It’s often said that if you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work. Valerie Keogh and Pearse Connell are living proof of this in their respective roles as hotel concierge and tour operator
Over the course of her 25 years at the National Gallery of Ireland, Valerie Keogh gained vast knowledge of its collection and history as she went from working in education, curating and ultimately as press officer there. The most recent project she was involved in was the refurbishment of the historic Dargan and Milltown wings on Merrion Square, which culminated in the RTE documentary ‘Portrait of a Gallery’ in 2017.
“My time at the National Gallery of Ireland was very full and exciting. I wanted to see the refurbishment project through but I always had ambitions to move into hospitality and learn more about it. It’s in my blood; my mother was a hotel manager in Cork and Dublin and my father worked in a restaurant,” she explains.
In 2018, Keogh returned to study to do a master’s in hospitality and tourism management at what is now Technological University Dublin and secured a position as concierge at the InterContinental Hotel in Dublin. Three years later she was promoted to head concierge.
“As someone who was already involved in communications and the cultural sector I am very comfortable with the role of concierge. It is most enjoyable dealing directly with guests – responding to their requests and giving them information on the hotel and what they can do and see in the city and beyond,” says Keogh.
“I love the variety involved and working closely with all departments in the hotel. The fact that it’s not a 9-5 job is a positive for me; my hours change every week depending on the levels of business we have. The hotel managers are supportive in accommodating me to take time off when I need. I find it very flexible.”
“Every day I learn something new. My communications and public relations skills have helped me to build up good relationships with tour guides, restaurants and other attractions. I am very conscious that I am really there to explore guests’ interests and what we can do to make their stay memorable. It is so rewarding when people come back to me after a day or a week to thank me and say they had a wonderful experience.”
When guests arrive at the five-star InterContinental Hotel in the village of Ballsbridge, their first impression is of a lobby and reception area alive with beautiful artworks. “I am more than happy to show guests the pieces and highlight what is authentic to Ireland. The paintings and sculptures at the hotel are a lovely jumping point for people to explore the work of eminent artists in the National Gallery of Ireland and for me to promote other cultural attractions,” says Keogh.
“I like to think we are giving guests something unique but also personable. It’s important for all of us at the hotel to pass on the love of a particular subject or the skills we have.”
Pearse Connell’s passion for being on the water started when he was very young and living in Athlone, Co Westmeath, where he has been running Hidden Heartlands Boat Tours & Water Taxi and Athlone Limousine Services for the past four years.
“My parents had a small houseboat and I spent my free time on it with my brothers and sisters. My whole youth was based around the River Shannon. I used to help out in my parents’ fishing tackle shop in the 1960s and 1970s,” he recalls.
In pursuit of a career for himself, Connell did a degree in economics, sales and marketing at University College Dublin and a master’s in international business at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. After working for retailer Harry Moore in Dublin for ten years, Connell bought his parent’s shop in Athlone in 1997 and expanded it to a chain of ten jewelry and gift outlets across the Midlands and West. He branched out further in 2015 by becoming a business coach for Action Coach.
By 2018, and then aged 61, Connell realised his work-life balance was completely out of sync. “I wondered with my knowledge of water and boats what I could do. Going on a boat tour in Enniskillen gave me the idea that I could do something similar, focusing on smaller, private groups,” he says.
In addition to acquiring a commercial boat licence and getting other necessary certification, Connell did the Fáilte Ireland national tour guiding course in order to up-skill. “The tour management part of the course came pretty easy to me having run my own business but I found the Irish history aspect of it invaluable,” he says.
“Now I love sharing the whole history of the area on the boat tour I give from Athlone to Clonmacnoise. This was the same journey St Ciaran took in the 6 Century to establish Clonmacnoise as a great centre for religion and learning. I ask a lot of questions and listen to people so I can tweak the tour to what they want.
“I’ve always loved meeting people since those early days in my parents’ shop. It feels like my life has almost come full circle. On average, I do two tours a day, five days a week in the summer as well as operating the water taxi, bringing passengers for afternoon tea in the Wineport Lodge or to Glasson Lakehouse. My boat is my office now.”