The opening of the five-star Cashel Palace Hotel – a magnificent Palladian manor built in 1732 – has been a significant event in the Irish hospitality industry. We talk to general manager Adriaan Bartels about the four-year redevelopment of the hotel that was once home to the Archbishops of Cashel.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in July of 2022.
This labour of love, by owners the Magnier family, has seen the original Palladian mansion transformed and extended to include 42 luxurious bedrooms and suites, a world-class spa, a ballroom, and the Guinness Bar, which reflects the hotel’s historical links to the godfather of Arthur Guinness, founder of the globally renowned brewery.
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During the four years of complex renovations, the original grandeur of the Cashel Palace Hotel has been expertly preserved. Situated off the main street in Cashel, at the foot of the Rock of Cashel – a dramatic limestone outcrop featuring the most impressive cluster of medieval buildings in Ireland – the entrance hall retains its original wood panelling and two imposing fluted Corinthian columns. Beyond the hall is a remarkable staircase, in early Georgian style, carved from red pine and featuring hundreds of intricately hand-turned banisters.
To the rear of the house, the historic landscaped gardens are designed to include some of the original garden walls on the estate, which date back to medieval times. Of note are two ancient mulberry trees, planted in 1702 – still standing tall today – while the original Bishop’s Walk will allow guests private access to the Rock of Cashel, ancient seat of the Kings of Munster and home to a thirteenth-century cathedral.
It is a meticulous project, ambitious in its scope, and beautifully executed.
So, Adriaan, describe the Cashel Palace Hotel to us.
A luxury country house hotel with 42 bedrooms, luxury spa and ballroom, situated in the middle of the town of Cashel, with views of the iconic Rock of Cashel from the back garden of the hotel.
What is unique about it?
Its location, history and ownership. We worked very closely with the Tipperary County Council conservation architect in the restoration of the old part of the hotel, to ensure that the natural fabric of the building was maintained, e.g. the windows in the main house are the original single pane of glass from the original house.
All the damaged cornicing, which is made of wood, was replaced and copied to look like the original cornicing from 1732. All the old plumbing, wiring and flooring were removed and replaced with new fittings. All the flagstones in the lower ground floor were removed, marked and stored in an external warehouse, so that contaminated soil – an old oil boiler had leaked under the floor area – underneath could be removed and replaced with fresh soil. A new damp-proof course and new underfloor heating were installed, and the flagstones were all replaced in their original place, giving a warm and cosy environment to this area now.
The newer parts of the hotel – the spa, ballroom and garden-view bedroom wing – had to be subservient to the main house, but also sympathetic to their own design, and we think we have achieved that successfully.
Why is now a good time to introduce a new luxury hotel?
No choice, really. Had we not had Covid, the hotel would have opened in mid-2020.
What do you hope this will bring to the Irish market that is not already in place?
Our location in Tipperary makes it easy for guests to meet in the heart of Ireland – we are at the crossroads of the routes between Dublin and Cork and Limerick and Waterford. From Cashel, visitors can do easy-to-reach day trips to Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and the surrounding areas without having to move every night.
There are many historic locations to visit locally, such as the Rock of Cashel, Holycross Abbey, Cahir Castle, and the Swiss Cottage. Alternatively, visits can be arranged to meet our local Tipperary food suppliers, such as Cashel Blue and the Apple Farm, who we use to supply the hotel’s restaurants. We have exclusive access to visit Ballydoyle Racing and Coolmore Stud. For those of a more active nature, we have fishing nearby, wonderful walks and hikes in the Galtee Mountains close by, and access to the Suir Blueway, a 22-kilometre riverside cycleway between Clonmel and Carrickon-Suir.
Tell us about your background and career so far.
My parents are from Holland, but I was born in Kitale, Kenya – near Lake Victoria – and went to Greensteds School, in Nakuru, Kenya, until I was sent to secondary school in Clongowes Wood College in 1978. My family then moved to Dakar, in Senegal, for another number of years, so Africa is very much in my blood.
I studied hotel management in Cathal Brugha Street. My career started in the Park Hotel Kenmare, then the Shelbourne, followed by some time in the Pennyhill Park Hotel in the UK, the Royal Scotsman train in Scotland, and then Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare. I opened the Cliff House Hotel in 2008, as general manager, and in 2018 I started the Cashel Palace project, which finally opened on 1 March 2022.
Having grown up abroad, I wanted to travel the world and figured that if I learnt the hotel industry in Ireland, I could then travel around the world, as there are hotels everywhere. Despite working in Holland, America and the UK, I didn’t get very far and ended up back in Ireland!
How has the opening been?
Exhilarating, to say the least – delighted to be finally open – and in one word: hectic.
This is my fourth experience of opening of a hotel, and I thought I was well prepared – especially as we had four years to get ready for it – however, it was like a tsunami. We had two nights of a soft opening, which helped us learn a lot, from an operational point of view, and then we had a day of guided tours for the locals before we officially opened to the public. Between 2pm and 5pm, we had 500+ locals for tours and a cup of tea afterwards. It was important for us to connect with people living nearby and in Cashel, as they have been very supportive of us during the construction period, however, that only increased everyone’s interest, and they kept coming once we were opened to the public.
The hotel has such a strong connection locally, and they were thrilled to see it restored and back up and running. They are all very thankful to the Magnier family for the investment that has been made to the town of Cashel and surrounding areas. Then ‘Sconegate’ hit [a receipt from the hotel was posted on social media, sparking national chatter over its €15 charge for coffee and scones] and we became known nationally, so that increased people’s interest from further afield in seeing the hotel. Thankfully, things have quietened down to a more normal business level now, and this is very welcome.
As with any new hotel, the biggest challenge is getting the new team to gel together and to understand the philosophy of what we are trying to achieve. Training staff – some of whom have never even had a job, let alone one in the hospitality industry – takes time and, in this business, has to happen on the job, so it’s a question of ensuring the customer is well looked after, as they are paying full price for their experience, and their expectations are very high. The hotel has been closed since 2015, so there was a lot of interest locally, and we have been doing tours of the hotel daily for inquisitive visitors, understandably.
Where are the majority of guests from?
So far, predominately Irish, but we hope to attract a more international clientele with the help of our membership of Relais & Châteaux.
What are the major challenges to the business at the moment?
Staffing, increased energy costs, and the cost of food ingredients.
What are the main opportunities?
A unique location and being new to the market helps us attract business that wants to try somewhere new.
Do you think that the pandemic has changed what we look for in hospitality?
Yes. Guests are more appreciative of their experience – as long as it is good, of course.
What is at the core of the Cashel Palace experience?
Good old-fashioned Irish hospitality.
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so …?
Not at the moment. I’m concentrating on fine-tuning our current offering.
CASHEL PALACE AT A GLANCE
Number of bedrooms: 42
Number of staff members: 200+
Dining options (number of restaurants and number of covers in each): The Bishop’s Buttery – 44 covers plus two private dining rooms seating 12 covers each; The Queen Anne Room – 60 covers for breakfast and full afternoon tea; Ballroom – seats 200 guests; Mikey Ryan’s Bar & Kitchen – seats 70 guests, with a private dining area for 40 guests; The Glass Well – an outdoor private dining room for 12 guests; and The Secret Garden – an outdoor barbecue area for up to 50 guests.
Read More: Hospitality Ireland Summer 2022: Read The Latest Issue Online!