What’s the top B&B in Ireland? Gallows View unveiled as winner

Daniel and Majella O’Donnell host awards ceremony at which Clare B&B scoops prize

Mary Mckenna flanked by Daniel and Majella O’Donnell after the Gallows View B&B in Bunratty Co Clare came out as the overall winner of the B&B Ireland Award at the Ashling Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Mary Mckenna flanked by Daniel and Majella O’Donnell after the Gallows View B&B in Bunratty Co Clare came out as the overall winner of the B&B Ireland Award at the Ashling Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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The 1962 visit of US president John F Kennedy is credited with giving rise to the Irish B&B, when a need for accommodation flung open the doors to private homes.

Since then, the sector has grown as an alternative to hotel stays and crucially, to those who lay out the welcome mat, a standard bearer of traditional Irish hospitality.

“[Guests] almost feel that they know you after being with you for a very short time and that is a unique ability that you have,” singer Daniel O’Donnell told the 2018 B&B of the Year ceremony in Dublin on Thursday.

While filming Daniel and Majella’s B&B Road Trip, O’Donnell said he and his wife Majella were amazed at the progression of the homestead experience.

The award, hosted by the B&B Ireland umbrella group and now in its second year, is, said O’Donnell, about recognising the lengths hosts go to deliver the hospitality “that Ireland is famed for”.

From a shortlist of 10, Mary McKenna’s Gallows View B&B in Bunratty, Co Clare, collected the top prize – a welcome accolade for the 30-year-old business.

“I would say: welcome your guests, make them comfortable and treat them well,” she said of the formula behind B&B success.

In the decades since she began her business, said Ms McKenna, guests have come to expect higher standards and are more removed from the heart of the host family, but otherwise things are much the same.

And critically she never offered more than 10 rooms, so as not to “lose the personal touch”.

It is a sentiment shared by Helen Doyle, who has run the Brandon View House in Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny, for the last 25 years and who sees more recent arrivals as akin to “small hotels”.

Daniel O’Donnell congragulates Gallows View owner Mary Mckenna. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Daniel O’Donnell congragulates Gallows View owner Mary Mckenna. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

As with most of the B&B owners who cater in the main to a US and continental client base, Brexit is not the looming threat it is to the broader tourism sector. Tourism Ireland data showed a drop in visitors from the UK cost an estimated €60 million to the general market last year.

“Certainly there is a fall-off,” said Ms Doyle. “But there are other markets that are coming on that we didn’t have before.” Groups of Chinese and Israeli visitors have emerged in recent years.

Bernadette Frayne’s Ardfield Farmhouse in Ballinhassig, Co Cork, caters principally to American, German, Swiss and French guests, often specifically seeking out the B&B experience over hotels.

“[Brexit] certainly is going to have a bearing on us but at the moment we have enough of other nationalities,” she said.

According to Fáilte Ireland’s Tourism Barometer for December 2017, almost half of B&B operators said business was up compared to 2016. Just 10 per cent reported a decline.

“The B&B experience is all about the host, and the welcome and the interaction that they have with the visitor,” said B&B Ireland chairman Maurice Pratt. “You can’t replicate that experience in a hotel.”

As to the perceived dangers facing the industry, he said Airbnb had never been described as a “threat”, but needs to face the same regulatory oversight as the B&B sector.

“You would have to say [it is] not a very level playing pitch,” he said.

“[Brexit] is less of an issue for B&Bs perhaps than other sectors because we would not have as high a percentage of our visitors from the UK.”

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