Yesterday was the first day of a week long vacation for me though I actually flew over to Northern Ireland on Friday night and managed to avoid pretty much all of the rioting in London and the rest of England by being in Belfast… it’s not often someone escapes to ‘the province’ for peace!!
My weekend was pretty decent though as Dina and I went venue shopping for our wedding… starting out in Fermanagh. We looked at the Lough Erne Golf Resort (made famous around the world by Rory McIlroy’s sponsorship deal), Lusty Beg Island and the Manor House Hotel. We got plenty of time at the former & the latter, but at Lusty Beg we were a bit rushed by the fact that a wedding was actually taking place there. The Fermanagh hotels were also a bit wary of the idea of us having an Indian ceremony also, as traditionally this involves a bit of fire… overall though, we thought we had a few options.
We also took the chance to visit my parents for some tea, as well as having dinner with a few of the guys who I grew up with by way of introducing them to Dina. It was great to catch up with the lads (and their wives / girlfriends) and hear the latest from the villages & countryside I grew up in.
The early part of this week saw me working from Belfast and watching the rioting unfold in England in the evenings. As I’ve said in my previous blog, I have my own theory on the root cause and it’s been quite interesting to hear the Prime Minister David Cameron’s tougher language on personal responsibility and punishment.
Yesterday, we viewed three hotels from the Hastings Group of hotels in Northern Ireland. I believe they actually have five hotels altogether, but we were viewing the Culloden Estate in Belfast, Ballygally Castle (north of the city) and Slieve Donard Hotel which is in Newcastle, Co. Down.
I have to say, the sales managers at these three hotels were exceptional and it was immediately apparent how the Hastings hotels were all about the couple getting married & not about what the hotel could / couldn’t offer… which may sound a bit odd as obviously there are limits to what an hotel can / cannot do, but these guys were all about trying to make it work for us!! They weren’t even more expensive in every case, although you were certainly paying good cash for that special day.
All six of the hotels we’ve now viewed have their pluses and minuses…
The Lough Erne has quality facilities, is close to home and beautifully situated yet is expensive, in administration and seemed a little unfriendly (though they certainly were prepared to do their home work and make sure they could answer all our questions, sooner or later…).
Lusty Beg Island is your own island for the day (!!) with it’s wee ferry crossing, it’s close to home and even more beautifully situated in the Erne rather than on the banks of the Erne… yet it’s a bit small, feels a bit ‘pub-ish’ and we didn’t really get a great chance to talk through the full options with the management there because of the wedding.
The Manor House seemed a bit slack to be honest, with us hanging around for them to see us (despite an appointment) and a little inflexible in their approach… though it is a lovely spot and has a great reputation in Fermanagh & the surrounding counties.
The Culloden Estate Hotel was beautiful, packed with Northern Irish Footballers and had a great sales woman leading the way with a professional viewing. It is a beautiful building, the room was a good size & well set up and the scope for doing what we want to do much greater than some of the other hotels it also is close to NI’s main transport links and has access to the rest of the City’s hotels. Yet it’s a bit pricey, not the most amazing of hotels (in my mind) and well, sometimes I feel relying on it’s name more than it’s output.
Ballygally Castle was actually very cool… first impressions as we arrived upon Ballygally along the coast road from Belfast, weren’t great. Yet inside, we felt at home as the hotel’s charm took hold. The advantage of taking over the entire hotel (with the sales manager literally offering us every room in the place if we wanted it) was tempting. Also, the manager there was the first guy in NI to run an Indian Wedding Ceremony in an hotel in the province, so the experience factor is high. It has great gardens and some nice rooms, yet is a little on the small side perhaps, far form the city and positioned on a main road.
The Slieve Donard Hotel is probably the most beautiful of the six hotels. Built by a railway company as an ‘end of the line’ resort, it’s exterior and interior were probably of the highest standard across the six. It’s rooms and spa looked amazing and it oozed class. That said, again it was expensive (perhaps the most expensive of the lot) and the two main rooms let the place down a bit. The first was a bit small (and frankly unkempt for a room) and the second was so huge my echo is probably still reverberating around the place now… now…
So plenty of food for thought… and we’ve also had plenty of tea over the past few days!! The Hastings Hotels also offered us a little cake called ‘fifteen’ which is basically some digestive biscuits, marshmallows, cherries all mashed together with some coconut shavings around the edges… bliss!!