Paul Beehan, the host with the most and General Manager at Kilkenny’s Newpark Hotel, would put a smile on anyone’s face.
I had the pleasure of meeting him in the empty foyer of the Newpark Hotel, just before their long awaited reopening. It was my first face to face interview since mid-March and it felt so good to sit down to have a good old fashioned conversation, one which wasn’t on Zoom!
Paul become General Manager of the award-winning family Newpark Hotel in January 2019. He is 35 years old, from the Curragh in Co Kildare and resides in Laois.
He studied at Shannon College of Hotel Management and has worked in Switzerland, France, London and Dublin. Before coming to Kilkenny he was General Manager of Bellinter House.
He did competitive Irish Dancing for 20 years, speaks almost fluent French. He is also single and a very eligible catch, but a bad golfer!
Here is a glimpse into Paul’s world…
Paul, how are you feeling about reopening the doors of the Newpark Hotel?
We are really excited. The pressure is on as we have a lot to do after being closed for three months. We decided to take on a big project on our farm and we are enhancing our offering to guests. There’s 20 guys outside with the animals getting everything ready to go for when the doors open.
We plan having a little ceremony on reopening, so yes it’s really exciting.
Have you a full house of guests booked in already?
Business has picked up over the past two to three weeks. We are not full - I guess we need to learn how to walk before we can run with regards to Covid-19 restrictions, in order to keep our guests and team safe. The first three weeks are not as busy as the rest of the summer.
What should guests expect?
The place still looks the same, with our beautiful chandeliers and curtains. We have spent the past few months cleaning our carpets, painting and washing all the windows and curtains. We didn’t have time to do all that before, we were always so busy - even the carpark was painted!
What the guest will see in terms of social distancing is signage, with plenty of hand sanitation units throughout the hotel. We will have perspex partitions at reception and on booths in the Brassiere and on the Terrace. The restaurants will also have a one way system, so our guests will feel safer.
The ground floor of the Newpark Hotel is big enough to allow social distancing, as opposed the ground floor in a skyscraper hotel. So we are lucky in that regard as it allows us to cater for full occupancy.
Breakfasts will be served in the dining room, but not as a buffet style anymore as guests cannot touch off the same utensils. We are very lucky as we still have our carvery so the chefs can serve you breakfast and you don’t have to touch anything.
We have also introduced a policy called ‘because we care’. In the bedrooms we have invested in fogging machines which disinfect the rooms. On top of that, we introduced new cleaning schedules and identified all the touch points like the light switches, the remote controls, the telephone; these all get extra attention.
We are also putting in individual disinfectant wipes in the bedrooms, so if guests are feeling a little bit nervous they can give an extra wipe themselves.
We will have a seal on the door, saying that no one has been in there since it was cleaned. We are looking into the serving of the room for people that are staying over for a number of days – do these guests want other people in the room cleaning while they are there? This is something we are figuring out, I think we are going to give guests the option.
We have had to buy hundreds of new pillow cases, pillow protectors and mattress protectors. Apart from that, it’s business as usual.
The Wildlife Farm also got a facelift during the lockdown.
Yes our farm benefitted hugely during lockdown. It was always so busy there but these past few months allowed the grass to grow again. We’ve built a beautiful pond for the geese and the ducks to have a little swim.
The Friary Trail has been really enhanced. John Flynn, the owner was in New Zealand at the beginning of the year and he visited the Lord of Rings studios and came back with same amazing ideas.
We built a Friary Village, with extra benches for the kids to have picnics on - actually Mark, one of our chefs from the kitchen, is outside painting them as we speak! It’s been all hands on deck.
Speaking about chefs and the fabulous food at the Newpark Hotel, what is your favourite dish?
I’m going to say two dishes. I was trained in Switzerland where Croque Monsieur is very popular, so I insisted that we have a really epic Newpark Croque Monsieur on the menu. That’s my number one dish and it’s available on the Terrace menu.
In Scott’s Brassiere we have a beautiful lamb cutlets dish with baby new potatoes. This is really tasty.
You replaced another Kildare General Manager Mark Dunne in January 2019. You actually knew Mark from a previous life?
Mark was excellent and was here for a long time. He handed over a really good ship before joining Mount Juliet. Our paths had crossed before; when I was 15 I was working in the Westbury Hotel and Mark was my manager there.
At the beginning I used to get the bus up and down every day from the Curragh to Dublin. Eventually they said just stay in the hotel, so I worked breakfast, lunch and dinner and I stayed in the Westbury four nights week. Mark was my Duty Manager at the time and we have stayed in touch on a regularly basis to see what’s going on and if there is anything we can do for each other.
What do you like about Kilkenny?
One of my earliest memories is coming on a school tour here. We went to the Dunmore Cave, which I loved, as well as hearing the stories about your witch Alice Kyteler. I was always fascinated about castles so a visit to Kilkenny Castle was mind blowing for me.
Kilkenny really is one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
What did you do to keep yourself occupied during lockdown?
I was working during lockdown, so I was in the hotel most days. Away from that I spent time doing up my house. I bought it three years ago and it’s a fixer-upper - it’s a gate lodge of a country estate, built in the 1860s - so I did a lot of painting and gardening.
We have all had time to pause and reset our lives over the past three months. What are you going to bring forward with you?
For the past month I have taken on a challenge with my friends to run 100k in 30 days, in aid of Breast Cancer Ireland. I was not into running before, but I am definitely keeping that on as it’s really good for the mind. I’m now up to 6km a day which I thought I would never do.
At the start of the pandemic I really thought that people would be nicer to each other as we go through this. I’m not sure I still believe it, but I am going to make sure that I am nicer because of it.
Your staff were also busy during lockdown making some incredible videos with the hotel’s farm animals.
We wanted to make a video and our Operations Manager Niall Dunne came up with the idea of using the animals as guests in the hotel.
I have to say when we started shooting it, it was absolute chaos trying to organise the animals. It was all done in house on two mobile phones, a little tripod and a selfie stick.
Peter (Cullen, Duty Manager) and Niall really went out of their way to pull it all together and we never expected it to go viral. Sky News picked it up, as well as RTE, the Independent, the Daily Mirror and, of course, the Kilkenny People.
My last question is back by popular demand! Tell us something that people wouldn’t generally know about you?
I worked as a Personal Assistant for Christina Aguilera, albeit for 10 days! I wasn’t in LA with her, but she did take me up on stage and sang a song to me at her concert in the Point Depot.
Paul would like to give a special mention to Marie Bridget the Head of HR and Compliance at the Newpark Hotel. During the three months of closure period she has gone above and beyond to make sure everyone was safe and kept constant communication with the team.