Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Killeavy Castle: A quirky blend of old and new

By Diarmúid Pepper

Having opened its doors to the public just a few weeks ago, Killeavy Castle is already enjoying a flurry of bookings and, amid the bustle of activity, The Examiner caught up with the hotel’s General Manager Jason Foody who has spoken of his excitement for the future of the hotel and spa.

He told the paper: “The building project was tight, so of course there will be teething problems. There has also been a lot of curiosity about it, a lot of people wanted to come in and see what it was like, so there has been queues and queues at the gates and the car parks have been full, which is a great thing.

“But it takes time for staff to bed in and people to get used to the layout of the building and everything but that’s all a part of the fun. I think primarily, for the most part, people are happy to go on this journey with us and understand that it is a learning curve. We welcome constructive feedback because it helps everybody, and we want to be here for the long run.”

The views around the hotel and spa are truly stunning, and this is something that Foody is banking on to entice visitors. He said: “Slieve Gullion and the Forest Park next door has up to half a million visitors a year. So this will be an additional attraction to the area, and we will try to get people to come and not be day visitors to the area, but to actually come, spend an extended period of time, and get to experience this area of outstanding natural beauty and the environment that we are in.”

Killeavy Castle has some stiff competition from local rivals, but Foody believes that this competiveness will be of benefit to both the hotel and to the wider community: “There is competition there, but the more competition and products and services there are, the more hotels and restaurants that open up and bring people into an area, is advantageous for everybody. So this is a case where more is better.”

The hotel s owners went to great pains to preserve the authenticity of the Castle, a job that consumed many who were involved with the development of Killeavy Castle. Foody said: “This is a Grade One listed building so preservation has been of utmost importance to not just the owners, but to the architects and the interior designers also, to bring the castle and the outer buildings back to their former glory and to add a little bit of an extra difference to it too. 

“People have a lot of fond memories, they have played up here with friends and family, so it’s been of great importance to have it right. Also, having it sitting right at the foot of Slieve Gullion, we wanted to make sure it blends in well but that it is the statement piece that it is.”

The interest and engagement from the public so far has been immense for the hotel and Foody revealed that “people were booking weddings and events here when there were no walls up for a lot of the spaces.” For him, this was confirmation that the public were buying into the ethos of the hotel.

He said: “Going on the number of bookings that we have, people here have bought into a site, and then bought into a philosophy and a belief and an impression they have of the building. They were buying into the vision of what we wanted to do. So that says a lot about the staff and the team that are selling it but also about the ability of the customers to see the end product that was given to them verbally and through various graphics.”

Having already successfully hosted the hotel’s first wedding reception, he added: “We are a different venue; it’s one wedding per day, and we are all about the castle feel which you really don’t get in many areas in Northern Ireland, never mind all of Ireland, and it is very different from other venues. The castle here is quirky and there is a lot of history to it, and people like that aspect to it.

“We opened the doors with over 64 events already booked, be that weddings, corporate retreats, wellness events. We are a different type of product; we are about active and passive wellness, coming and experiencing and enjoying the local environment, and the setting that we have here. 

“We are about having good food, relaxing in this area and hopefully switching off from the outside world. I believe we can deliver on that, and deliver a different type of experience with the castle and the marquee as the events space and the hotel as an operational hotel for food, beverage, spa treatments; we are able to do both aspects. This is about creating a different mentality and a different thing for south Armagh.”

The hotel’s first wedding took place on Friday May 3rd, and we sat down to speak to Jason the previous afternoon, he shared his thoughts of the day ahead: “I’m excited about our first wedding and looking forward to having Siobhan and Darren here as our first wedding couple. I’m sure they and their guests will have a good time. We want it to go well and we will do as best as we can for them, as we do for everybody.”

People from other parts of Ireland may have some reservations about visiting south Armagh, but Jason says that when people come and take in all that south Armagh has to offer, they’ll be guaranteed to return. He said: “It is only by getting people in and getting them to experience it first-hand that they realise this is a place that is well worth coming to and a place they will return to thereafter, and bring family members and spread the good word, both nationally and internationally.

“It’s about coming and experiencing an area that is different. It’s really once you come to the end of the drive and you turn in at the gatehouse, there really is a calming feel and that’s what it’s about. It’s about that wellness aspect; just sitting at the foot of a beautiful castle, underneath a picturesque mountain with loads of natural walks and trails. It’s about the blend of nature coming into a structure that is a twist on modern, whilst respecting very much the two old buildings here; the hotel and the castle. So hopefully it won’t be too hard to sell and we are looking forward welcoming all the customers through the door.”