Monday, January 07, 2013

Happy to be at your service

http://s3.amazonaws.com/imr-us/irishcatholic/images/2012/12/S3844-xlimage-R8242-happy-to-be-at-your-service.jpgWhen Francis Brennan says he doesn’t like “dilly-dallying”, it’s abundantly clear he’s not joking.

As he pauses to speak with The Irish Catholic, the famed hotelier has just finished shooting the final episode in the latest series (the fifth) of At Your Service for RTÉ and is now preparing himself for a marathon US trip during which he will visit no fewer than 202 travel agencies of importance to Irish tourism.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says of his hectic schedule. “I love my job.”

That job – the greater portion of it – is Francis’ role at the helm of the Park Hotel in Kenmare, Co. Kerry, a role rewarding enough for him to declare that “I never complain getting out of bed in the morning. I love to make people happy.”

It is this latter element which, Francis says, helps him to work so well with the staff at the hotel, and an element he has previously seen in the most able of hotel staff over his years in the business.

“It’s not something that can be learned,” he says. “It’s God-given. If you have someone who is naturally happy, they pull the rest of the office along with them. I have such people on my staff.”

Born in Sandyford, Co. Dublin into a family of three boys and two girls, Francis admits he always wanted to be in the hotel business. “I love to make people happy,” he says. 

Indeed, it is easy to accept that the business was somehow in Francis’ blood: the three Brennan brothers all entered the hospitality sector, with brother John working alongside Francis both at the Park Hotel and in the At Your Service series.

Francis suspects his earliest inclining of the hospitality trade came via his mother, who frequently hosted family and friends passing through Dublin. “My mother always said she should have charged them and she’d have been rich by now,” he jokes.

Such a home must have been a happy one, and Francis confirms this, describing “a loving household and a Catholic household”. 

“Not that I would call it a ‘rosary house’,” he qualifies,  “but we certainly went to Mass.” 

He recalls that Good Friday was traditionally the day on which the family dressed in their best for Mass that day.

While first experiences of working directly with the public came in his father’s shop in Stepaside in the capital, Francis’ first real training for what would become his lifelong career was at a Sligo hotel, confirming in Francis a desire to remain in the sector.

Work in the industry meant gaining professional qualifications, however, and this led Francis to study hotel management in Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin after which he gained the first of a number of hotel posts in both Cork and Kerry before the latest position in Kenmare.

“I love Kerry,” he insists, “I wouldn’t swap it for the world.”

Family 

Now busier than at any time in his career, Francis says that family remains very important to him and he maintains regular contact with all of his siblings; and even more with his mother, whom he telephones every night wherever he is in the world.

Now a retired businesswoman, living in Sligo, does she offer advice to him?

“Oh yes,” Francis says with a laugh, “she’s always telling me I should have been at the hotel for that, or done this.”

Additionally, being a regular overseas traveller, his mother remains a vital source of local information, keeping him abreast of events at home while he is travelling.

The issue of travelling brings up another element very close to Francis’ heart, the rosary beads he never fails to carry on his journeys.

Lourdes water 

“I always have them with me,” he confirms. “Them and a small bottle of Lourdes water forever in the briefcase.”

The rosary beads themselves came as the result of one of his trips. When in Rome with a friend who had links to a cardinal there, Francis found himself invited to morning Mass with none other than Pope John Paul II. Happily accepting, Francis says he attended “a lovely Mass” and afterwards met with the late Pontiff who presented him with the rosary.

Now, late in the year, and with the details of his US trip worked out through December, can Francis hope to be any less busy over Christmas, bearing the demands of his career in mind?

He acknowledges that, in the hospitality sector, Christmas is the busiest time of year for the Park Hotel staff. He mentally ticks off “buffets, games, visiting Santas and staff lunches”.

For all that, Christmas 2012 was set be an extra special one for the Brennan clan.

“It’s my mother’s 90th birthday on December 28, and the family will gather in Sligo for a party in her honour on Christmas Day,” Francis reveals.

Hot on the heels of that milestone, Francis will be back in professional mode to ensure the annual trip for his Kenmare staff goes smoothly.

“We’re going to Belfast and the Titanic Quarter this year,” he says.

Such a trip suggests that Francis will be involved in a role reversal for the duration of the trip, becoming a guest and not the host for a change. Will the At Your Service star be able to resist the temptation to use his professional eye to check how things are being done?

“I never stop looking, I can’t help myself,” he laughs, falling back on the simplest of rules. “There’s a right and wrong way to hang a toilet roll. And with pillows, the fold should always be away from the door.”

This advice, he says light-heartedly, is so often repeated by him that he suspects that those who know him best will place a pillow and a toilet roll on his coffin in the end.

Not that Francis dwells on such eventualities.

As he bids farewell ahead of catching his US-bound flight it’s clear he’s far too busy – and happy - for that.

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