NEIL GRANT is a Scotsman who left the highlands for the hills of West Cork, where he has been living with his wife Yvonne for the past 11 years.
He met Yvonne, a Clonakilty native, in Mayo when they were both working at Ashford Castle.
Since moving to Cork, Neil has worked in hotels in Mallow, Blarney, and Skibbereen and for the past six years, the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery. He lives in Clonakilty with Yvonne, their four-year-old twins Ivan and Annabel, and their Blue Roan Cocker Spaniel Polly.
In 2017, Neil played a part in setting up the West Cork Farm tours which bring tourists on tours of local farms, giving them a chance to meet local people, take in the fresh air, surrounded by spectacular scenery, and interact with the animals.
Neil said he and the family made good use of the local amenities throughout the first lockdown and since, and said there are a lot of fabulous natural habitats to visit in the area.
“On our doorstep, we have numerous amazing beaches such as Inchydoney, Long Strand, Red Strand, Warren Strand, and Owenahincha, as well as walkways in Castlefreke Woods and Dromillihy Fairy Woods, and this summer we got out to Fota Wildlife Park and Glengarriff Woods also.”
Neil said he enjoys a number of things about West Cork.
“It’s beautiful as a county, West Cork is just magic and the proximity to the sea is brilliant. The people are fun and dynamic also and the vibe around Clonakilty and Rosscarbery is positive and vibrant.”
Chatting about the character of Corkonians, Neil said there was a strong backbone to local people that was very admirable.
“Cork people are confident and sure of themselves — with very good cause!”
Neil said the Cork humour and the ability of Corkonians to dust themselves down and get on with things, irrespective of what is happening, was a notable characteristic as well.
“There is amazing resilience in them. Vital at this time.”
At the moment, Neil is manning an empty hotel and said it is a tough time for everyone involved in the hospitality industry.
“We are planning on reopening in December, but we are not sure what level we will be at, therefore it is difficult to know what is feasible.”
Neil said there is currently a skeleton staff working in and about the building, keeping things ticking over and he is in and out to look after various things.
“There is someone in the hotel at all times and we have a receptionist taking reservations as well. Tours and agencies are inquiring about 2021/2022.”
Neil said the team has also put a lot of work into the website in recent times and staff were doing their best to engage with the local community through online channels.
“We overhauled the website and we are currently working on Christmas sales. We have put a lot of effort into vouchers and gifts this season.”
The hotel manager, originally from Edinburgh, said that during the first lockdown they worked very hard to do their bit in keeping the community going.
“We had our chef doing cookery demonstrations and our leisure manager doing home fitness classes on social media networks,” Neil said. “And we featured the people of Rosscarbery on our website, a different person every week, just to stay in the hearts and minds of the local community.”
In terms of his staff, Neil said they were almost relieved to be closed at this current time as they had been under a lot of pressure for the last few months, operating with rising Covid cases.
“They found it very draining,” Neil explained. “They are taking the time to destress.”
In saying that, Neil said there was also a lot of deflation about the second lockdown, and said it was tough to go through it again.
“I just hope there is good support from the Government,” Mr Grant said.
In his spare time, Neil likes to play golf, although it is a hobby he has neglected in recent years, he admitted.
“I used to play at Skibbereen Golf Course, with a few of the staff, my operations manager,- and chef. I used to have a 10 handicap, I was very handy. I must get back to it after Covid.”
Neil said he finds West Cork a very friendly place to live.
“It is incredibly welcoming and warm. Marrying into a local family buys a bit of goodwill,” Neil joked.
In recent times, Neil said he was amazed at the resilience of the community in Rosscarbery in light of ongoing issues.
“Everyone just pulls together,” the hotel manager said.
The 41-year-old said he struggles with the work-life balance at times and said he can be a bit of a workaholic. “I find it difficult to switch off, especially when its a 24/7 operation. It doesn’t stop.
“If I’m in the locality, I tend to pop in and help out if its busy. It’s a challenge to switch off, I’m always answering the phone.”
In terms of Covid, Neil said the biggest issue was that his parents in Edinburgh were missing out on the development milestones of their grandchildren.
‘The biggest thing is my parents can’t get to see their grandchildren. They are missing out on them growing up. We have Facetime and Skype and Zoom but it is not the same. That is the toughest bit.”
While he might be missing his family back in Scotland, Neil said Clonakilty is his home now and he doubts he will ever leave.
“We are settled here now. The kids are enrolled in the Clonakilty gael-scoil next year. You don’t know what is ahead but I can’t see us moving anywhere in Ireland other than Cork — why would you?”