Wednesday 25 April 2018

It's GR8! Obama and Putin are coming to my hotel

Chrissie Russell

Next June the world's leaders will line up to check into the five-star Lough Erne Resort hotel for the G8 summit.

As Barack Obama and David Cameron are requesting their morning papers and ordering Ulster fries, and Vladimir Putin makes a beeline for the gym, they'll all have been welcomed in the foyer by general manager, Ferghal Purcell.

But who is the man who'll be entertaining the world's elite? The host with the most impressive guest book in Ireland's hospitality history?

Purcell, born in Tuam, Co Galway, took the helm of the 120-room Co Fermanagh hotel in November last year.

In May 2011, the luxury island resort – which opened in 2007 – was put into administration, with former owner Jim Tracey owing Bank of Scotland £25m (€31m).

When acknowledging Purcell's recent one-year anniversary, the hotel's staff warmly thanked their "lovely general manager" for "getting us through what was a challenging year".

The hotel might not be out of the woods yet, but the buzz generated by the G8 booking, the upbeat sentiments of employees and the rave reviews by visitors suggests Purcell's appointment may have marked a turning point for the plush golfing resort. It's not his first brush with hosting a prestigious event.

During his 30 years in the hotel industry he also worked in South Africa where he looked after President Nelson Mandela during the first talks towards reconciliation in South Africa.

"My career high was certainly hosting President Mandela and his cabinet during the Groote Schuur talks in South Africa," he says.

His career low came more recently when he was forced to give up his own family-run hotel, Aherlow House in Co Tipperary, which he'd managed along with his wife, Helen, since 2002.

Despite frequent positive reviews, the three-star, 29-bedroom property, like so many small businesses, fell prey to the recession and Purcell was forced to step away from his dream last year.

Aherlow House is now managed by Atlantic Hospitality Services (AHS), a company that provides asset management services to owners, banks and receivers.

Purcell says: "Regretfully we had to leave our lovely family business, but the nature of the business and the economic climate just didn't allow us to survive or to continue.

"But the experience has made me a much better hotelier and in this business you always have to be looking forward."

The industry was always his dream job and he trained at The Shannon College of Hotel Management, graduating with honours in 1982.

Helen Morrissey, from the Fáilte Aherlow Society, who worked alongside Purcell for a number of years when he was chairman of the volunteer group, says the hotelier is formidable.

She says: "He's a very strong driving force, full of energy and once he gets his teeth into a project he's very committed.

"I'd say he actually works better under pressure. He's someone who wants everything done yesterday, he's meticulous and expects high standards, but he's always the first to give a pat on the back."

The father of three grown-up sons, Duncan, Daelyn and Nicky, is a keen golfer – though whether he gets time to tee up alongside President Obama will remain to be seen – and he also enjoys hill walking.

One of his strengths is making the ordinary guest feel as valued as his celebrities, like Rory McIlroy, Nick Faldo and Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart – who have all stayed in the hotel during the last year.

His down-to-earth manner will stand him in good stead when the most powerful men in the world descend on the island on June 17.

"I think he'll take it all in his stride," says Helen. "He's a great believer in the handshake and always has the hand out."

He's also unlikely to get tongue tied – bar the over-use of one enthusiastic adjective.

"He'll kill me for pointing this out because I don't think he's aware of it, but he does tend to use 'fabulous' a lot," laughs Helen.

"I remember him making a speech once – he's a great speaker – and a lot of us in the audience were counting how many times he said 'fabulous', its just something funny we look out for."

In such capable hands, no doubt Obama and Co are in for a fabulous time.

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