Ashford Castle is closed for now, but will reopen when restrictions permit. And maintenance manager Kevin Devine's job will be as varied as ever
Maintaining an 800-year-old hotel like Ashford Castle has its challenges, but maintenance manager Kevin Devine takes it all in his stride.
“It’s always a challenge because you could encounter anything at any time of day,” he says. “It’s such an old, historic castle but you’re mixing the modern with the old. Everything is so well designed.”
Each part of the castle has its own features, whether it’s the 1970s wing or the West or Victorian Wing from the 1850s, where larger rooms and suites have high ceilings and gas fires, plus doors and windows listed for conservation. Each room has a different fabric on the wall that must be kept in perfect condition, with spare fabric rolls for all of the 60 or 70 different patterns.
Other unusual spares include pieces for the 90 or 100 chandeliers, which are cleaned regularly, or the antique-style taps in the Victorian Wing. There is spare artwork too — if a piece gets damaged, it is replaced while being repaired. The castle has lots of stained glass that has to be looked after, and there’s wood to keep in perfect trim, too.
Unusual problems include mishaps with suits of armour — Devine (pictured) has had to reattach fingers onto one about 20 times. “The one in the oak hall... people gravitate to that, it’s one of the first things they see. People are fascinated by it, they pull it and they take pictures with it.”
Some issues are common to many hotels — lifts breaking down, hot water systems or air conditioning acting up. The priorities are to keep things looking their best and keeping the service level high while maintenance is ‘invisible’ to guests. Kevin has stories of an engagement ring dropped down a sink and car keys falling down the lift shaft (both were recovered).
Being on the shores of Lough Corrib, it can also get breezy. During storms, flagpoles are taken down, furniture taken in and the fountain turned off.
Power isn’t a worry as the services are so high-tech. “We’ve emergency lighting and a back-up generator; it will run the castle, so there’s no issue,” says Kevin. As well as the ‘repair’ side, there is annual maintenance and keeping certification and insurance up to date for things like gas fires, kitchen equipment, fire alarms and water quality.
One of Kevin’s favourite things — in normal times, at least — is setting up for an exclusive event like a wedding, New Year’s Eve or fireworks. Or if there’s a special request from a guest, perhaps for a proposal.
“You want to make everything happen. If the guest requests something, you’re going to do everything to make it happen. That’s what it’s all about,” he says.