Love is always in the air at Harvey’s Point and especially in February when many romantic couples visit for St. Valentine’s Day. Indeed it was that very day in 1996 that Marc and I were married, and to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, we took a trip to Thailand. It was a celebration of many happy memories, from the early chapters of Harvey’s Point, when Marc and I worked together to cook and serve breakfast, to ‘living together’ in room 206 and 208 (the old rooms of the hotel, designated as staff accommodation). Then, moving to our new house, aptly named ‘The Cosy Spot’ and following seven years of ‘nothing stirring,’ to bringing three beautiful children into this world, Carl, James and Christina.
A month of Milestones
2016 was certainly a year of many highs. I felt like the proudest person in the planet on March 5th, being awarded ‘Donegal Person of the Year’, at a glittering ceremony in Dublin. Surrounded by family, friends, industry colleagues and many great people from Donegal, it was a night of nights and one I will treasure for the rest of my life. Another milestone was reached the next day as I then turned fifty. Little did I know that the party was not over yet! To my surprise, the celebrations continued in Donegal Town until the wee hours of the following morning.
Traditionally, April heralds the beginning of the tourist season in Donegal. Following a busy Easter, everyone in our industry was optimistic in terms of the outlook for the season ahead, and with good reason. The Wild Atlantic Way has proven to be a great marketing hook to attract visitors to Donegal. This, coupled with our amazing scenery and our ‘Wild Atlantic Welcome’ has given us a great platform to fly the flag for Destination Donegal.
The Royal Visit
It was a proud day for us all when Prince Charles and his wife Camilla made their whistle-stop trip to Donegal Town to include Donegal Castle, Magee of Donegal and Mc Gettigan’s butchers. Our very own Noel Cunningham officially welcomed the royal couple to Donegal Town while I had the pleasure of attending the civic reception held in their honour at Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
Farewell to Harvey
Over the years, Harvey our beloved goose, graced the shores of Lough Eske and the doorsteps of the restaurant and ballroom (on which he left daily messy messages). Given his old age and poor health, we granted Harvey his retirement from guest-chasing duties and he was brought to a new five star retreat overlooking Lough Eske, to be lovingly cared for by Jody’s wife Renate, at their house. He enjoyed the pampering but he died peacefully a few months later. He is missed by many of our guests, our team and our family.
New York, New York
My passion to promote Donegal was given the perfect platform when I had the pleasure of hosting a ‘Donegal Gathering’ in New York. This was essentially an event to bring the Donegal Diaspora together for a social evening in celebration of our shared love of our home county. The purpose of the visit was to showcase all that is good and great about ‘Destination Donegal’ – as a place to live, to work, to do business or to visit. The message was sent out loud and clear, with Donegal featured in the bright lights of Times Square!
Just as we were seeing light at the end of the tourism tunnel, it seems that a big dark train was approaching, in the form of Brexit. Having had our fair share of challenges in the past, Donegal as a Border visitor destination is particularly vulnerable to any change in our economic, social and political landscape. While there is uncertainty in the air, the best we can do is control what we can control. Our future in tourism will be largely shaped by collaboration and building our brand with a firm focus on destination marketing. Above all, our Céad Míle Fáilte must remain at the heart of our hospitality industry.
With the Cabaret in full swing, Noel and his amazing line-up of artists entertained a packed house every night over the summer months. Guests travelled from near and far to enjoy a super night of great food, fun and dancing.
Our ‘Home-made Holidays at Harvey’s’ programme was very popular with guests discovering the delights of Donegal over a four to five day break.
Donegal Food Festival
Donegal was a hive of activity during the Summer months. The highlight of the ‘Foodie Calendar’ is always the ‘Taste of Donegal’ Food Festival. With over 130 exhibitors, celebrity chefs, cookery demonstrations and entertainment, this great event attracts food lovers from all over the island of Ireland and beyond and has achieved a reputation for excellence with all involved in the industry. We hope to enter the annual ‘Foodie Destination Title’ for 2017 – This would be a great opportunity to position Donegal on the foodie map as a high quality tourism destination with food as one of our unique selling points.
Hotel of the Year Award – Georgina Campbell
The year was bouncing along nicely. Business targets were being met and exceeded. Guest feedback and staff morale were great. It could not get any better – could it? Marc and I were invited to attend the Georgina Campbell Awards Ceremony in Dublin. That was also one of those days that will stick in my memory forever. We were nervous but hopeful. We were hopeful but nervous. The day wore on and at the very end, our nerves shattered and one award left to be presented, Harvey’s Point was announced as ‘Hotel of the Year’. It was like being at a football match and your team, your county, your country won and you had to remain seated and smile reservedly. We waited until later to let our emotions run wild! This award that we had aspired to for so many years, belongs to our dedicated team. They have earned it.
October is my favourite month. I love the colours of the countryside, the crisp air and the childhood memories. Our kitchen team worked their magic in creating a wonderful Autumn Menu and it truly was a pleasure to taste. We took the kids on a short break to Castle Leslie in Monaghan and Delphi Lodge in the wilds of Connemara. As a family, we promised to do something special every Hallowe’en, making memories that we will cherish together.
The Garden Suite
The months of building work were coming to a close. On entering the new Garden Suite for the first time, everyone was in awe of its unique, crisp and clean design, created by Jody and built by James Begley. Credit to all concerned including Barney, Aidy, Michael Gallagher, Jerry Begley and many others. Credit also, to our professional banqueting team who worked around the building site while at full steam in our busy wedding season. The project was not without its dramas, with the inevitable mess, initial heating problems and so on. But somehow we got through it and now we have a fresh and exciting new facility to offer our wedding couples, our conference organisers and all of those who want to celebrate a special occasion in style. We look forward to a big launch party in the Spring.
After being named the best hotel in Ireland by trivago last year, Harvey’s Point was awarded the best 4-star hotel and the best hotel for guest rooms in Ireland.
Donegal – Coolest Place on the Planet
And for once, they are not talking about the weather! This latest good news story for Donegal will be a significant boost to tourism in our region. Thank you National Geographic! We promise to stay cool but extend the warmest welcome!
Christmas at Harvey’s Point
As always, there was a certain magic about Christmas at Harvey’s Point. With a packed house, there was plenty to eat, drink and do. It was great to meet everyone on the first few nights and there was a lovely relaxed ambience throughout the hotel. Many friendships were made or rekindled. There was a cookery demonstration, guided walks, treasure hunt and a pub quiz. A big highlight was our annual Dog Show, which attracted over 100 guests and up to 20 dogs. As the guests poured in, we tried to keep up with pouring hot toddys and hot ports. This year, we organised a surprise music session. The Byrne Brothers and their Dad, Tommy, entertained and enthralled the audience with traditional Irish tunes, ballads and dancing. Our wee session was even live-streamed all over the world on Facebook!
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Thank you for reading my Memories of 2016. On behalf of the Gysling and Harvey’s Point family, thank you for your loyalty and friendship during the past year. We look forward to creating many more special memories with you in 2017. Happy New Year!