Niall Dunne On Newpark Kilkenny Being Named Ireland’s Most Family-Friendly Hotel

By Robert McHugh
Niall Dunne On Newpark Kilkenny Being Named Ireland’s Most Family-Friendly Hotel

Robert McHugh speaks to Niall Dunne, general manager at Newpark Hotel Kilkenny, ‘Ireland’s most family-friendly hotel.’

The team at Newpark Hotel Kilkenny was celebrating last month, after receiving gold at the Virgin Media Business Gold Medal Awards.

The Gold Medal Awards acknowledge outstanding contributions and innovations in the industry, and Newpark was named as the top family hotel.

Family Hotel

The third-generation family-run hotel, which is part of the Flynn collection of hotels, has invested heavily in the property in recent years, with refurbishments and upgrades to the value of €250,000, including a new-look wedding ballroom and lobby.


The Kilkenny hotel has also diversified its outdoor offering, utilising the extensive grounds to create extra amenities to enhance the guest experience, including a wildlife farm, treetop adventure playground, fairy trail, and, most recently, the addition of the Jurassic Newpark dinosaur walk-through attraction.

Strategic Appointments

Much of the recent success at the hotel has been due to strategic appointments made last August, which saw Niall Dunne, who previously held the role of deputy manager, and Mark Flynn, an experienced hospitality professional and member of the Flynn family, take up the shared general management role.

Dunne started his hospitality career 23 years ago, in Hayes Hotel in Thurles. He then moved on to start his hospitality training in the Newpark Hotel, as part of its trainee management programme.

Two Thousand Weddings


The Tipperary man claims to have overseen and been part of over 2,000 weddings in the Newpark Hotel. He has worked in every department – at both front and back of house – from housekeeping to the kitchens, to all F&B departments and management roles within the hotel.

Dunne very generously took time out of his busy schedule to speak to Robert McHugh about the Newpark’s recent award and his own journey in the hospitality industry.

The Newpark Hotel Kilkenny was named Ireland’s most family-friendly hotel at the Virgin Media Business Gold Medal Awards. How did it feel to win such an honour?

We were absolutely thrilled. We put a lot of effort into our family-friendly offering in the hotel recently. We are always trying to include the family experience into the hotel, through different ideas that we are generating. That is how the Jurassic Newpark dinosaur attraction came about.

When families come, we want something for everybody. We want customers entertained from the minute they check in until the minute they check out. We have an ethos for our staff, which is, ‘Let our family look after your family.’


That’s our motto at the hotel. It is great that our ethos paid off and we got recognised for it.

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

I am from Tipperary, originally. I have worked in Newpark for 21 years for my sins!

I studied hotel management in Galway, at GMIT, through a trainee development manager programme, which I did through Newpark Hotel. I was working on site in Newpark, and I was in college on block release while I was studying.

I had worked in Hayes Hotel in Thurles as well, after school. That was my first taste of the hospitality industry.


What first drew you to hospitality?

My parents ran a B&B in Kilkenny, so I was used to dealing with guests. I would help getting rooms ready, making breakfast, and things like that. They were happy memories.

When I went out into the big bad world, looking for a job, hospitality was always a number-one calling for me.

What was your first big role? What was that like?

It was in Newpark. I would have been a trainee manager, but I literally did every job in the hotel, from collecting glasses to everything in between.

What makes a great hotel?

The staff and the people. Anyone can build bricks and mortar, but it’s the people that make it special.

We are blessed because many of us at Newpark have been here for 20-plus years. The owner is really invested in the hotel and lives on the premises. If ever there is an issue, he is there straight away, to guide and assist.

If something is broken, we fix it. There are no big board meetings or anything like that. If it needs to be done, we get it done as quickly as possible.

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

In Newpark Hotel, it was a man called Tom Carroll. He used to be the restaurant manager at the time. He used to bring all the trainee managers in, and he used to give classes regarding industry topics. There is a right way and a wrong way, and he always showed us the right way on how to do everything. That is something that stuck with me for years.

When I am training new staff, I always think back to how I was trained, so it carries on today, shall we say.

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

Not so much industry networks, but I still keep in touch with all the general managers that have been through Newpark Hotel before me. We all stay in contact. Our last manager, Paul Beehan, went to the Heritage – I stay in contact with him. Same with our last manager, Mark Dunne, who moved to Mount Juliet. It is good to get different opinions on different situations that come up from time to 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?

Minimum-wage changes, VAT, and rising costs. When we are looking at costs for the year, as a baseline, our wage costs are nearly €400-500,000 more for the year, compared to last year, due to the rising wage costs. People deserve to be paid, but it’s a big chunk to manage in one fell swoop.

That is on top of the VAT hike rate and the increased costs of food and drink. We still need to make money and make sure that we are running profitably. Also, with electricity and energy costs, they always seem to be going up, but never back down again.

What are the main opportunities for the hospitality sector at present?

We are innovators in what we do here. We looked at our product and developed new markets, and it has been very successful for us so far. There is always opportunity if you look hard enough. We are only at the tip of the iceberg with where we are going with our future plans for developing the park and our offering at the hotel.

We will be investing just under half a million euro in the park, to improve our offering. This will lead to more guests and happier guests.

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

I have two young children. I have a seven-year-old and a five-year-old, so I am back playing soccer and hurling with them.

I am a keen golfer – not a very good one! – but I still like to play.

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

I am general manager at the Newpark. I am not somebody that likes to move around hotels. I want to take the Newpark as far as I can over the next five to ten years. I want it to retain the number-one position as best family hotel in the country.

I also want to make it the best wedding destination and leisure destination in the region, if not Ireland.

Why five to ten years, and not another 21?

We have to see how the road travels!