Insider View - Seeing Ireland The Official Way

Hilton ParkIn her article this month Lucy Madden laments increased bureaucracy and the apparent desire of the tourism authorities in Ireland to make all accommodation uniform - quashing any charm & character that individuality brings along the way.

Picture this. Somewhere in a condominium in Florida, Duane and Barbra, third generation Americans, are planning their first trip to Ireland to seek out their roots. Before them is spread out the ample literature provided by the Irish Tourist Board. They have saved for this journey for years and have decided to opt for bed and breakfast accommodation.

They are a little nervous about their forthcoming adventure and want to pre-book, so are discussing their requirements. “We’ve got to find some place where the tables are laid correctly, with cutlery of uniform design. And I’d like a choice of two fishes for breakfast,” says Barbra. “I’ll need an all-night floodlit parking lot,” says Duane. “We don’t want anywhere where the telephone rings more than 5 times,” Barbra insists “And if the walls in the rooms are plain I must insist on some homey prints. They’d better be framed. Oh, and we don’t want any low ceilings in the bedrooms.” They scrutinize their brochures and behold, there is a whole category of bed and breakfast accommodation that ticks all their boxes. What is more, it is the Five Star category.

Imagine different, more discerning kind of independent travellers planning a holiday in Ireland who, not unreasonably, assume that the best way to get to know the country is to stay in private houses where the famed Irish hospitality can be experienced at first hand. The home stay can shed a light on a country’s culture in a way that more commercial premises cannot hope to match.

A little wary of dog hairs on the bedspreads and the smell of chips our travellers decide to book into what has been deemed by the Tourist Board to be Five Star Bed and Breakfast accommodation. It would not be unreasonable for them to expect that the recommended homes were places of charm and individuality.

Alas, disappointment would ensue. Our travellers, if the ‘Appointed Contractors’ get their way, might find themselves pulling up at establishments of vile design, luminous as a seaside pier, with once surrounding meadows obliterated under the dead hand of decking and tar macadam and perhaps overlooking a roundabout.

The first aforementioned scenario is, in spite of what those who run our tourist board may imagine, most unlikely. The second is imminent. Once again, with no lessons learned, a long diatribe of bureaucratic, PC piece of gobbledegook has been foisted on a highly praised area of the hospitality industry which is already under huge pressure from the follies of government.

I had to stop reading the implementation document halfway through its 40 pages to prevent bursting blood vessels. Who put this dreadful document together and at what cost? Why this arrogant assumption that one-size fits all, that the dead hand of uniformity must be applied across the land and that anybody, anybody, will want to visit a country whose glorious landscapes have already been desecrated, only to find all individual endeavours have been crushed?

“Good taste” is mentioned in the document, but what is that? One person’s ‘good taste’ is another’s naff. The corollary of the directive that plain walls ‘to be decorated with framed prints or pictures’ could mean that patterned wallpaper must not be so decorated. The cheek of it.

Why do dining rooms have to have side-boards? Most foreign visitors I know would every time prefer a friendly chat in the kitchen in company with, yes, a forbidden washing machine and a sleeping dog rather than a uniform ‘resident’s lounge’ with the mandatory TV.

Have the lunatics finally taken over the asylum? Has this document been thought through? Take, for example the directive about the fish that anyone claiming five-star status must comply with. We all know that fresh fish is not available every day over vast swathes of this land, even the parts near the coast. The assumption that a host could produce a choice of two fresh fish before 8 am of a morning, especially a Sunday morning, is risible.

I fear that the chloroform pad of bureaucratic regulation and conformity may just be the nail in the coffin for people working in a sector already struggling to overcome over-whelming problems.

Remembering our most interesting and remarkable holiday experiences paying to stay in the homes of others, caves in the Gorge du Tarn, a tiny attic bedroom in Morocco, a cliff top cottage in Cornwall which had no electricity, a farmhouse in California with a caged bird in every room and where you had to stay in your bedroom between the hours of seven to nine p.m. while the family ate; all these we loved.

I know that none of these wonderful places would qualify for even the minimum standards set by Failte Ireland. People coming to this country deserve more. This document makes me so sad and angry that I’ll have to return to gnaw at it at a later date.

Together with her husband Johnny, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.

Hospitality Ireland MagazineKindly supplied by the respected food service and drinks industry magazine, Hospitality Ireland. Click here to read more about them

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