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The Ultimate Hotelier

The Ultimate Hotelier

Tuesday 08 June 2010

We all remember in the movie Pretty Woman how the suave Hotel Manager came to the aid of “Vivian”, played by Julia Roberts, when she needed a special gown for the ball with Richard Gere’s character “Edward”. He had been somewhat disapproving initially of their association in his posh hotel but his soft hearted good nature and professionalism came to the fore and, Pygmalion style, he not only organised an appropriate dress for the occasion through his contacts but also gave ‘Vivian’ a lesson in etiquette and how to use the cutlery appropriately so she wouldn’t disgrace herself.

It all sprang to mind recently on a visit to Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara as I watched Chief Executive, Ronnie Counihan, charmingly ‘work’ the dining room every night with the right word for everyone at every table. “Everything ok”? “Are you enjoying yourself”? Good to see you again.” Did you have a good day.” “Ah, little Johnny has got very big.” “How was the golf”? But what really caught my fancy was, when he said discreetly to a Swiss couple at the next table to us, “your wine is on me tonight”. I had been facing him so semi lip reading picked up on it! “They are a lovely couple, they are madly in love, and have been here twice already this year – its their favourite place in the world.” He explained later. I could see where they were coming from, for Renvyle is magical, and Ronnie Counihane is the ultimate hotelier and host who just thinks of little things to make your stay that extra bit better.


Renvyle House is the former home of Oliver St. John Gogarty, the renowned poet and author, and was bought by the Coyle family from the Gogarty’s in 1953. It is a wonderful Arts & Crafts style house sitting on 200 captivating acres right out on the point at Renvyle with nothing in sight but Inishbofin and the endless Atlantic Ocean reaching out to infinity. The Coyle family developed Renvyle as a hotel to still feel like a large country house in which you are a treasured guest. There is an artistic feel throughout the place with an abundance of paintings lining the corridors, one of which I spotted of Clifden being by the late Rosemary Coyle, a well known artist, in the 50’s and 60’s and mother of John Coyle, the owner, who is also passionate about art. I hadn’t realised the association up to that point.

For all the regular guests who have stayed at Renvyle House over the past number of years, Ronnie Counihane is synonymous with Renvyle, the keeper of the estate which he absolutely loves and cherishes. Ronnie, a native of Gort, Co. Galway, started out as a ‘young fella’ working the bar in the late 60’s early 70s in Glynn’s Hotel in the town. He then “took himself off to Athenry for two years” where there was a Boarding School for chefs, following which he went to Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare where he was “lucky enough to get a placement in the kitchen.” “It was from the late legendary Billy Kelly that I learned the importance of visiting every table every night. Kelly was a shy man and hated doing it but he said it was just so important.” Ronnie said. He was so right. Indeed Billy Kelly’s son, Bill, also keeps up the great hospitality tradition today at Kelly’s of Rosslare. Ronnie then came to Dublin to the Killiney Court Hotel which was the hot spot at the time, and then to the Dalkey Heights Hotel, known locally as the Khyber Pass! Deciding then to do Hotel Management, Ronnie went back to school, as it were, to GMIT in Galway, in the late 70’s. Having qualified he then went on to spend 15 years with Great Southern Hotels overseeing some of the best hotels in the country at the time, including the Park in Kenmare when it was a Great Southern Hotel and also the GSH at Mulranny.

I stay in so many hotels throughout the year and never get a glimpse of ‘the Boss’ or the Manager. You come and you go out in a totally impersonal world. Ronnie revels in the life of Renvyle and is totally hands on. A few years ago he showed me the first planting of the then new herb garden, his pride and joy which he tends daily. This of course is harvested daily by chef Tim O’Sullivan in producing his delicious food in the hotel restaurant. We walked around as Ronnie proudly showed me how it had come on since my last visit. It now includes winter savoury, fennel, dill, angelica, lavender, coriander, a variety of sages, thymes and mints, and that is but the tip of the iceberg.

The gardens at Renvyle are being devoloped bit by bit. Last year they added a Rose Garden, with 350 roses of some 47 varieties, which is a beautifully tranquil peaceful place to sit on a sunny day. The garden development, Ronnie told me, is largely down to Seamus O’Donnell, a garden designer from Donegal, who has a great knowledge of seaside plants, and he has worked in conjunction with Sophie Coyle. The bluebells were out in droves all through a wooded area like a vast heavenly carpet and it brought back memories of childhood walks with my father through the woods of the Grange Golf Club in Rathfarnham and how these things stay in one’s mind when you grow up. Renvyle is a magical place for children - with a large room right in the centre of the house given over to entertaining children – it is like the childhood enjoyed by children of yesteryear. The place abounds too with wildlife and there are 80 pet ducks wandering the grounds who are regularly fed by guests. One drake is very bold! When I was there he jumped up on the table of a guest who was enjoying her afternoon tea in the sunshine. Somewhat startled she stood up and tried to wave him away but this cheeky chappy was having none of it, he proceeded to drink her tea before fleeing with half her scone!

However, the real measure of the man as far as I am concerned comes down to a pair of geese now holding court at Renvyle. Ronnie got a present of a goose and a gander for Christmas from his mother and he went along to Gort to collect them expecting them to be oven ready! Not so, this lucky pair of geese were alive in the box and, much and all as he likes roast goose, Ronnie said he just hadnt the heart to kill them. Now he has been rewarded with two goslings, which were only a day old, and of which he is as proud as punch. It is such a joy to see Mr & Mrs Goose and family around the water’s edge and to think that the average life of a goose is 24 years – with some living a lot longer. The gander, Ronnie laughs, is “a bit temperamental at times.” That is to be expected for ganders traditionally make great ‘guard dogs’. “One lady parked too near him and being protective he wouldn’t let her out of the car and she had to ring the hotel to be rescued.” I must confess that when I learned a few years ago, not having thought about it before, that geese can live such long lives I gave up considering them as food – I much prefer to watch them – so perhaps it is something to think of before you order one for Christmas!

And so, there are many aspects to a good Hotelier’s daily life, and what a difference it makes to the ethos and enjoyment of the guests, but whatever they are Ronnie Counihane seems to cover all the aspects superbly. He is just the ultimate Hotelier.