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Respecting the 300 years of history at Carton House

Published: Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
Carton House

Respecting the 300 years of history at Carton House

Martin Mangan General Manager gives an insight of what to expect within this iconic building now that it’s a Fairmont Managed property

Carton House a Fairmont managed hotel is the official title of the resort that Martin Mangan has stepped into as General Manager only seven weeks ago. With re-opening set for the 2nd of June we spoke to Martin about the challenges of re-opening a resort that has been closed for 17 months and the future plans for this estate.

“Fairmont is an iconic brand, it has 80 hotels around the world, the brand itself is about 120 years old. So, I think it’s a very fitting marriage of two great brands.  The history of the house goes back centuries. I’ve been reading about the history of the house and the estate, how it was developed, all the people who lived here; the Duke of Leinster, the Fitzgerald’s, all of their history so I think you’ve got a very iconic brand, and you’ve got an iconic resort in Ireland, that maybe didn’t reach the level that it could have, particularly overseas”.

Martin continues, “I think domestically in Ireland, Carton House is  a very well-known brand. That’s why the brand is going strongly here, but internationally and globally there is a view that it’s not well known outside of Ireland. And that’s why I think the relationship with Fairmont is great because it will help this property, reach markets they have never reached before. In North America, Canada, the Fairmont brand is huge and, in the US, a core in terms of its distribution. Fairmont’s parent company Accor are also the largest hospitality company in Europe. So, in terms of the future for the resort, it’s all about distribution, branding, loyalty, these are hugely important.  It has always traditionally been very hard for a standalone independent hotel to penetrate those markets. It’s hugely costly and you can’t do it unless you can somehow develop your distribution. You either do that through partnerships you do that through branding or you can do it by organically by growing your team and targeting these markets, but that takes time, other resorts in Ireland have maybe been doing it for 30 years 40 years and longer, but they still have an association with brands. But up to now Carton didn’t have that”.

Respecting the 300 years of history at Carton House

Carton House a Fairmont managed hotel is luxury resort escapism and a completely  unique experience with re-opening set for the 2nd of June, what can people expect when they visit the property? “I don’t think there are many properties, resorts, estates that can match what Carton is. If you think about it, it is an 1100-acre property, a completely walled estate, dating from  1739, it is over 300 years old. The history of the estate is amazing. There are lots of great resorts in America and around Ireland but there really is fairly little to compare to what is truly offered here and I don’t think that’s fully appreciated even in Ireland, in terms of the extent of what the offering is here”.

 “It’s a great playground. We have everything from golf to fishing, horse riding, walking trails, biking, all within the walls here. But yet we are 20 or 30 minutes to Dublin airport and 30 or 40 minutes from Dublin city centre. We’re close to motorways but yet you’re in this amazing oasis with trees here that are over 300 years old and there is a story behind every single tree here. It’s an incredible location for what the estate offers”.

The hotel has been closed for 17 months, obviously, the entire duration of COVID. However, because the property was going through restoration and refurbishment last year, it didn’t open at all. According to Martin, some of the challenges to re-opening have included staffing. In a similar way to what other hotels have been experiencing, Martin says that while they have retained a lot of staff, a lot have left the industry.

“I think like every hotel, and every aspect of the hospitality industry there’s been a huge amount of people who left the industry. Sadly, because there was a lot of uncertainty around hospitality and maybe not enough messaging around when hospitality was going to open and I know that’s difficult when you’ve got a global pandemic going on, and things kept getting pushed back down the agenda. So, I think a lot of our brightest and best in the industry are probably lost, and it’s going to take a long time to recover from that. A lot of people have gone into other industries that probably thrived during lockdown, whereas hospitality was essentially shut down. I think now we have a situation whereby the majority of hotels in the country are opening up on the 2nd of June and  everybody is looking for staff across every grade, so we’re back to where we were a few years ago where there’s a serious shortage of talent and staff within the industry”.

So how has it been for Martin coming into the position at Carton House a Fairmont manged Hotel, seven weeks before re-opening a property that has been closed for 17 months and undergone a huge restoration and refurbishment during that time?  “I came in seven weeks ago and while I would have liked to be involved much earlier in terms of an opening, there was an interview process I had to go through as well as seeing out my time and giving notice in my previous position so that is the time frame we had.  The plans here have been progressing steadily since the ownership changed and the Mullen family bought Carton house three years ago, so they had a vision, and part of that vision was working with Fairmont, who have come on board in the last 14 months. Then of course COVID intervened so things paused and some things were stopped, but actually a lot of the work has progressed, during that period, which is great. I can tell you that there’s been a huge investment in the property but I  don’t have a figure unfortunately, I don’t know it!”

“This is a national monument, there’s no higher classification of a listed building in Ireland so a lot of the work that’s been done here is painstaking conservation work in terms of plaster work and ceiling work, work you can’t see, stripping back layer upon layer of paint from the three-hundred-year-old shutters on each window for example. There’s been great craftspeople doing this work here like our Parsons our main contractors led on site by Chris Dwyer who are very local  to Carton House. Bringing a property and building like this to modern mechanical and electrical standards was the job of Mastertech our M&E contractor, MDO our architects under the keen key of Martin Spillane who has passionately driven this project, KSN our project Managers led by Brian Cunningham, to all the individual craftsmen and women  who have worked on this project.

I was walking around today and there were discussions happening about a mark on the wall that shouldn’t have been there and figuring out how that happened and how best can we fix it. That’s the level of passion that’s gone in to this restoration. I think there is a sense that they are preserving history”.

“With the restoration what we kept in mind is that this property still has got to be comfortable luxury. So, there’s always a balance between form and function. It’s got to function as a hotel, but equally we have got to respect the heritage and the fact that it’s a national monument, and, also there’s the fact that there’s some things that will cannot be changed’. The building is 300 years old so it has its quirks, for example a door might open today but it might not open tomorrow because the temperature of the building has dropped or gone up by a degree. The building is literally moving”.

As well as the history of the building architecturally, the building also holds a lot of historical insight into the lives of the people who lived in it through the years. Martin says, “In the Duke’s suite for example, there is a staircase that connects his suite with the one upstairs so that the Duchess could come down this secret staircase out of the sight of the servants, or so they say, whether it was for the Duchess or not, we don’t know!”

The basement/cellar of the house which is a network of vaulted spaces, are also vast according to Martin and there are plans to develop these as well as the former wine cellars in the future. Kathleen’s kitchen which is the original kitchens of the house, which were divorced from the main house to avoid smells of food, traveling from that area to where the owners of the house lived. This is how kitchens were built in properties like Carton House before they had a ventilation system. These days Kathleen’s Kitchen retains many original features including vast cast iron stoves dating back to the 1700’s. Diners in Kathleen’s kitchen can now enjoy a relaxed brunch or evening meal as well as a selection of pastries coffees, artisan ice-creams and cold presses juices.

Respecting the 300 years of history at Carton House

This is just one of the many opportunities for a variety of dining experiences in Carton House; the fine dining restaurant the Morrison Room, The Gold Salon where afternoon tea will be served, the Carriage House, the Courtyard Bar, the Dukes Rest and the whiskey Library are just some of the food and beverage experiences guests can enjoy.

There aren’t many people in the industry who could take on the task of stepping into the GM role in an estate of the calibre of Carton House a Fairmont managed hotel, not to mention with only seven weeks to re-opening. However, Martin’s career to date is evidence of his abilities and experience as well as an example of how this industry can offer a substantial career pathway to people.

Martin explains, “My very first job in hospitality was actually about two miles from here. 30 years ago, there was a blue book country house hotel called Moyglare Manor in Leixlip. I worked with the legendary Shay Curran RIP; he was my very first mentor. I worked part-time and weekends for Shay and I just developed a love for the industry. I went to Doyle’s and the Burlington where I trained and from there, I went to DIT and then to the US to Hilton in California. When I came back, I started with Jurys Doyle in Jurys Ballsbridge then Irelands largest 5-star property working with another legend Dick Burke another great mentor of mine. I also worked with Jurys Doyle in London in the Marlebone Hotel,  the Westbury and also spent a stint in Jurys Inns. Pat McCann then CEO of Jurys Doyle felt strongly all managers should work across multiple brands to develop commercial and operational knowledge.

I left Jurys Doyle to do the opening of The Grand Canal Hotel in Ballsbridge and followed that by moving to the Royal Marine hotel in Dun-Laoghaire for a two-year stint and another, which was a great learning experience. In 2008 I landed in the Conrad and I spent the next 13 years there initially working for then then Area GM Friedrich Schafer another great mentor and friend.

While working in Jurys Doyle. Martin won the Young Manager of the Year award given by the IHI and Martin went on to become President of the IHI years later.

Reflecting on his own career and how he developed, what does Martin think about career pathways in the industry now? “Well, I was at the virtual AGM of the IHF recently and there was a lot of discussion about this and they have since launched their Hospitality Skills net of which Martin sits on the steering group. I think we need to get back to having core training available and developing training and staff from the grassroots again. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to an apprenticeship type scheme again where you do solely bartending as a four-year traineeship but I think there are lots of opportunities in this industry and we need to bring young people through. Career guidance is important and that was my own experience”.

Respecting the 300 years of history at Carton House

So, with re-opening this month and all that a global pandemic has meant for the industry in the last 18 months, what are Martin’s hopes for the future at Carton House a Fairmont managed hotel? “I  hope we will have established ourselves firmly in the international market and that we are reaching markets that we haven’t reached previously. I think we will be competing with the best Ireland has to offer but also the best globally and I hope we are renowned for our service, that is very important to me”.

Carton House re-opening  is a good news story for the industry, our staff as well as  local and international markets. We wish them all the very best.

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