"I love meeting people. I have been very lucky"
Having lived a varied life, Kenmare hotelier and TV star Francis Brennan tells Sinead Kelleher how his positivity, faith and hard work has got him to where he is today
There are few people that can say they have no regrets, but well-known hotelier Francis Brennan is one of those people.
Having lived a full and varied life, the Park Hotel manager and owner had done more than most.
From running and owning his own hotel; from being TV personality, world traveller and author, Francis Brennan's never envisaged the heights he would reach. And his first love is the same today as it was 40 years ago - the hotel business.
He exudes positivity as we sit across from each other in the Park Hotel, one of Ireland's most luxurious and well-known hotels, and he chats about his past, present and his future.
"I have been very lucky. I never get out of bed and said I am going to work; I always liked my job. I thank God; I am blessed," he says.
"There are people who go to work every day and don't like their job, and I couldn't think of anything worse. I come in here and I am so happy. I love meeting people."
His positivity has helped him get where he is today, and over the years it has helped him keep the bright side out no matter where or what he is doing.
"I am very positive. I spent a lot of time in hospital when I was young; I had 11 operations because I had a bad leg. I was in for six months at a time and my mother said I was only ever happy," explains Francis.
One thing for certain is that Francis is still a man on a mission with no plans to retire anytime soon.
With more than 40 years' history here in Kerry, mostly in The Park Hotel, Francis has no intention of stepping back. The Park Hotel is his first love and remains so as much today as it did when he arrived to work here all those years ago.
What most don't know is he began his hotel career in Parknasilla, just outside Sneem, straight from college in Cathal Brugha Street. A stint as second in command in the Queen Victoria in Cork followed - and then The Park Hotel came looking for him as manager. That was 1980, and the hotel was just being developed. It had been derelict for a number of years after being sold as the old Great Southern Hotel in 1976.
"I was in my early 20s, only 22, and it was a huge position to be in," recalls Francis. Less than four years later, he was the boss man, first off leasing the hotel under his own name and - some time later, as the owner - he took the step to buy the hotel himself.
"It was a big gamble to lease the hotel. I was only a young fellow. I borrowed parents' deeds and borrowed €40,000. I opened on April 7, 1984, under my umbrella, and we traded well," recalls Francis.
"I had a lot of money in the bank, so my accountant told me to buy it. I would still be borrowing millions, but he said they would understand. I went to see 13 Irish banks but all said I was too young and the deal too big."
However, Francis was not fazed, and after more consideration he approached a Swiss banker who used to visit the hotel as a guest - and the rest is history, as they say.
"I borrowed the money and bought the hotel and didn't tell anyone. Everything [was] the same as before, and I owned the building."
He was in business, and since then he has worked morning, noon and night to ensure The Park Hotel is one of the most prominent hotels in the country. But what led to Francis's love of the hotel business?
"When I was around 11, Mom and Dad sought to build a guest house/hotel in Sligo in 1963/64...I thought that it would be great I could be in the front hall of the hotel dressed up in my Fred Astaire tail coat, which we had in the wardrobe at home.
"I don't know what enticed me; the 'taily' coat was what it was all about," he said.
Fast forward many years, and Francis is now not only one of Ireland's best-known hotel managers but also a TV personality and an author - both careers obtained more by accident than by design.
"I envisaged retiring at 55; that was the plan written down and all, until the property crisis came to Dublin. I had to change my plans," he said.
And that's where his TV career came in - a very successful one that is now 12 years old and going strong with both 'At Your Service' and 'Francis Brennan's Grand Tour'.
"RTÉ were chasing me to do that, a concept they had, and we did. I like helping people.
"The Hideout Pub in Kilcullen was voted Pub of the Year at the VFI Awards last month, and we [he and John] did that only last year - so we helped all those people. It is a great body of help by John and I," says Francis.
Indeed, he likes to help people, whether it's his guests or hotel staff; the hotels and businesses on 'At Your Service'; or those that read his books.
However, despite a career in the limelight, his hotel is his first priority always, and he doesn't county money nor fame as a major a part in his life - something he is very grateful for.
"I never sat down and said this is what I would do at 45. I never aspired to have a boat or a jet; I am not driven by those things. So when things when belly up, I was just me. I am happy just the way I am.
"I am a hotelier that does TV, not the other way around. If I had to choose, I wouldn't be the TV star. This is my business, my baby, my whole life here - you can't step out and leave it go off on its own.
In keeping with his positive outlook, faith plays a major role too.
"I have no regrets in life. If I died in five minutes, I had a fantastic life, I was very happy and I made people happy. I was a good employer, and I believe in God, so I am not worked up about what's going to happen when I die. I was very lucky." he says. "I am not a holy joe, but I never miss Mass. I love to go to Mass abroad because you meet like-minded people. It is a marvellous way of having a family abroad.
"I thank God I have a faith and I believe in it and I'm happy."
And he always advises his staff who are moving abroad to contact the church.
"They will look after their own. You meet people who have businesses, and they have events and they have community, and you can get into there straight away."
Francis may have been born in Dublin, but he has now been in Kerry almost 40 years, and Kenmare is his home. He believes there is nowhere like Kerry when it comes to living or tourism.
"I drive in past Blackwater Bridge and I thank God I live here," he says.
Kerry people "understand tourism", and this is what makes it so special, he says. The industry has changed a lot, especially because of education, and he feels this is a good thing.
"Education has increased hugely in tourism, so more people are now trained. That is not a slight on the people before, but education makes life easier because they understand. I am always trying to improve everybody to help them move on in life."