A career in tourism gives people the chance to experience things they never imagined were possible in the most beautiful and unique settings, as restaurant manager Robert Bowe and entrepreneur Liam Regan can testify.
Monica Galetti, co-presenter of the BBC TV series ‘Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby’, described Ashford Castle in Co Mayo as her “favourite hotel ever” in a Radio Times interview last year. The only one she went back to when actually spending her own money, she said what made Ashford Castle stand out was “the warmth of the welcome”.
“At Ashford Castle, we all know we’re working somewhere special. It’s amazing to be able to serve some of the most important and famous people in the world and see them coming back. The younger staff in particular are awestruck and blown away when they meet their favourite actors and singers,” says manager of the hotel’s George V restaurant Robert Bowe, who witnessed Albert Reynolds and John Major dining there in 1990 in the build-up to the Northern Ireland peace process.
Having started as a chef de rang at Ashford Castle 35 years ago, Bowe progressed to being a sommelier, allowing him to fulfil his interest in wine and wine making. “This was a revelation to me as I started to get invitations to vineyards all over the world,” he says. “The beauty of working at Ashford Castle is that every vineyard wants its wines served here and we insist on the highest expressions. I am passionate about food and wine and love that we always have the best of the best.”
Bowe adds that Noli Anglihora, who started in the George V restaurant 22 years ago with his wife Milric, has been allowed to explore his passion for Irish whiskey in the same way. He progressed up the ranks to become bar and lounge manager, and is now one of the hotel’s whiskey ambassadors.
In his time at Ashford Castle, Bowe has seen how the culture there – which has a strong emphasis on team spirit and opportunities for development and progression – has led to a happy workforce and exceptionally high staff retention.
“I am proud that six former team members are now all in managerial roles throughout the hotel,” he notes. “Twelve of the current team are with us over 20 years and one is here 47 years. As restaurant manager I quickly learned that happy staff means happy guests. Whenever a new person starts I ask them what days they want off and accommodate everyone in terms of the days and hours they want to work.”
Of the 400 people employed at Ashford Castle, 45 are living in purpose-built accommodation on the grounds. The sense of camaraderie continues outside the estate as the staff enjoy socialising in the village of Cong and a lot are active in local GAA, rugby, basketball and soccer clubs. “The briefing before service in the restaurant is like the pep-talk before a match. There is a real team atmosphere, with everyone pulling together and supporting each other to deliver a smooth service for both the team and the guests,” says Bowe.
Among the many experiences open to guests on the 350-acre Ashford Castle grounds is falconry, which is the passion of Liam Regan, who saw the potential of this ancient art as a standalone business. Further to studying wildlife biology at Tralee Institute of Technology, he worked in the education centre at Killarney National Park and became fascinated by birds of prey.
“I have always been interested in wildlife and anything to do with animals. I applied for my falconry licence and started to practise it in the traditional sense, hunting with birds of prey and giving other people falconry experiences,” he says.
Things got so busy that Regan decided to set up Falconry Kerry on his family farm, 2km outside the town, in 2018. He was recently able to recruit local person Mark Monksfield – who is also an expert and fully trained in falconry – and sometimes travels to local hotels with suitable grounds to offer exclusive experiences to their guests.
There are now 16 different birds of prey at the centre, from the native Irish barn owl to the largest, a Steppe Eagle, which was recently put on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s critically endangered list.
“Conservation is very important to me. We make barn owl boxes and are looking for a female Steppe Eagle so we can enter into a breeding project. On tours of the centre, I enjoy telling people about the history of birds of prey and the native and non-native species we have here,” Regan explains.
“Other falconry centres in Ireland are usually very much about displays and watching the birds, but we prefer smaller groups and providing a hands-on experience. Everyone gets a glove and can handle the birds with my assistance. It doesn’t feel like work as this is what I would do in my spare time anyway. I find it relaxing and rewarding and it gives me the ideal work-life balance.”
This year, Liam’s father Tim Regan also decided to turn his hobby into a business focused on conservation. He has started ‘ Killarney Bee Walks and Honey’ on the family farm, which includes 20 acres of farmland with bee-loving hedgerows and a 2.5-acre meadow full of flowers to attract pollinators. The honey made there recently won a Silver award at Blas na hÉireann.
“Dad takes people out in small groups in bee-suit gear and teaches them all about beekeeping and how important the ecosystem is for them. He talks about treating them for diseases and opens the hive to show how to safely handle them,” says Liam.
“If you’d asked me ten years ago what career I would have I never would have guessed it would be this one. When I graduated there were not as many opportunities as there are now in eco-tourism. In rural Ireland, more and more farms are introducing tourism on the side.”
If you are looking for a new opportunity in tourism to suit your passion and lifestyle, visit here for Live Jobs on tourismcareers.ie.