Ciaran Reidy Of The Johnstown Estate On His Journey

By Robert McHugh
Ciaran Reidy Of The Johnstown Estate On His Journey

Robert McHugh speaks to Ciaran Reidy, general manager of the Johnstown Estate, a listed eighteenth-century rural residence.

Built in 1761, the Johnstown House (as it was then known) was the country residence of Colonel Francis Forde, his wife, Margaret, and their five daughters.

Since then, the house has been owned by a variety of people, including a Dublin merchant, several gentlemen farmers, a knight, another military man, an MP, and a governor of the Bank of Ireland. In 1927, the Prendergast family bought the house, and Rose Prendergast – after whom the Rose private dining room is named – became mistress of the Johnstown House for over 50 years.

The house was restored in the early years of the new millennium, and a new resort hotel developed around it to become the Johnstown House Hotel. In 2015, under new ownership, the hotel was extensively refurbished, expanded and rebranded, becoming the Johnstown Estate.

Hospitality Ireland recently caught up with Ciaran Reidy, general manager of the Johnstown Estate, to discuss exciting new developments at the property and his own international background in hotel management.


The Johnstown Estate will soon launch a new conference centre, the Forde Suites. Please tell us about this investment.

I joined the Johnstown Estate in January last year. I was particularly interested in the development of the boardrooms and conferencing facilities. We took it forward and developed some ideas.

The Forde Suites is a new brand that we are going to be launching in the next couple of weeks. We are working with a PR company called the Pudding. They are a Limerick-based company. They helped us a lot in bringing this new brand together for the Johnstown Estate. It is not a change of name on the Johnstown Estate because we are really just branding our conference offering, our ballroom, our events offering under the name of Forde Suites. It is a development of just under €7 million.

It is a full recess of our existing ballroom, modernising it to what our clients require in today’s market, particularly from the conference-and-meeting-room point of view. It’s extending the size of our meeting room space, and we are now looking to be able to cater for up to 700 delegates dining in the banquet [area], with up to 1,100 delegates attending a conference event. It is quite a large space, and we will be unique, when you look at the competition that is around us. It is only 35 minutes out of Dublin, and so accessible.

What is the ethos of the Johnstown Estate?


Delivering five-star service and quality to our guests across a broad market spectrum. We are a 120-acre estate located in south County Meath. It is a four-star deluxe property offering 128 bedrooms, with 40 lodges on the estate. Our customer would be primarily leisure, corporate and conference. Over the last number of years, we have developed the spa offering at the Johnstown Estate, which is a huge attraction for our business coming in. We have seen a good number of developments since I joined the property in January last year. We opened a new cocktail bar called Parterre. It is another element added onto the facilities that we are offering here.

It is a busy property, with a very diverse mix of business coming in. When the current owners purchased the property in 2015, we had 115 team members. We have doubled in the last ten years, with up to 330 team members in the property presently. With future developments, that increase in staff will develop further.

For me, people and culture are very important within the hotel, and we have recently been accredited as a Great Place To Work property – something that was one of my aims when joining the hotel. We are very focused on our people. They are valued. That is the main ethos for the Johnstown Estate.

Sustainability is very much to the fore. We have just completed a solar installation of 206kWh, which is presently providing up to 35% of our energy needs. We are looking to expand this in Phase Two, in the months ahead.

Please tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.


I am a Limerick man living in Leitrim, working in Meath. Originally, I am from a small village called Loghill. I went to school in Mount Trenchard.

I still live in Leitrim and travel daily to the Johnstown Estate, so, for now, my home is Drumsna, Co. Leitrim. I suppose, in time, I always hope to make my way back to my home county in the future.

My parents were never involved in hospitality, but my uncle had a pub locally, and, as a kid, I was working in the pub, collecting glasses. In my early teens, I would have been behind the bar, serving. If my uncle and his family were away, I would be left in charge for a day or two. That was my introduction to hospitality. I had a liking for hospitality and catering.

One of my first official jobs, when I was 16 years of age, was working in Benners Hotel, in Dingle. My parents thought that if I had a liking for hospitality, I should get into a hotel. My mum was very friendly with the former general manager. I spent the summer back in Benners. I liked it. I started off as a kitchen porter, then moved across to making sandwiches and breakfast.

After doing my Leaving Certificate, I joined a professional cookery course in what was known as Galway RTC at the time, back in 1995, and I completed that course. It was a two-year programme. I had the opportunity to work in some lovely hotels, some lovely restaurants, like the White Gables, Moycullen. I worked down in Parknasilla for a period.


After graduating in professional cookery and spending a year or two within in the kitchen, I just thought there was more I wanted to do and learn. An opportunity was put in front of me to join the hospitality management block release course, which was a diploma in hotel management – again, back in Galway RTC, or GMIT’s Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, as it became known. I completed four years and graduated.

Over that four-year period, I had the opportunity to travel to Germany and New York on placements. That was my introduction into the management side of hospitality.

When I came back to Ireland, before I joined the Johnstown Estate, I was with Lough Rynn Castle and Kilronan Castle hotels for 15 years. I came back with a five-year plan, but that was disrupted through recession, and it ended up being a 15-year position.

Working for Lough Rynn Castle and Kilronan Castle hotels for over 15 years was a huge accomplishment in my career, where I am immensely proud of the developments that were created and the positions I held within that company. It was certainly a huge achievement to take on a general-manager role and then a hotel director role with that company.

Can you tell me about your time in Washington?

It was funny how it came about. First of all, having worked with Fitzpatrick’s in New York, I was very fortunate to have a green card. That came about because of a simple application, after I came across a notice in the Irish Independent for a green-card lottery system. I applied and got awarded a green card in 1999/2000.

I had to travel to the US and work there to hold a green card. That is what got me into Fitzpatrick’s Hotel, a Manhattan hotel in New York City, where I did a work placement. Having finished college, I had a college friend of mine working in Baltimore, and I had planned to visit for two weeks after college.

I am not sure what exactly inspired me to send a CV to Jurys’ Washington Hotel, but I did. A week before I travelled out to Baltimore, I had three phone calls in the space of an hour: one from the deputy general manager, one from the general manager, and one from the vice-president of Jurys Doyle. It was like an over-the-phone interview.

I went out to Baltimore, spent a week in Baltimore with a good friend of mine, and then spent a week in DC and didn’t come back for a good number of years. A two-week holiday turned into a three-year work trip.

I heard of Jurys Washington from an acquaintance in college who had worked there. I started as an assistant front-office manager and was quickly moved up to the front-office manager position, which had become available. I suppose that it is one of the best work experiences I have ever had. I always have relished it. I met friends for life from working in DC. There was a group of Irish there, and we stuck together. We were really close – you know, not just that we connected socially, but we connected on every other level, from sporting interests and other things. It was very strong back then, back in 2003 and 2004.

I love the politics in Washington. I love the city, the culture that is in the city, the history that is in the city – it is amazing. I have travelled back over the years – in the last number of years as well – for a visit.

I certainly met some influential people. I had the honour of meeting Ted Kennedy one morning at the St Patrick’s Day breakfast in Jurys’ Washington Hotel – it is now called the Dupont Circle Hotel. I had the opportunity of meeting some other heads of state. By chance, we had the Secret Service in, who were looking after a head of state who was attending Ronald Reagan’s funeral, and I actually ended up with a pass to Ronald Reagan’s funeral in the National Cathedral, just from looking after these people and looking after the Secret Service.

Working in Washington, DC, was a real eye-opener. I was only in the city a few weeks when the Washington Sniper was active. The fear across the city was palpable – a scary time for my parents at home, watching the headlines on the news. We also had the experience of the ‘shock and awe’ Iraq War, which President Bush launched. There were days that the city went into a mini-shutdown, as local police chiefs would advise of an imminent strike. We had to cancel an event in the hotel one weekend, as the ballroom was being designated for a shelter, filled with water and blankets.

I did get to visit the White House, which was a huge highlight for me. We worked very closely with the Irish Embassy in DC and got to welcome many international and Irish dignitaries at the hotel. We had some funny times with actor Danny Glover, who would rent the penthouse for long periods. I certainly have a lot of stories from Washington, but it was just a brilliant time – a brilliant experience working with the team in Jurys Doyle.

This led me on a career path working with other Jurys Doyle hotels and took me on a transfer back to London, for an opening property in Jurys Heathrow. It was my first time working in a Jurys Inn and in a Jurys Inn airport development as well, so I was delighted to be taking part in the opening of a property, the set-up of the property, getting involved from the very get-go.

In my career with Jurys Doyle, I was very fortunate that opportunities were put in front of me to be involved with the Jurys in Chelsea, Croydon, Bristol, Islington, and then finishing up in what was previously known as the Clifton Ford Hotel, more recently known as Marylebone Hotel, on Welbeck Street. I have had some fantastic opportunities through the Jurys Doyle Collection.

What do you consider your first major role?

My first major role after graduating after college was going to the Jurys Washington hotel and becoming front-office manager for a 312-bedroom hotel. I relished it. It was a great experience working in front office, working in central DC.

After that, my London experience has stood to me over the years. I met some fantastic GMs, and I still recall the advice they gave me over the years. I still hear their voices in my head in what we are doing today.

I met a fantastic revenue-driven GM in London whose guidance and advice was really helpful. DC would be my first head-of-department position, and then getting into a deputy position in London, getting my first GM position back in Ireland. These were all important.

What do you like most about your role, presently?

I am a people person. I enjoy connecting with people. I enjoy meeting our guests, chatting with our teams, and understanding what they like about our products, and what they enjoy about our hotel, and how we can develop that more for the future.

Challenges do arise, but I enjoy dealing with the challenges, working them out with our teams or our colleagues, finding a solution together. That is really the focus for me. It is worth the trade-off when I can see our guests and our customers enjoying themselves, enjoying our facilities. When they mention this to us, it is really a pat on the back for me, and for our teams.

What are the main challenges in the industry at the moment?

We are still suffering a Covid hangover. One of the main things we are experiencing here would be skill shortages. When recruiting for senior positions, HOD [head-of-department] positions, it is very difficult to get the skills and the calibre of teams that we need because we have younger teams coming in front of the house in service areas, and they need guidance, but they need guidance from skilled and trained HODs.

As general manager, I could talk forever in terms of cost challenges, payroll challenges, the cost of doing business, goods-and-services price increases. It is a very fine balance here.

Every hospitality person in Ireland is going to be a little bit concerned about the Aer Lingus air strike here at the moment.

It must be hard to plan for an external event like that!

Certainly. It is something we have been looking at in our office over the weekend, and particularly this morning now, as well. Yes, there is going to be a bit of exposure to our business, with American travellers coming into the country and trying to get back out of the country, as well as knock-on delays. We are reaching out to our tour partners at the moment, to see if they have any information or any updates on their side, and how we can help them out or facilitate them even better.

It is not ideal at this time of the year, coming into peak season for the country. It is not ideal for an airline who have a huge capacity coming into this country, as well, to be dealing with a strike situation.

Hopefully, pilots and airlines can get together. It is still four or five days before the full-out strike on Thursday, and hopefully they can get their heads together to resolve this. It is a shame that they are using the general public as a pawn in this dispute, but hopefully it can be resolved.

What is your business motto?

Treat people with respect. Be kind. It is important for me that people feel valued and listened to.

Education and learning is another important value for me. Despite hating school in my younger years, I have found myself eagerly wanting to learn more now, in later years. I really enjoyed completing the Cornell University Executive Management Program and becoming a part of a network of like-minded colleagues. It is a great support. Equally, my college friends – while not all are still in the hospitality profession, we meet up often and are only at the other end of a phone call.

I am presently exploring a UCD course on management and leadership, trying to see if I can fit it into my already-heavy work schedule. I believe that, academically, it is important to stay fresh and up to date with new and emerging approaches. As a leader, we are all about supporting training for our teams, but, as a leader, we need support from time to time also.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I always find it is important to get outdoors, to clear my head. When I get home in the evening time, if I can get out for a walk or do some jobs around the house, or even in the garden, that is important for me. It has some good health benefits.

If I am back home, my dad and myself have a boat in Foynes Yacht Club. When I can get home, down to West Limerick, I like to get out onto the River Shannon, cruise down to Scattery Island, down to Kilrush. Living in Leitrim, I am only five or seven kilometres from Carrick-on-Shannon, which is a great boating hub for inland waterways.

We have brought our boat to Carrick-on-Shannon. It is great to get out on the water and see the countryside from the water – it looks like a completely different landscape. I like the fresh air and listening to the water while cruising down the river. I like the peace and quiet.

I am a keen follower of GAA football. Being a Limerick man, I follow the hurling. We are fortunate, at the Johnstown Estate, that we have training facilities, football pitches, rugby pitches and soccer pitches. We welcome senior teams almost every week, and I enjoy meeting these teams and chatting with them and understanding their philosophy and their mindset about teams. They come to stay here or to get away for a day camp or an overnight camp. We recently had a senior football team staying with us who I predict will be in an All-Ireland Final in the next couple of weeks!

What will be the next chapter for the Johnstown Estate?

The next chapter is the launch and the opening of Forde Suites, which we will have completed within the next six to eight weeks. We are looking forward to welcoming new corporate, conference and wedding clients to the hotel.

Once that is established, there is potential investment for additional rooms here at the property. We have a 128-bedroom hotel, but are we are looking at increasing our room stock. With potential increased delegate entrants in our conference centre, there is a market for additional rooms, so hopefully that is the next chapter.