Pictured at the sod turning ceremony on Friday last were Pa Laide, manager of AIB, Newcastle West, Seamus O’Sullivan, Billy Quaid, John Dowling, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan TD, Fiona Monaghan, Fáilte Ireland, Ann Quaid, Breda Daly, Mary Long, Conor Hennigan, Project Manager, Jim Long, Catherine Dowling, Margaret O’Connor, Manager AIB Business Banking, Frank Hardiman (Engineer), Eleanor O’Sullivan, Adrian O’Sullivan, JD Foley (AIB), Mairead O’Doherty (Interior Designer), Diarmuid Leen (Head of AIB Business Banking), Damien Patterson (Patterson Design, Architect for the project), James O’Sullivan and John Harkin (Mechanical and Electrical Engineer). — Press Launch of Longcourt House Hotel Newcastle West — Photo by George Daly —

Friday last saw the launch of a formal informative event outlining the plans of Newcastle West’s newest development, the Longcourt House Hotel. Formerly the Courtenay Lodge, the property was purchased some time back by a remarkable couple, Jim Long and his wife Professor Mary Shepherd, both of whom are of local descent.  The event, held in Dan Cronin’s Bar and Bistro, was attended by many of the town’s business people, and local political representatives. First to speak was Conor Hennigan, of Hennigan Hospitality Services Consultancy, acting as Project Manager for the Long family. He welcomed everyone, and then invited Jim and Mary to say a few words. Jim, originally from Feohanagh, thanked everyone for their attendance and extended special thanks to his design team, all those who had advised them along the way, Minister Patrick O’Donovan and the local representatives, and also thanked everyone involved in the development to date.  He spoke of his past association with the town, and humorously expressed the hope that he would not be seen as a “blow in”. He spoke fondly of working by his father’s side delivering potatoes to the town, and escorting a pig on his last journey through Cronin’s Bar in a time long before strict regulation.  He also pledged his support for the area and said he and Mary looked forward to becoming active members of local associations in a genuine effort to promote the town. He explained that they are parents to four young adults, all involved in business or academia.  Mary then spoke of her belief in local connections, and that she hoped the town would also support them in their efforts in making Longcourt House a beneficial addition to the area. Mary herself spent nine years of her young life in the town where her late father Sergeant John Sheppard was the Weights and Measures Inspector for Newcastle West district whose job included a yearly visit to the hotel to inspect the optex and glass measurements in accordance with regulations. During that time lifelong friendships were made. She explained that they would not have become involved in the property had it not been in the town, and that it was its location that held attraction for them both.  She also reiterated her husband’s thanks to all involved, in particular Bórd Fáilte, but said ultimately, it would be the people who would make it a success.
Next to speak at the podium was Patrick O’Donovan TD and Minister of State for Tourism and Sport.  He acknowledged everyone’s presence, but gave a particular welcome to Jim and Mary. He reminded people of the history of the Courtenay Lodge, River Room Motel, Whisper’s Night Club, and the part the venue had played in the lives of locals in the past. He remarked that there were many stories told of past events in the venue, but said that he had no doubt that many more stories were to come. He lauded the Long’s for their investment in the town, and spoke of the very real need for a hotel, having been devoid of one for so long. He said the current development in Newcastle West represents one of the largest works of civil engineering in the country at the moment, and explained that the tourist industry is “exploding” and the need for hospitality in the locality was great indeed. He explained that up to 35 thousand cars passed through the town every day. He thanked the Long family sincerely for their investment in the town and assured them that their efforts were greatly appreciated.
Paddy Fullam, Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce, extended a “céad míle fáilte“ to Jim and Mary and spoke of the major asset that Longcourt House will be. As Gaeilge, he wished them every success in their new venture. Next to speak was Diarmuid Leen, Head of AIB Business Banking, and a close friend of the Long family. He told of his past association with Jim and Mary and described them as genuine and true friends, who had a reputation for being great business people, and praised them highly for their professionalism. He spoke about the success of past projects and said he had no doubt that their new venture would be the same.
Conor Hennigan then explained the immediate happenings of the development. Currently, thirty nine existing accommodation rooms, the kitchens, the bar and restaurant area are being refurbished to four star hotel quality. He said that the hope was that these areas will be up and running before Christmas of this year. Going forward, a new building will house an area to accommodate weddings of up to three hundred guests and conference rooms will also be added. He once again spoke of his commitment to the project, having been involved in the hospitality industry for over thirty years. He said that there would be employment for fifty people, and they hoped to recruit the necessary skill sets from the locality. He also said that he understood that good hotels were judged mainly on the quality of the food served, and that they intended to source local food producers to service the kitchens. Later on, when asked about the importance of local involvement, he told the story of Mr. Liebherr in the mid fifties, who intended to build a factory in County Cork. In the course of his journey he stayed in a hotel in Killarney. When locals discovered who he was they wined and dined him and finally persuaded him to bulid his factory in the town itself, thus proving the importance of local involvement and local influence. Deputy Niall Collins said he wished only the best for the venture and saw it as a huge positive step for the locality. Minister Patrick O’Donovan spoke of the tourism industry changes that he envisioned in the area, a start of a new rural regeneration. He said that every cross roads and areas of local interest in rural Ireland had the potential to attract tourism and that we should now be looking at other ways of maximising the industry. Councillor Michael Collins said he was very impressed by the fact that the new hotel was looking at local food producers as part of their plan for fine dining, as this in turn would have a positive effect in smaller indigenous businesses. The contracting firm employed to do the work is J&B Builders, a reputable Abbeyfeale firm established over thirty five years ago and the interior designer is Mairead O’Doherty, a local professional from Newcastle West.  Emphasis on local employment is evident in every decision made by the Long family and with all the bells and whistles of a launch of such magnitude, one thing is clear. Jim and Mary Long have wonderful memories of their young years in the area and are prepared to invest to ensure the growth of an area that they clearly love. It would be hard to see failure when two great business minds show such determination to bring their project to fruition.