In 2024, Dunmore House – a gorgeous family-owned and -run 30-bed seaside property – will be celebrating 75 years since it was purchased as a family home.
The family in question is in its fourth generation, with Peter Barrett coming home to take the helm at just 32 years old. He initially went to college not pursuing the family business, but soon realised where his heart lay and spent time learning about hospitality in Switzerland, Hong Kong and the United States before returning to Dunmore.
Dunmore House was added to the Michelin Guide in 2022, for its gorgeous restaurant, Adrift. Food is really central to what the family does, with Peter’s mum, Carol, growing up in the kitchens there, so they have developed a stunning organic kitchen garden, have their own hens, for eggs at breakfast, and use the very best of local Cork produce, too.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in December of 2023.
Tell us about the origins of Dunmore House, Peter.
Dunmore House was purchased by my great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Mary O’Donovan, from the Beamish family, in 1934. The house and adjoining lands were a working farm. When Mary arrived at Dunmore for the first time and looked out at the sea below the house, she is reputed to have said, “There is nothing here but water.” In the early 1940s, the O’Donovans first began having guests to stay during the summer months, and in 1948 – 75 years ago this year – the property was licenced for the first time. The business was taken over by Derry, son of Jeremiah and Mary, on his marriage to Mary Dineen of Mill House, Ballinascarthy, in 1961. They are my grandparents.
What does it mean to be the fourth generation?
It means a huge amount to be fourth generation in the hotel. My very first childhood memories were here on the kitchen floor, as me and my twin brother ran around a busy working kitchen. It was all we knew. I was immersed in one big family from the very beginning. I always say it was like having lots of aunts and uncles around all the time. I had a really close relationship with so many of the people that worked here, growing up, and that is the very same atmosphere the hotel has today, 25 years later, and those relationships continue.
Obviously, to be following in the footsteps of my grandparents, Mary and Derry, makes me very proud. How hard they worked over the years and how they built a business through sheer grit and determination always stays with me. I am so lucky to know and to have known them so well, and it continues to drive me forward every day. Of course, my mother, Carol, is the beating heart of Dunmore and is so much more than a hotel owner. She is the shining light of the whole hotel and an inspiration to so many who have been lucky enough to work with her. It brings with it pressures, but I’m confident I can bring the hotel on and do them all proud.
Tell us about your route to this.
I had a bit of an unconventional route to get back home. My parents, Carol and Richard, never once mentioned to me that I should come home to work in a hotel. My three siblings – Niall, Julie and Ciara – all worked with me in the hotel as we grew up together. It was just the natural thing for us to do.
I started in veterinary medicine in UCD before changing to law and philosophy. After graduation, I did a master’s in business consultancy at the Michael Smurfit [Graduate Business] School. It was probably in the middle of my master’s course that I decided I would like to return home to work in the hotel. It was an easy decision to make.
Before coming home full time, I spent 15 months doing a master’s in global hospitality business in École hôtelière de Lausanne, in Switzerland. That was a great experience, and I spent time working in Houston, Thailand and Hong Kong during that period.
When did you first realise that you wanted to do this professionally?
As I said, it was probably during the year of my master’s course in Dublin that I literally just decided one day. I suppose, at that time, many of my classmates were looking to apply to certain consultancy companies for employment. I realised I was lucky enough to have a business at home that meant everything to me, that had given me so much, and it seemed like an easy decision to make.
What are the particular features of being a family-run business?
I’m sure every family business has its own features that are unique to each. I know it can be a cliché, but our business is like one big family. All of our team feel like family to me. How their lives are going is very important to me and to our family. I’m in a unique position, as my parents are both still heavily involved, that we work together on a daily basis. My dad, Richard, has been working here since 2014, after retiring from practising law, and has been a huge support to me, since he is here in the hotel. My mum, Carol, as I mentioned earlier, is the driving force of the whole operation.
I’m really lucky to be able to learn from them every day. We get on really well, and we complement each other, as we all have different strengths and aspects that we look after in the hotel.
Tell us about Dunmore House – the ethos, decor, service, etc.
The ethos, really, is all about our team. We want Dunmore to be that escape, that home away from home. Our staff are the best in the business. I have no doubt about that. The welcome and the care they give to guests is second to none. A warm welcome, comfortable, excellent food and service – that is all you want.
What is the food ethos of Dunmore House?
The food ethos really does come from Carol. Ten years ago, she had a vision about creating a special dining experience in the hotel. That is not something that is always associated with hotels, and she wanted to change that perception.
We always had an excellent wedding and bar food offering, but we created Adrift in order to have a destination dining venue for guests around West Cork. Anything we do, we do with the best-quality local produce. We make no compromises in that regard. Whether you are looking for a delicious pizza on our sea terrace, overlooking the sea in the summer, a couple of pints with excellent bar food, or a fine-dining experience, we want everything done to the very highest standard and make it accessible to everyone.
What has being included in the Michelin Guide meant to you?
Yes, it meant a huge amount to all of us. I was particularly pleased for our chefs and kitchen team. The professionalism and dedication they show on a daily basis is amazing to witness. It was fantastic for them to show that their hard work has been recognised and rewarded. For Carol, my mum, it was her vision when we opened the restaurant, so it was a really nice moment. Also, it just makes us want to be better and work even harder, and improve even more.
What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc.?
I think simplicity has come back into things somewhat. People’s lives are so busy nowadays. Here in Dunmore, we want to give people an escape from that. Simple comforts, great food and great service – they are some of the pillars of hospitality, no matter what trends change over the years. Of course, we are always looking to innovate. We have many exciting projects planned for the future.
What are the major challenges at the moment?
The challenges are, undoubtedly, the cost of business. Hotels over the past couple of years have gotten some bad press when it comes to room rates, but the reality is: the cost of doing business is going up far more than the prices of having a hotel experience. The VAT rate jumping to 13.5% was a huge disappointment, albeit expected.
What are the main opportunities?
The main opportunities are that there is always a new project around the corner. There are always ways to improve customer experience. It is something that we are constantly looking at while retaining the pillars that I mentioned earlier. It is also very exciting to have a team of people working towards one goal. Every single department in the hotel has to work together and in unison to make the guest experience special, and that is something we work really hard on here in Dunmore.
The other opportunity is that having a hotel experience is still a special experience for guests. Despite all the technology and changes in the world, there is still something special about booking somewhere and getting away from everything for a couple of days.
What do you do when you’re not working?
As anyone who knows me can attest to, I am a massive Arsenal fan and am lucky enough to have season tickets with my dad and brother. The running joke is that you will either find me in the hotel or the Emirates Stadium, and not many other places. I also have a great group of mates around and try to fit in the odd game of golf here and there.
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?
There are many plans on the horizon. For the hotel, we have very exciting plans and developments planned over the next few years. Personally, I always look forward and never rest on my laurels. You have got to keep pushing, keep improving, keep working harder.