Catherine Kenny is rooms division manager at Ashford Castle and has worked at the Mayo hotel for the past 24 years
For many years now a Clonmel woman has played a central role in the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure each guest has the best experience during their stay at Ashford Castle, one of Ireland’s top hotel resorts.
Catherine Kenny joined the Ashford Castle team in 1997 and was promoted to rooms division manager at the five-star luxury hotel in 2002.
With responsibilities that include front of house, reception, concierge, security, guest services and working closely with accommodation services, maintenance and reservations, the role is vast and varied and Catherine loves the fact that no two days are ever the same.
Growing up at the family home at the Mountain Road in Clonmel, Catherine had planned to join the bank following her Leaving Certificate at the Loreto Secondary School.
However, The Nationalist played a hand in changing that fate when she answered a jobs advertisement in the paper for a receptionist role at Hotel Minella in Clonmel.
“I applied for the receptionist position while I was sitting exams for the bank,” says Catherine.
“I thought it would be good experience as there would be some accounting involved. I was interviewed by Elizabeth Nallen and was successful.
“I started working at the front desk and helped in the banqueting department from time to time too.
“I quickly realised that I wanted a lifelong career in hospitality and ended up working at Hotel Minella for five years. I loved everything about it.”
In 1994, while juggling her job at Hotel Minella, Catherine studied at Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin, where she completed a diploma in International Hotel and Catering Management.
Three years later, Catherine bade a fond farewell to the Clonmel hotel and made the three-hour journey to Cong in Mayo, where she joined the team at Ashford Castle.
“During my first five years at Ashford, I worked across a number of departments including accommodation, human resources, rooms division and event management, which gave me great experience - they were very happy days.
“One particular project that came my way while working in events was Pierce Brosnan’s wedding to Keely Shaye Smith in 2001, which was terribly exciting.
“But it was nothing out of the ordinary for a place like Ashford Castle, which has hosted presidents, politicians and celebrities over the past 80 years,” says Catherine.
In 2002, under the helm of current general manager Niall Rochford, she was appointed rooms division manager, a senior position she has held ever since despite many changes at the venue, including a change of ownership in 2013 and a €75 million restoration at the luxury hotel.
Over the years, Catherine has received many guest requests and no request from a guest is too challenging for her and her team.
“We get personal requests from guests all the time and we are so used to them at this stage, we don’t blink an eye.
“But one request, in particular, created a challenge when it first crossed our desk; a guest requested that the pH (the potential or power of hydrogen) in the air be a certain level during their stay.
“The guest’s rooms were inspected thoroughly each day, we had to acquire ozone-free and chemical-free cleaning agents, their bed sheets had to be washed at a certain temperature and we had to use a particular detergent.
“The guest was delighted with our attention to detail and they are now repeat visitors to Ashford Castle – we now do this each time the family visits and it doesn’t faze us at all.
“We always try to meet and exceed a guest’s requests and preferences. Making sure they are happy and comfortable is our daily goal.”
Not one to take full credit, Catherine insists that providing this high standard of service is a team effort.
“I believe what makes Ashford Castle so special for guests and staff alike is the team spirit. Everybody goes above and beyond to ensure standards are exceeded.
“When you are working with high-calibre colleagues who take ownership of their department and their role, it makes each day working at Ashford Castle a pleasure.
“We are also very fortunate with the current owners, the Tollman family, who own the Red Carnation Hotel Group, which includes Ashford Castle.
“They are not just owners, they are genuinely interested in the property, the people who work there and we even serve Mrs Tollman’s bread at breakfast each morning.
“Currently, work is underway for a new pool and leisure area, which continues despite these difficult times, and they encourage the team to upskill with training and development courses on an ongoing basis.”
Of course, no matter how much you enjoy your job, everyone needs a break from time to time and, when possible, Catherine loves to return to Clonmel to visit family.
“I love going home to see everyone and getting out for beautiful walks down by the River Suir.
“My mother Carrie Kenny and my aunt Patricia Kenny still live in the town and they have a great life, there’s a real sense of community in the town.”
That community spirit in Clonmel is echoed in Cong village, and is a key reason Catherine has enjoyed living in rural Mayo over the past two decades.
“The Cong community have been very good to me over the years.
“Just the other day a neighbour said to me, ‘I’ll be putting turf into your shed now in the next week or two’ – we all look out for each other.
“It all combines to make you feel very connected to an area and part of a wider family.
“Everything in the village leads back to the castle and vice versa, and it’s a wonderful community to be a part of.”
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