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Conference call: Forget the coffee and biscuits, try a sand mandala

Some of Ireland’s luxury venues are hosting corporate gatherings with a difference

BrookLodge in Co Wicklow.

BrookLodge in Co Wicklow.


Whether it is for hosting an important meeting or running a team-building weekend, some organisations have started to look beyond a traditional conference room with coffee and biscuits, and have developed an appetite for something a little different.

“We’ve always concentrated on the corporate management side of meetings as our core business,” says Valerie O’Toole, deputy manager at BrookLodge & Macreddin Village. The Wicklow location offers a golf course, spa, and Ireland’s first organic restaurant, and provides eco-friendly meeting spaces for organisations.

“The trend towards getting out of the office and the city works in our favour as BrookLodge & Macreddin Village is located just one hour from south Dublin yet it seems like a lifetime away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” says O’Toole.

“Once delegates arrive, they can avail of our 24-hour package, which can include day meeting, activities, dinner and overnight stay. Our gloriously peaceful setting in the Wicklow countryside is the perfect location for a conference, think tank or corporate event,” she says.

“We are very lucky here as our Green Meet Programme offers a variety of eco-friendly conference suites suitable for small meetings of 10 delegates to larger meetings of 350 delegates. We have invested in an enterprise-level managed Wi-Fi system throughout the village connected to an uncontended dedicated fibre connection,” says O’Toole.

While technology and connectivity is important, there is a slice of the market looking for something different. “For those companies looking for a tech-free meeting room, we can host your meeting outside on a sunny day or also in Macreddin Chapel for a meeting with a difference.”

Outside of meetings, the venue works with external companies to provide team-building activities. “But our own in-house activities have proved to go down a treat,” says O’Toole. These include craft beer or wild food masterclasses, as well as a private spa evening. “We would have a lot of regular return companies that book with us year after year, and mainly our new enquires would come from referrals,” she says.

‘Word of mouth’

The focus on referrals for corporate bookings is important for Aidan Shannon, general manager at Liss Ard Estate and Gardens in west Cork. “Corporate bookings tend to find us through word of mouth,” says Shannon. “We are part of Ireland’s Blue Book, where each one of the venues listed is unique. We don’t actually have set packages on offer, rather we try to figure out what is best for each group,” he says.

James Turrell’s Sky Garden at Liss Ard Estate in west Cork.
James Turrell’s Sky Garden at Liss Ard Estate in west Cork.

“Some people will just want a conference room, projector, and dinner, but I try to find out what exactly are they trying to do with the people? If they are trying to get them to relax, we can arrange a guided walk on the grounds. We have a famous piece of landscape art on the grounds, the Irish Sky Garden by James Turrell, and it is a very experiential and memorable part of Liss Ard. Or we can arrange for them to spend time working alongside the gardeners or planting a tree together so they actually leave a mark. One time we were doing orienteering in the winter for a group, and in the middle of the forest we set up a hot whiskey station for them – so they were navigating their way through the middle of the woods and they found this unexpected surprise.”

For Shannon, the key to success in the area is in creating an experience that meets the group’s needs. “Some groups won’t be interested in the outdoors and orienteering,” he says, “We recently had a group in working with sand mandalas. We had a guy from Dublin, Geoff Fitzpatrick, who facilitates the work. I was blown away, I wanted to do it and I wanted my family to do it too. There was something incredible in the experience, and it’s the type of experience we want more corporate groups to do here.

“I used to work in a nursing home and there was a quote on the wall that read ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they never forget how you made them feel’ and that’s something that I try to keep in mind with every corporate group that we host here.”