Sinead Lawlor Of Killashee Hotel On Her Recent Award

By Robert McHugh
Sinead Lawlor Of Killashee Hotel On Her Recent Award

Robert McHugh speaks to Sinead Lawlor, operations manager at Killashee Hotel, about her recent award from County Kildare Chamber.

Sinead Lawlor, operations manager at Killashee Hotel, was presented with the Employee of the Year Award at the 2023 County Kildare Chamber Business Awards last month.

Lawlor, who is from Palmerstown, in Dublin, started her tenure with Killashee Hotel in November 2013, stepping into the role of duty manager. She was quickly promoted to conference manager in January 2014 and became operations manager in June of the same year.

The four-star Killashee Hotel – outside Naas, in County Kildare – aims to provide a sanctuary for business and leisure travellers alike. The hotel has 141 bedrooms, two restaurants, 15 meeting rooms, three conference and event rooms, a ballroom, two wedding venues, a leisure club with a 25-metre swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi, and a spa with 15 treatment rooms.

Killashee is part of FBD Hotels & Resorts, and the group has invested over €4 million into refurbishing the hotel since April 2022. Killashee employs 370 full- and part-time staff members.


How did it feel to be named Employee of the Year at the 2023 County Kildare Chamber Business Awards?

It was a huge deal, to be honest. I did not think I was going to win. It was unexpected and a huge privilege.

I was ten years working in Killashee that Wednesday, so to have that happen on the Friday night was great. I was very proud of myself. I have worked hard for the ten years to get here. It was great. It was absolutely super.

What a coincidence that it arrived during your ten-year anniversary at Killashee!

That’s it – it was a nice celebration!


What was your first job in the hospitality industry, and how did that experience shape your passion and commitment to the field?

The first was a catering job. I am showing my age now, but I would have finished college in 1997, and back in those days, industrial catering was the way to go. It was very fashionable at the time because of all the American companies in Ireland.

I was the junior catering manager at Intel, so that was my first job. I stayed in industrial catering for many years, up to 2006, and then I moved into hotels.

Intel was a huge experience. I was very young. I was just out of college, and there was thousands of people on site and different dynamics. I was meeting lots of different people, not only from Intel, but all the other people that worked there. There were many rules and regulations when working at Intel. They are very safety conscious. There was lots of planning and different types of thought processes that go into everything, that would mould you. You decide how regimented you wanted to be, and how you want to work.

Who was your first mentor in hospitality, and how did his/her/their guidance influence your growth and development as a hospitality professional?


There are many people. When I worked at Intel, in industrial catering, there were many women in senior positions. I knew a lady there called Valerie Higgins, who ran the whole site. It was a huge deal at the time.

The lovely Sheena Staunton was my operations manager when I was at IBM. I think Sheena always conducted herself very well – she was always a lady and very calm. You start to realise that you don’t achieve much by shouting or roaring. To this day, I am very calm in my approach. I am not a believer in shouting.

I worked with many other great managers as well, all of whom taught me lots of different things – and, obviously, working with FBD and their standards, it is a whole other ball game! The way that they have changed Killashee since April last year is outstanding.

Can you elaborate on the factors that led you to decide on your career direction? Were there any influential individuals or experiences that encouraged you to take the route that you have taken?

To be honest, I enjoy being around people. I enjoy the hustle and bustle. I don’t like a quiet day. We don’t often get a quiet day in Killashee, thankfully enough! I like to be busy. I like to be challenged all of the time.


When you have a bigger workforce, there are different personalities all around you. You meet some wonderful people, and then you share exciting experiences, and sometimes you share sad experiences, and that can go for guests and colleagues. We tend to look after one another here. We are very family orientated – here in Killashee, especially. It’s nice to be part of people’s special occasions, and it’s nice to be there for them when things are not so great.

Throughout your journey, could you walk us through the various roles that you have held in your career and the significant lessons that you have learned from each experience?

Well, like I said, in my younger days, a lot of it was in industrial catering. When you begin your career, you are always trying to start off in something bigger or better. I worked in many different places.

I worked in office support on the road, where you would be between computer factories, banking institutions, and you learned something from all of them, all of the time.

Then I went into hotels – ten years in Killashee, and over two years in the Bridge House [Hotel], in Tullamore, before that. At the Bridge House, there was a nightclub attached and a real party atmosphere four or five nights of the week, so you see different elements of the hotel business.

In Killashee, I started as a banqueting/duty manager, then moved to conference manager, and then I was moved to operations manager last year. You learn so much every day. You learn from the people around you, you learn from incidents. It’s hard to put a finger on it. I think every day is a learning day. There’s always something that has to be tackled or fixed. It’s all part of the challenge, and it’s all part of what I enjoy every day.

Of which industry networks have you been a part that have provided vital support and contributed to your career progression?

I’m going to be very honest here: I’m not part of any industry networks. The only influences I have are the more senior managers and senior team that I work with now. They bring a wealth of experience to the table. I’m learning from them all the time.

In your experience, what are the most significant challenges that you have faced while working in the hospitality industry, and how did you navigate through them?

One of the biggest challenges that everyone in our industry had to survive was Covid. It changed everything. There were four months where it was just a handful of us here, trying to keep the place going and keeping the hotel safe. You really learn from that uncertainty – all the staff do.

In Kildare, we reopened, and then, in the blink of an eye, we were straight into lockdown with two other counties. That was a major challenge.

Staffing levels and keeping staff is another challenge. In this industry, everyone is looking for good people, and if you are lucky enough to have them, you have to keep them here, and keep them happy. It’s hard because people are working irregular hours and antisocial hours. It’s that challenge of keeping people happy and keeping them here with you, as opposed to them having their heads turned to go somewhere else.

Has that become harder since Covid – the retention of staff?

It absolutely has. It’s a buyer’s market out there. You have to look after people, and you have to do your best to make a good work environment because, you know, it’s a tough industry we work in. You are at parties all the time, but you don’t get to go to parties yourself, with your own friends. It is a little bit easier when you are older, but when you are a younger manager, that’s a harder thing to take because you can’t always commit to Friday nights out or Saturday nights out.

It has been very difficult because so many people have left the industry. Hospitality got hit hard during Covid. There were many other industries hit as well, but I think some people decided there must be other, safer industries I could work in if this was to ever happen again.

Looking ahead, what are your career goals and aspirations, and how do you envision making a lasting impact on the hospitality sector?

At this stage, I am very happy working with Killashee Hotel and FBD Hotels. I am still challenged every single day, so I do not feel like I have been here for ten years.

Everything has changed since FBD took over, so it’s a little bit like starting again, which is great because it makes things more interesting. Ultimately, I would like to be an integral part of Killashee and FBD Hotels & Resorts. I want to be always giving something towards our growth and success.