The man at the helm of the new-look River Island Hotel has a deep and long-abiding relationship with the business here and abroad.
He once fed Gay Byrne. He didn’t divulge this fact in a boastful fashion. In fact, he didn’t say it at all – not in so many words anyway.
I was chatting to Kilflynn native, West Cork resident, Willie Buckley at the hotel on Friday and in the course of our chat, about the business of catering for crowds, I asked him to give me an idea of the biggest gathering he’d ever looked after.
“I was working in the Brandon Hotel in Tralee and I was given the task of overseeing the catering for a Rose of Tralee gathering of 500 people in ‘The Dome’ and Gay Byrne was at the head of the guest list,” said Mr. Buckley.
Willie Buckley set out and ‘served his time’ in the hotel trade by starting out at the top. His first place of employment was at the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney. There were several ‘in-house’ moves including a stint in Kenmare and Parknasilla. Then there was a spell in Switzerland – the hotel trade’s equivalent of a finishing school for several generations of graduates.
There followed periods in the Kenmare Bay Hotel and in Tralee’s most famous Mount Brandon Hotel.
“So, you see, I’ve been involved with the catering and tourism business big and small for many years and I think I’ve been well grounded by the experience,” Mr. Buckley reflected.
After leaving the Mount Brandon Hotel Mr. Buckley and his wife and family moved to west Cork. There, he managed a hotel and eventually bought and developed it for the best part of 20 years before selling it a few years ago.
In more recent years, Willie Buckley’s business sense saw him involved with the Mizen Tourism Co-Operative in the buying and development of the award winning Mizen Head Signal Station.
It was the lack of employment in that most south westerly point in the early 1990s that drove the community there to look at an alternative and take a lease on the site from the Commissioner of Irish Lights. The result is the award winning facility and Mr. Buckley, sits on the committee of management there and is a committed ambassador for the attraction.
While admitting he knows little about Castleisland, Willie Buckley is willing to learn fast. From his resume you’ll see that it won’t take long.
He has already discovered that the young people of the area are being enticed away to Killarney at the weekends and that’s a trend he plans to tap and reverse.
The market for a social dancing outlet in the locality is another lack that demands the attention of someone with the facility and resources to provide it – and that’s being looked at too.
“The first thing that struck me when I walked into the hotel here is what an impressive building it is. It is probably under-advertised and I know that the hotel is doing very well with coach tours and that’s great in itself. But they want to go off into Tralee and Killarney when they get here and I have my own ideas about keeping them here with the different kinds of entertainment. We have the space and all the facilities within the hotel to cater for the tours and I could even see busses coming out from Killarney when we get going here,” he said.
Mr. Buckley has set a course for the hotel which he terms ‘the new direction’ and the ‘Con’version and opening, on Thursday evening of Con’s Bar & Grill with the slogan ‘Refreshingly Casual Dining’ is the first step on that venture.
“We put word around during the week without any great advertising and the staff had the chance on Thursday evening to do their dry run while dealing with a solid customer stream all evening.
Con’s Bar was just sitting there idle for a lot of the time and I thought we’d just make that one small change for a start. We’ve introduced a couple of menus and times from 12 noon to 4pm and from 5pm to 9pm. We’ll tweak both menus and times through feedback and as the need arises. That’s stage one of the redevelopment of the hotel.
We’re going back into the wedding market again and we’ll be chasing up other functions as well to bring the life back to the place. The O’Donoghue-Ring Hotels group has placed a big investment in Castleisland and in the hotel here and there’s a sense of re-invigoration about the place. We want the message to go out that we’re open all-year-round. That the staff from the area will have jobs for 12 months of the year and there’ll be no-one wondering if the hotel is open or closed today or any day,” Mr. Buckley concluded.
As the 6pm opening time approached for Con’s Bar & Grill on Thursday evening, Willie Buckley got all his staff together for a team photograph. The pictures all taken, he went to the members individually and shook hands with each and every one of them in turn. He wished them luck with the new direction he has just set out for them all as a team. The River Island Hotel can be contacted on: 066 71 42555 or by logging on to: www.riverislandhotel.com/contactus
©John Reidy – The Maine Valley Post 29-8-2014