THE transformation and upgrading of Lough Lannagh Village in Castlebar is to be featured in the season finale of the RTÉ series At Your Service, with the Brennan brothers, Francis and John, this Sunday night (May 19), writes Tom Gillespie.
The brothers are best known for their hotel expertise on At Your Service, giving business makeovers to B&Bs, guesthouses and small hotels throughout Ireland that need help with a range of problems.
The Brennans' advice covers all areas. They look at staffing, analyse catering arrangements and suggest new menus, as well as inspecting every room and advising about redecoration (inside and out) and looking for new ways to exploit the less obvious assets of each property.
Francis Brennan conducts the main inspection and devises an overall strategy while John looks at money issues, explores new marketing opportunities and suggests ways to develop in the future.
They visited Lough Lannagh Village, run by Gerardine and Paul Lennon, now celebrating 21 years in business, and oversaw a complete makeover of the property, which is adjacent to the newly opened €12 million swimming pool complex.
When they returned to view the finished product, Francis admitted: "When I came to Lough Lannagh first, I had never heard of it.
"I was very surprised at what I found. It was a lovely site beside the lake. It was a little tired and needed a bit of work. But luckily Gerardine and Paul took to the challenge and with the help of Catherine and others on the site here they did a fantastic job.
"They now have a template of some of the cottages and the bedrooms redecorated and rejuvenated and they are going to roll that out in the coming years. They were very lucky because Foxford (Woollen Mills) were a great help for the fabric and all the materials used in the refurbishment. There is nothing like having local produce for the use in any project."
Geraldine Lennon added: "There is nowhere like this in Ireland. We are delighted with the Midas touch we got from the Brennan brothers."
When Paul and Gerardine Lennon moved to Mayo from Bermuda in the 1990s, they were greeted with rain and a large tree growing in what is now the reception of Lough Lannagh Village. They climbed through overgrown bushes where the charred remnants of the former Creagh Villa stood.
Their first day in Castlebar was a far cry from the five-star hotel experience they were used to in the hotels they worked in around the world.
The unorthodox career move was thanks to a tourism strategy report commissioned by Mayo County Council in the early 1990, which identified a shortage of specialist tourist accommodation in the area.
Castlebar was not considered a holiday destination. It was a place to pass through to get to Achill and Westport. At the time, the average visit to the town was four hours or less.
The council and architect Sean Taylor’s strategy was to establish B&B and self-catering accommodation on the edge of the poorly maintained lake and waterway.
The cottages were to be built on a waterlogged part of the site. Gerardine and Paul stood in the pouring rain, missing Bermuda’s golden sands, telling themselves to 'keep an open mind and look at the possibilities'. It was difficult.
Their role was to establish a sustainable business which would increase visitor numbers and length of stay to a day-and-a-half, and encourage the visitor to spend their euros in the bars, restaurants and shops in Castlebar.
Today, Lough Lannagh has 60 bedrooms consisting of a 24-bedroom B&B lodge and 11 self-catering cottages as well as a 20-bay caravan and camping park, café, conference venue and activities centre. The complex, lake and its surroundings have been redeveloped by Mayo County Council into a sports, recreation and heritage hub.
Gerardine, Paul and the team’s philosophy combines a heart-felt welcome with a willingness to genuinely exceed customer expectations. Like their predecessors, they have built a reputation of treating people well. They actively work with partners in the community, enabling them to run world class sporting, choral, family and corporate events by creating memorable experiences built on understanding, hospitality and attention to detail.
Lough Lannagh means ‘Lake of the Children’ and in historical maps is also called Church Lake.
Creagh Villa is the original country house and is now called Lough Lannagh Lodge. Creagh Cottage is named after the original house. The Gillespies of The Connaught Telegraph were one of the last families to live in the old house and Gillespie Cottage remembers them. Bilberry Cottage is named after Bilberry Lake, adjacent to Lough Lannagh Lake, while the Hazel and Elder cottages are named after the trees that grow on site. Easterly Cottage is positioned for the perfect sunrise and westerly where the sun sets over Croagh Patrick.
Sean Taylor, the architect behind Lough Lannagh Village, is memorialised in Sean’s Place while Davitt Cottage is named after Michael Davitt. Finally, Dove Cottage is named after Murial Gahan, founder of the ICA and Lough Lannagh’s most famous resident.
At Your Service, featuring the Lough Lannagh Holiday Village, will be broadcast on RTÉ One on Sunday evening at 8.30 p.m.
Do you have a story to tell about your business? If so, Tom Gillespie would be delighted to hear from you. Get in touch at (087) 9680780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.