LAOIS will get a much needed tourism and jobs boost this summer with the opening of a luxurious period hotel in Ballyfin.
Past pupils of the Patrician College would be hard pressed to recognise their alma mater these days, with the magnificent transformation the 19th century mansion has undergone.
It reopens in May as an exclusive hotel, having undergone nine years of painstaking restoration, Ballyfin House and Demesne will cater for a select few however, with just 13 bedrooms and two suites, though a further five rooms are planned. A swimming pool, gym and treatment rooms are installed in the basement, while a ballroom will cater for weddings of up to 120 people.
The gardens too have been carefully restored, with several miles of path and driveway laid, the conservatory, tower and grotto meticulously repaired and a boat on the lake for fishing or rowing. The 600 acre site even has its own church.
It may seem strange economic timing to be opening up a hotel but according to investor and garden designer Jim Reynolds, interest has been high.
"We have six or seven bookings already taken, mostly from American companies or families who book the entire house for their stay,"
Ballyfin House is sure to have a positive knock-on effect on the local economy, and Jim affirmed their commitment to buying local seasonal produce for the restaurant, and indeed to employing Laois people on their staff of 40, headed up by Manager Aileesh Carew, from Ballyadams.
Work on the house almost halted for a time back in 2008 as the worldwide recession hit.
"We kept on a core of twelve people and built it back up again," said the designer, "For the first month or two we considered stopping work, but decided that would be absolutely crazy, as six years had already gone by. The only sensible thing was to move forward."
The main investor in the hotel is Fred Krehbiel, a Chicago based businessman whose wife is Irish. The cost of the renovations is undisclosed, but no expense has been spared. "Some things cost a huge amount, such as the repairs to plaster and stucco work, but we never talk about money," smiled Jim.
A book about the history and restoration of Ballyfin House and Demesne is being launched this Thursday in Dublin, and a vigorous campaign will be aimed at the London, Chicago, New York and Texas markets, where Jim feels their customer base lies. The attraction of the house as a high end business and wedding destination is in it's individuality, coupled with five star service, believes Jim, saying "There isn't anything exactly like it. Life in a country house the way it was." See www.ballyfin.com