Sunday 18 August 2019

Bondings - Andrea Smith: Mixing business with pleasure

Marc Gysling and Deirdre McGlone, owners of Harvey's Point Hotel in Donegal. Photo: Tony Gavin
Marc Gysling and Deirdre McGlone, owners of Harvey's Point Hotel in Donegal. Photo: Tony Gavin

Andrea Smith

Marc Gysling and wife Deirdre McGlone first met at Harvey’s Point. 25 years later, they still love working together

WOMEN who choose to keep their own name after marriage do so for a variety of reasons. In Deirdre McGlone's case, the ongoing mispronunciation of her Swiss husband Marc Gysling's name was very much a contributing factor.

"He gets called Goosling and Gosling and all sorts of things, so that wasn't happening to me," she insists.

Deirdre and Marc own and run the award-winning Harvey's Point Hotel in Donegal. The chatty couple met in 1989, shortly after Marc came to Ireland from Switzerland to work with his brother Jody, who was in the process of turning his home into a guest house. Jody, who is older than him by 18 years, had moved to Donegal because his dream of owning a house on a lake proved too expensive to fulfil in Switzerland.

Marc was born in Zurich and is the youngest of the late Isobel and Carl Gysling's four children – Jody is the eldest. Their dad worked in sales and sadly died from a heart attack when Marc was 17. Their late mum was very artistic, and many of her paintings can be seen around the hotel.

"I had a summer job working as a receptionist at the house, and the first time I saw Marc, he was on a tractor by the lake," says Deirdre. "I was with my sister and I remember saying to her, 'Oh yes, he's nice!' We were both 22 at the time, and I knew he didn't look Irish, he just looked cool. We all used to go out together after work, and I discovered that Marc had very little English. I did a deal with him, saying that I would teach him English if he would buy me a pint of Guinness."

"I liked that Deirdre was bubbly because I was quiet, so it worked," says Marc, who now has perfect English. "The women in Switzerland were more quiet and conservative, whereas Deirdre was really outgoing."

Deirdre is from Ballintra in Donegal, and is the second-youngest of the late Joe and Sally McGlone's six children. Her dad was a teacher and taught at her school. She went to the University of Limerick to study European studies and, after college, her friend introduced her to Jody, who offered her a job.

Once she met Marc in June 1989, they started dating, and lived in staff accommodation. Deirdre was in room 206 and Marc was in 208, and as to whether they ever ended up somewhere in between, we will just have to use our imaginations, they joke.

"We moved into the same room eventually," says Deirdre. "Marc came into my room one night looking for toothpaste and never left. We had the same interest in horses, and any spare time we had was spent with them. Marc also loved Irish pubs and I loved showing them to him.

"The hotel was a common bond for us, as he worked his way up from pot washer to chef and I worked my way up to getting more responsibility. I could never cook, and my mum always jokingly told me that I would have to marry a chef! Marc was someone you could always rely on and I was very happy with him. Our relationship always felt right as we're very compatible."

Marc and Deirdre were married on Valentine's Day 1996, holding the civil ceremony in the hotel. They didn't have children for a long time, partly because they were so involved in the hotel, which they bought from Jody in 1996, although he still remains very much involved. After seven years, they got checked out medically, just in case, and everything was fine. Suddenly, Deirdre found herself pregnant, and they had three children in a row, Carl, 11, James, 10, and Christina, 8.

"It was like Pringles – once you pop, you can't stop," jokes Marc.

Deirdre went back to work full-time in the hotel, and Marc stayed at home with the children, while developing the hotel's website. Now that the children are older and at school, they are both working at the hotel, but say it's very much a balancing act. Deirdre is primarily responsible for sales, marketing and also guest relations, while Marc is the head chef.

Initially, Harvey's Point had 20 guest rooms, but a programme of continuous investment saw the construction of a ballroom, extension of the restaurant and a major expansion of accommodation from 20 to 71 rooms in 2005. A new boardroom and a suite of beauty treatment rooms were added in 2011.

Last year saw the conversion of 16 older guest rooms into eight luxury suites overlooking Lough Eske, and a funky new bar and revamped restaurant have been opened. To celebrate its silver anniversary, the hotel has brought out a beautiful colour book, 25 Years of Welcomes, which tells the story of Harvey's Point.

The hotel is a credit to them and their hardworking staff, which includes their general manager, who is also TV3's showbiz correspondent, Noel Cunningham.

They all have a very warm and welcoming manner, which is possibly why Harvey's Point was voted Number One Hotel in Ireland in the 2014 TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice awards for the second successive year – it is also ranked sixth in Europe and 22nd in the world. A lot of hard work goes into making it such a success story.

"As a couple, it is hard to find time for each other, as we have work and the kids, and they have to come first as they grow up so fast," says Deirdre. "When we do get time though, we love hill-walking, and we share a love of the business. We are all about experiences; we want it to be an emotional experience for our guests when they stay with us, which is what makes it so special."

Harvey's Point, Lough Eske, Donegal Town, Donegal. Tel: 074 972 2208, www.harveyspoint.com

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