Meet the Cork brothers giving Kerry hoteliers John and Francis a run for their money

Liz O’Brien catches up with Darren and Kevin Owens, who run the Hibernian Hotel in Mallow — now home to the first rainwater indoor swimming pool in the country — and chats to them about exciting plans for the future
Meet the Cork brothers giving Kerry hoteliers John and Francis a run for their money
Darren and Kevin Owens who run the Hibernian Hotel, Mallow.

YOU could say Mallow brothers Darren and Kevin Owens are Cork’s answer to famous Kerry hoteliers John and Francis Brennan.

Just like the Brennan brothers, Darren and Kevin work side by side, running a hotel they love in a community they are proud of, and they’re also full of great ideas.

The managing directors of Mallow’s Hibernian Hotel — right in the heart of Mallow town – have recently opened Ireland’s first rainwater pool — an Irish first in sustainability, the brothers have replaced the chlorinated swimming pool with one that harvests the rain water from the hotel’s roof.

So far, the water-saving initiative has helped the hotel save about 249,000 Kwh of electricity — that’s almost 60 times the annual electricity consumption (4,200 kWh per annum) of an average Irish household.

“We just saw the water going down the drain, on top of that, we were using heat and chemicals and so we started really looking at waste,” Darren said.

They teamed up with Frank Guillfoyle, an expert in rainwater harvesting, and the whole project from start to finish took about six months.

The idea, to harvest rainwater, came to them when Mallow town’s public toilets closed for some time. With the public toilets out of action, people started using the hotel’s facilities and because the hotel was being charged for water going in and out of the premises, they were effectively being charged twice for water consumption; this prompted their mission to be kinder to the environment but also to their pockets.

While the initial expense was costly, the brothers are glad they took the plunge and its an initiative their customers are thankful for — after the pool harvests the rainwater it’s filtered for safe use, and because between 70-90% less chlorine is being used now, the water is kinder to skin and hair and seems to suit allergy and eczema sufferers.

The brothers, seven years apart in age, were born into the hospitality industry; starting out as bottle washers when they were teens, they worked their way up the ranks and took the business over in 2010.

SUSTAINABILITY: The Hibernian Hotel, Mallow has recently opened Ireland’s first rainwater pool
SUSTAINABILITY: The Hibernian Hotel, Mallow has recently opened Ireland’s first rainwater pool

The pair joke that they never get sick of each other, “only at work”.

“It’s good that there’s seven years between us, if we were closer in age we’d probably kill each other, so there’s a mutual respect there,” Darren said.

He started his career in property with a degree in Property Valuation Management and a postgraduate Diploma in Real Estate Management before moving to Australia and the USA to work.

Kevin has a degree in Accounting and Finance from the University of Limerick. By using their skills, the brothers are focused on growing and upgrading the hotel while keeping customer needs at the forefront of everything they do.

They’ve made a lot of changes to develop the business since taking over almost 10 years ago.

“Our parents bought the premises in 1998; our mother Joan is still involved, unfortunately my father passed away in 2010 and we got heavily involved from then,” Kevin said.

“Joan was probably the rock that we needed to bring us together and focus on the business, she’s slowly taking little steps back now, leaving us to it and concentrating on the grandkids.”

As times change, the business’s needs have also changed and the brothers aim to reflect that by embracing them.

“One thing we know is that the alcohol and drink trade in Ireland is something that’s changing,” Darren said.

“Definitely, people are becoming more health-conscious and food is becoming a far bigger thing for the business than it used to be and we’re conscious of that,” Kevin stated.

So they’ve introduced new menus that cater for coeliacs, vegans and people with food intolerances.

But they’re also giving a leg up to local food producers. They will open a pantry in the hotel — somewhere local producers can sell their homemade produce; already signed up are Martin’s Jams, Kate’s Chocolates, West Cork Olives, and there will be freshly baked breads and sauces available thanks to the hotel’s French pastry chef.

They also have plans to become an entertainment centre and give the town’s youths somewhere to socialise.

But the brothers are not forgetting their older customers either and they’ve reintroduced the ballroom dance.

“We’ve just started back doing them — we had Philip English back in July and our second one is coming up in September — those turning up are probably your more mature age group, retirees; they’re always looking for something to do. You still have people looking for love at those things and even second time round and things like that, so it’s lovely to have them,” Kevin said.

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