How would you describe Ballyvolane House in a nutshell?
Ballyvolane is a historic Irish country house, a family-owned bed & breakfast since the 1980s, with six guestrooms in the County Cork countryside in southern Ireland. This luxury boho chic venue comes with idyllic landscaped gardens, wooded grounds, a gin distillery that is open to visitors, glamping tents, tree houses and animals to pet, as well as a tennis court and football field. Ballyvolane is big on informal fashion, creating such a comfortable and cozy feeling, completed with a lavish honesty bar and delicious homemade meals.
Please tell us a bit about the history of Ballyvolane House.
Ballyvolane House was built in 1728 by Sir Richard Pyne who was Lord Chief Justice of Ireland at the time, which is basically the top law man in the country. His family lived here for nearly 250 years. My grandfather then bought the property from one of Sir Richard’s descendants in 1953 and we’ve been here ever since.
My father was farming the estate when I was a child, and then in 1985, my parents started taking in paying guests for the first time. The whole house was restored over that period and my wife and I took it over in 2004. We’ve been carrying on where my parents left off.
You and your wife have lived in different parts of the world. What made you come back to Ballyvolane House?
Part of my plan was always to come back and run the house. We have a very strong emotional attachment to it. If one is lucky enough to inherit a house like this, you should try and live here.
My wife and I both went to hotel school in Switzerland. We have worked in Hong Kong, Bali and Dubai running several five star hotels. After that, I made a conscious decision to work in smaller, boutique properties because you get a more rounded experience.
The interior is absolutely beautiful. How would you describe the style of Ballyvolane House?
It’s a traditional Irish country house, a little shabby but very stylish. We put in antique baths in all the bathrooms, took out the carpets, polished up the floors and things like that. We’ve tried to keep it as authentic as possible.
We restored the drawing room that used to be the kitchen. We moved it down to where it’s supposed to be, in the wing of the house, and then returned the drawing room to its former glory. We also just restored an old barn and turned it into a wedding venue in the farmyard, which is adjacent to the gardens.
We’ve got antique furniture and antique portraits and lots of deer heads on the walls. We’re offering tradition in abundance.
With many years of experience in the hospitality business, what in your opinion is the secret of being a good host?
I think you’ve got to be warm and friendly and flexible. You’ve just got to give people what they want. That’s basically it. It’s really simple. You give people a really warm Irish welcome when they arrive and be generous of spirit.
We spent a lot of time making sure we create a lovely space for people to relax in, as well as having supreme comfort and ambiance. Good food with good design is a winning combination.
Ballyvolane House is also a perfect venue for weddings and house parties. Please tell us a bit about the facilities and services you offer.
We built a vintage tent for weddings which is attached to an old stone barn in the farmyard that overlooks the gardens. We’ve knocked two doorways into the barn which is where the bar is and then there’s another room for dancing. We kept all the old walls exposed and have an antique wood burning stove.
Our wedding guests come from all over the world. One couple was from Hong Kong and one last weekend from New York. We’ve created a world class wedding venue. It’s very authentic.
To you personally, what has been most rewarding about running Ballyvolane House?
The enjoyment that the guests have staying here is a huge satisfaction for me. I love showing people a great time, and the feedback has been terrific. On occasion, you make mistakes and can’t please everyone, but we’re always quick to compensate for that. We get enormous satisfaction giving a really good stay to people and have made good friends with guests who come year after year. We’re certainly not doing it for the money.
As I mentioned, we have a very strong emotional attachment to the house and feel a big responsibility to keep it going and eventually hand it over. It’s a way of life, not a job. We’re lucky that we enjoy it a lot.
Ballyvolane House is also a great place for kids...
Yes, we’re very family friendly. People wouldn’t normally associate a house like this with being family friendly, but we have three children ourselves and have quite a lot of guests who bring theirs. We give them high tea with my kids so mom and dad can enjoy dinner by themselves in the dining room.
We have pigs and chickens here, so every morning after breakfast, we take the children out to collect the eggs and feed the pigs. We have a treehouse and vast gardens for them to play in. They enjoy coming here enormously. A lot of hotels are great for kids, but here we look after mom and dad as well as the kids. It’s sophisticated but relaxed. My kids are 10, 7 and 4, and they absolutely love it when there are other kids staying.