This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in July of 2023.
Happy news for Castlemartyr Resort, in Co. Cork, which has been inducted into Historic Hotels Worldwide – the official programme of the United States of America’s National Trust for Historic Preservation – for recognising and celebrating the finest historic hotels around the globe.
Preferred Hotels & Resorts represents more than 650 distinct and independent luxury hotels, resorts and residences that are rooted in their local culture across 80 countries.
The luxurious five-star Castlemartyr Resort recently underwent a renovation programme, which saw refurbishments to the seventeenth-century Manor House and the contemporary wing. Renovations were made to the bedroom suites, a new hotel reception was installed, and there are two new restaurants and dining experiences for guests to enjoy. The Terre restaurant offers a Michelin-star tasting experience under French chef patron Vincent Crepel, and the Canopy restaurant and bar offers a fine-dining menu in relaxed, social and convivial surroundings. A state-of-the-art driving range was installed into the popular Castlemartyr Resort golf course, positioning it as one of the country’s favourites.
General manager Brendan Comerford talks to Hospitality Ireland about the work that was done, and what the new induction means to him.
Tell us about the refurbishment of Castlemartyr.
We are coming to the end of a €9 million investment programme across the whole resort. I tell people there is not a wall in the business that has not been knocked, newly built or decorated during this refurbishment. All public areas and spaces have been improved on and upgraded. We have effectively created and launched a brand-new resort.
All 108 bedrooms have been refurbished. We built a new reception and arrival area, which is more centrally located, for guests’ ease. We built a new hotel restaurant – Canopy restaurant and bar – a brasserie which seats 150 guests with an accompanying bar and new outdoor dining terrace. All outdoor paths, driveways and car parks were redesigned, along with improved lighting and landscape works.
In the Manor House, we launched our signature fine-dining restaurant, Terre, which is a fully immersive dining experience, with part of your meal served in the chef’s kitchen. We were delighted for the team when their effort was rewarded with a Michelin star just six months after opening. Later this month, we will open their grow garden to the public for tours.
The Castlemartyr Resort Golf Club has received significant investment, too – seeing the installation of a new driving range, refurbished bunkers and pathways – and, later this year, we start the installation of a state-of-the-art drainage system for the fairways.
We also acquired the lovely Hunted Hog, which is a traditional Irish pub in the village of Castlemartyr. There we offer a daily food service, along with an extensive covered outdoor space for private events. It’s proving to be popular with wedding parties for second-day get-togethers.
What is the purpose of the refurbishment?
When our new owners purchased the property in 2021, they saw the potential to bring the resort to the next level. It’s a beautiful resort in a wonderful location, and we are now repositioning it back where it belongs in the market.
Have you seen an impact on sales/bookings so far?
Certainly, business has been very strong in the last year. We remained open during the refurbishment works, and throughout this period, the business has grown. The exposure the business has received about the refurbishment, along with the Michelin award, has driven great demand.
Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.
I am a proud Cork man – aren’t we all? I grew up in Cork City and now live with my wife and three children in Glanmire, Cork. It’s wonderful to see our visitors enjoying Cork and all it has to offer.
What first drew you to hospitality?
My father, Tim, and mother, Mary, met while working in hospitality – a very similar story to how I met my wife, Orna, too. My father was the restaurant manager in the Silver Springs Hotel for over 30 years. By the time I came of age to work, at 16, I had him pestered to allow me to start work. I had finished school, I had the bug, and I continued my training under the Fitzpatrick family at Silver Springs, where I worked my way through the ranks. I continued my career progression in several four- and five-star properties in Cork.
When did you join Castlemartyr?
I joined in 2018, working with the previous owners. I have to admit, it was a very different product and offering then.
How did you find that?
When I started working with Castlemartyr, I was very excited by the plans of the then owners, who wanted to refurbish the property and establish its credentials as a great five-star resort. Unfortunately, circumstances changed for the owners, and we were unable to implement any upgrading projects. Not surprisingly, this was very challenging for the team, but we set ourselves the target of controlling what we could, and we focused on the guest experience at the resort, and to grow our customer service standards.
Thankfully, the new owners – Mayrange Hotel Management – are totally committed to putting Castlemartyr Resort on the international map. It’s been super to see investment going into the resort, the people, and the area. It’s been a really rewarding experience, overseeing the refurbishments and other investments into the property. I believe the results are clear for all to see.
Tell us about the hotel – the ethos, food, service, etc.
Our ethos is simple: everything we do is about people – our people and the people we welcome to the resort. We look after them equally because when both are happy, the business is doing well. We are very lucky – the team are fantastic, they are proud to work here, and are knowledgeable about the locale, as well as the wider Cork area, and that translates to a great rapport with guests.
We welcome a diverse profile of guests, from corporate clients to leisure guests, domestic and international, wedding and event guests, along with our spa and golf guests. Each has different needs, and it is our job to preempt these and exceed their expectations.
We pride ourselves on our food offering, from the Michelin-star Terre to the social dining at Canopy restaurant and bar. Our afternoon tea is a wonderful tradition in the Manor House, also. The chefs use the best ingredients – many are supplied by local producers and it’s a joy to be able to champion the wonderful local produce where we can.
What makes a great hotel?
Its people – they are the greatest asset we have. If we mind them, invest in them, they will feel valued and reward you. A happy team, confident in their roles, translates into accelerated service and hospitality for guests. At Castlemartyr Resort, I’d like to think we’re personable and our team makes guests feel welcome, relaxed, and at home.
What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc.?
Hospitality, like life itself, is continuously evolving. The team are always researching our products and developing services to make sure guests have the best experience possible whilst staying with us.
Increasingly, we are seeing requests for outdoor activities and guests wanting to keep their daily fitness routine on their holiday. We have a state-of-the-art gym, with the option of personal training and specialist classes for our guests, that gets plenty of use. The resort boasts 220 acres to explore, and there’s a wide range of country pursuits for all ages to enjoy. We have also connected with many local attractions and activities, so guests can immerse themselves in the locale for memorable experiences.
Gastronomic vacations are also proving to be really popular. Since we opened Terre, we have seen a big increase in visitors who are gastrotravellers. We are very proud of our award-winning dining that is on a par with the best menus found worldwide. We continue to benchmark locally and internationally, to keep ourselves ahead of the curve.
What are you finding to be the major challenges at the moment?
It’s a simple answer: costs. Running costs have increased dramatically, and maintaining budgets can be a challenge, however, revenues are growing, and the sales team have done a great job this year.
What are the main opportunities?
We are targeting international guests and putting Castlemartyr Resort on the international stage. We have just returned from two sales trips to the US this month alone, and it’s great to see that the demand and interest for Ireland as a destination is very strong. We are looking forward to welcoming our guests from the US and other international markets and giving them a true Cork reception and experience. We offer guests a luxurious, bespoke Irish stay, and our location is the perfect base for exploring the wider Cork surrounds.
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so, personally or professionally?
Personally, to help my daughters win the league next year! I help out with their local soccer club, Riverstown FC, in Glanmire. They came second this year. Professionally, to increase our international guests visiting the resort, and to continue helping our own teams implement their growth and development plans.
CASTLEMARTYR RESORT AT A GLANCE:
How many rooms?
One hundred eight  bedrooms and 46 residences – two or three bedrooms each.
How many restaurants?
The Canopy restaurant serves a contemporary Irish menu in relaxed surroundings, with a beautiful outdoor dining terrace.
All-day dining in the Castlemartyr Resort Golf Club.
A delicious, relaxed and traditional pub menu at the Hunted Hog in Castlemartyr Village.
A light menu of soups, sandwiches and bites and a traditional afternoon tea at Knights Bar, in the Manor House.
A Michelin-star dining experience at Terre, in the Manor House.
Number of staff members – front and back of house?
We currently have a team of 280 across the business. This will grow to over 300 for the summer.
Percentage breakdown between food & beverage and rooms?
Accommodation would account for nearly 50% of our revenues, with food, beverage, spa and golf contributing significantly to the total resort revenue.