someone to open the door and wish you a good day.
- In conversation with Nicola Brady
Finalists: Adare Manor, Co Limerick; Moher Cottage, Co Clare; Renvyle, Co Galway; Mount Juliet, Co Kilkenny.