Hi Mairead, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions about being the wedding co-ordinator of the amazing Lodge at Ashford castle. You must be so excited to be working for such a prestigious venue, can you tell me how working in the hotel industry started for you?
I started working in Hotels when I was 15 and I fell head over heels, I loved everything about it. The excitement of service, dealing with the guests and the great team spirit among the staff. I just knew it was for me. It was always my dream to work in AshfordCastle. My parents owned a dry cleaning business in Claremorris and I worked their at the weekends, Seamus Judge who was the Restaurant Manager in the Castle, at the time, was a customer. Seamus arranged an interview and I moved to Ashford the day after my leaving Cert. Thanks to Ashford Castle I obtained a degree in Hotel Management, worked in the States & Germany. Came back to Ireland in 2003 and started working with weddings. In 2008 I got the opportunity to work for the Lodge and I haven’t looked back since!
Ashford is synonymous with the rich and famous, who have you rubbed shoulders with any famous people?
Ashford Castle & the Lodge is famous for rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, but like everyone else they came to the estate to get away and discretion is very important. During my time in Ashford and in the Lodge I have met lots of interesting people from all over the world, guests like Brad Pitt Sharon Stone, Robin Williams to name but a few.
Shane Filan & Pearse Brosnan both got married in the Castle but I was on work placement at the time. I was not impressed to say the least! I will say most Brides & Grooms feel like celebrities on their wedding day and we like to make them feel that way.
What do you do in your role as wedding co-ordinator? What sets you apart from other Wedding Co-ordinators
At the Lodge we believe in the personal approach, when couples come to view the Lodge I meet with them, talk through their ideal wedding day and tailor make a package for their perfect day. I am their point of contact for each couple and I ensure every detail and request is catered for. What sets me apart from other Coordinators, good question! I have to say I love my job, I am very proud of what we do at the Lodge and I get to work with very talented people. The wedding menus we serve in the Lodge, in my opinion, are exquisite, Jonathan Keane is our Head Chef and he is a very talented innovative person. He has such enthusiasm when it comes to weddings; he is very involved in making sure the menus are perfect for each couple. When working with weddings in the Lodge you work very closely with Brides & Grooms and their families, I feel very privileged to be part of that.
Being a wedding coordinator is very stressful, what do you do to unwind?
In my spare time I like to walk the grounds of the Castle, I walk with Yvonne Higgins from Devour Bakery but we try not to talk about weddings! I also enjoy swimming; I try to go running but I’m not very good at it! I also love to have a good night out in Galway City.
Ashford Castle is renowned for its opulence and long history, can you tell me a bit about this history of The Lodge itself?
The Lodge at Ashford was built in 1865; Arthur Guinness built it as a home for his Estate Manager. In more recent years, Rory Murphy who was the previous Managing Director of Ashford lived in the Lodge. During this time it was known as Lisloughrey Lodge. When Mr. Murphy retired the lodge was sold and here we are today.
We employ 76 staff in the Lodge. We have lots of local staff from the area and staff from all over the world. In the Kitchen we have three chefs from France and of course we have Crème Brulee on the menu. Our Head Chef Jonathan keane is engaged to Anna Hughes who is our Guest Services, Jonathan is from Kylemore and Anna is from Galway, they make quite the team and work is never dull when Anna is on duty. Saskia is our Front of House Manager and she is from New York, when she first started in the Lodge it was very entertaining educating Saskia on the west of Ireland ways.
The Food at The Lodge is really exquisite, can you tell me who is in charge of making this wonderful menu?
Jonathan Keane was born to cook, and each day, he lives his dream. Originally from Kylemore, Connemara, Jonathan was surrounded by inspiring landscape, excellent ingredients and the magic of the sea. He grew up eating the freshest fish and plucking his own potatoes before kitchen gardens were fashionable. He was always fascinated by the happenings of kitchens and by 16, he knew what he wanted to do in life.
Achieving Head Chef status at just 22 years of age, Keane had built up experience in some fine restaurants including the five star Adare Manor in Limerick, O’Grady’s in Clifden and Cashel House in Connemara before converting many of the locals in Westport during his management of the Mill Times kitchens.
When choosing a wedding menu you have to think of the bigger picture, think of dishes that will wow your guests but they will appeal to a wide variety. If choosing a single starter, I would recommend the Duck Starter or the Ardrahan Cheese Tartlet. We are also famous for our Fillet of Beef.
What advice would you have about drinks? Any special wine you would recommend, or type of wine?
Jorg is our food and Beverage Manager and he is our expert on wine so I would look to Jorg for advice. When choosing a particular grape I would recommend a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gritio and for Red we would recommend a Merlot of Cabernet, these grapes will appeal to all pallets.
You must be thrilled to have such a wonderful team working alongside you, is The Lodge a fun place to work?
The lodge is such a fun place to work; we have a sports & social club in the Hotel so we are always organizing different events. At the end of every month we have a tea party, the chef shares some of his dishes with us and the bar make up some mocktails. Red Carnation Hotels also have an annual party in London each year and staff from all properties is invited, over 800 people attended this year, which is quite a party!
We have lots of great photo opportunities, too many in fact. Our couples can also avail of the stunning gardens in Ashford. The village is also a stunning backdrop, the Monks Fishing House is just stunning.
Is it possible for the couples to gain access to Ashford Castle itself for photos? Any other ways the Castle can be incorporated into their day?
Our couples can also avail of the stunning gardens in Ashford, If Ashford have a wedding the grounds are then private.
Falconry: Ashford’s School of Falconry is the oldest established Falconry School.
Archery: Enjoy this ancient sport played by kings and lords for centuries. All delegates can participate simultaneously as long as the participants are as tall as the bow.
Clay pigeon shooting: The Ashford sporting clay range features targets that simulate the game typical of this region. Test your skill against the bolting rabbit, springing teal or wily woodcock.
Equestrian Centre: The Ashford Equestrian Centre is situated on the Ashford Estate. Rides can be enjoyed over the beautiful wooded countryside between the shores of Lough Corrib and Lough Mask and into the mountains of Connemara to the West.
Corrib Cruises: Enjoy a voyage of discovery on Lough Corrib! The Isle of Inisfree is an 80 passenger, all-weather craft with a full bar service and toilet facilities on board. Chartered VIP arrival and private hire are available.
Fishing: wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon. Our Ghillie, Frank Costello, is an Orvis endorsed guide and is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable on Lough Corrib.
Golf: This beautiful 9 hole 2996 yards par 35 parkland course, provides the perfect environment for golfers of all ages to hone their skills.
Tennis: Complimentary for guests on two all-weather courts.
The Lodge at Ashford Castle provides a romantic and striking setting for your wedding vows. We participate in Civil Marriages & Civil Partnerships. The Harbour Room is the perfect back drop for a ceremony with breath taking views overlooking Lough Corrib & Lisloughrey Pier. The Harbour room can seat up to 30 guests or 180 guests seating. After the ceremony guests may adjourn to the Gallery or the outside lawns, which over look Lough Corrib for your drinks reception. In true Lodge style, it is easy to see why this stunning setting is one of Ireland’s most premiere wedding destinations.
Ceremonies may be performed in the Lodge 7 days a week. We will be happy to advise and assist with your civil ceremony, so please contact us for more details.
Ballintubber is a stunning church and this is where Pearse Brosnan got married. The Church in Cong is also a beautiful setting for a wedding.
There have been hundreds of weddings in the Lodge over the years, can you tell me the most outrageous thing you have been asked to do or have seen?
No request to me is outrageous. We once asked to change the names on all of rooms to the names of famous people, that was interesting. When each guest check in they were given a celebrity name and that was the name of the room. We also transformed our Harbor Room into a Cinema, draped the walls and brought in lots of comfy couches and bean bags. Of course we had candy floss & pop corn.
That is a good question, I think the day of the top table on the stage is definitely gone, Brides & Grooms now prefer to have a round table and be more involved with their guests. Bohemian weddings are a big trend, this is where you put your own personal stamp on your wedding. I had two school teachers get married and they use Chalk Boards for their table plan and table names. Escort Tables will be a big thing next year, this is where each guest has an individual name tag and the tag will tell you where you are sitting. But the tag could be in many different forms, for example you could have a simple jar of sweets with the guests name and table number. It also doubles up as a wedding favour.
Have you any tips for Future Brides and Grooms? Things that will make their wedding unique?
One word of advice I would give is to bring your own personality into your wedding and always go with your gut feeling. Involve your friends and family whether it is making table names or favors.
Finally have you anything further you would like to tell us about The Lodge?
The Lodge is very much a destination wedding venue; people come from all over the country and the world to get married here. I really feel we do something special here. One of the reasons why we have become one of Irelands Premiere Wedding Destinations is because of the high level of food and service, the Lodge itself is really is only brick and water, it’s the people and characters who work here that make it so special. I never grow tired of being in the Bridal Suite the morning of a wedding and being involved in all the preparations, It’s great to be a part of such a happy occasion, let’s face it there is enough doom and gloom in the world. Weddings are such a happy time and it’s a new beginning for any couple and I think the Lodge is the perfect place for new beginnings. What can I say I am a little bit of a romantic!
Thanks so much to Mairead for taking the time to be part of this article.
If you want to have your wedding in The Lodge, here are the details.
Wedding & Events Manager
The Lodge at Ashford Castle
T: +353 (0) 94 95 45400 D: +353 (0) 95 454112 E: firstname.lastname@example.org