Wednesday 23 January 2019

Growing anger over Millrace Hotel

Bunclody residents vow to oppose any plans to change use of landmark hotel

Pat Deering TD, Derek Nally, Caroline Dunne from Bunclody Golf Club, Cllr Barbara Ann Murphy, Cllr Willie Kavanagh and Cllr Charlie Murphy from Carlow
Pat Deering TD, Derek Nally, Caroline Dunne from Bunclody Golf Club, Cllr Barbara Ann Murphy, Cllr Willie Kavanagh and Cllr Charlie Murphy from Carlow
Derek Nally addressing the large crowd at the River’s Edge, Bunclody

Pádraig Byrne

There was evidence of the growing discontent in Bunclody surrounding the Millrace Hotel as around 200 people piled into The River's Edge for an emergency meeting. The hotel, which was under the management of The McGettigan Group, was put on the market back in July of last year, however, things have escalated in recent weeks with the hotel now operating on a massively reduced basis. Wedding couples who had been due to celebrate their big day at the Bunclody hotel were also handed back their deposits and told their big day wouldn't be going ahead there.

A degree of mystery has surrounded the hotel with strong rumours circulating locally that it was to be sold to a group who intend to transform it into a nursing home. The hotel owners have been conspicuous in their silence and have been unavailable for comment for the past three weeks. The hotel's landline numbers are no longer operational and the only contact that can be made with the hotel is via a mobile number posted on their Facebook page, which is only answered periodically.

Residents from around the Bunclody area called last week's meeting in a bid to fight to keep a hotel in the town and to state publicly that they will oppose any attempt to change the use of the building from a hotel.

The meeting was chaired by Derek Nally who said that the huge crowd was a real indication of the concern the community had and he welcomed elected representatives from both sides of the Wexford/Carlow border. Minister Paul Kehoe was joined councillors Barbara Anne Murphy, Kathleen Codd Nolan and Willie Kavanagh, while TD Pat Deering and Cllr Charlie Murphy made the journey from Carlow.

Mr Nally spoke of how Bunclody had been given the tag of the most economically depressed town in Ireland in recent years and the great measures that had gone into reversing this. 'Now when we're finally moving in the right direction and making a bit of progress, one of the most important tourism aspects of the town is closing down.'

Mr Nally said that there had also been rumours of the hotel being used to house asylum seekers, but he said that this was not the case, a point followed up on by Deputy Deering. Cllr Barbara Anne Murphy spoke of the huge impact the loss of the hotel would have on the town. 'I'm not against a second nursing home for Bunclody,' she said. 'But not if we have to sacrifice our hotel for it. I will battle to prevent this at all costs.'

Minister Kehoe pledged the support of his office to the local community in their bid to retain a hotel in the town and said he would contact the committee for updates. Similarly Deputy Deering commented on the level of community spirit that exists in Bunclody and pledged his support, saying that he would be happy to encourage potential buyers to take over the hotel. Cllr Murphy added that she knew of at least two parties that were interested in taking over the hotel, one of which is rumoured to be a local hotelier. Cllr Kathleen Codd Nolan said that getting a committee together was the first step and said 'surely it would be possible to meet someone from the hotel'.

There was quite a bit of anger directed towards the current management of the hotel from the assembled crowd. Ms Marcella Dunne questioned: 'Where are the management of the hotel? Why aren't they here? It would be common manners to put their nose in the door.'

The consensus from the meeting is that the current management failed to engage with the community at all. Mr Nally said that Managing Director Neil McGettigan had previously indicated to him that the hotel never got the support of the local community, something which those assembled took great offence at.

'Neil McGettigan never cared from day one,' said Mick Kehoe of The River's Edge. 'He seemed to think the world revolved around him and that doesn't work in small towns. He made it nearly impossible to have business in there. It was run into the ground. To insult the town and say we didn't support the hotel is very unfair. He wasn't capable of running that hotel and it was never going to be a success with him in charge.'

Representing Enniscorthy & District Chamber, Michael Bennett pointed out that the McGettigan Group was extremely successful and that maybe the community should try reaching out to them again. 'These are very successful hoteliers in Ireland, the US, the UAE..they are a strong outfit. This is not the first hotel they've closed though. They had another one up the country run by a member of the family that got into difficulty. Maybe contact should be made with the family in Donegal?'

The meeting concluded with the formation of a committee, which included Cllrs Barbara Anne Murphy, Kathleen Codd Nolan and Charlie Murphy, chaired by Mr Derek Nally. They vowed to keep people updated as the situation develops and to try and make contact with the owners in the meantime.

However, one woman seemed to sum up the thoughts of those present when she said: 'If somebody is ready to buy it, let the word go out tonight. We will object to changing it from a hotel every step of the way.'

Management were said to have held a meeting with members of staff at the hotel the next day and it is believed they were told that if the new owners do happen to keep the building as a hotel, their jobs will be retained. However, they still face massive uncertainty, something which councillor Barbara Anne Murphy branded 'extremely unfair'.

Enniscorthy Guardian