The lady of the manor

Women in the workplace A series by Carmel Kelly Palmer ‘I’m still told in a jocular manner that I’m a ‘blow-in’ says Anya Grealy of the Abbey Hotel, smiling! Her early years were spent in the counties of Dublin, Cork, Tipperary and Donegal. She talks about the various places and the reasons associated with these moves. ‘I was born in the village of Lusk, Co. Dublin. My father was a Garda sergeant at that time and we lived there for the first nine years of my life. He was then transferred to Macroom, Co. Cork, working there as a weights and measure inspector. We remained there for four years. ‘We then moved to Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, where he was promoted to Inspector. One further move took us to Ballyshannon, County Donegal, where my father was Superintendent.’ It was in Ballyshannon that Anya sat for her Leaving Certificate. She subsequently moved to Dublin. ‘I did a commercial course with the Holy Faith nuns in Haddington Road, Dublin. When I completed this course I was employed by Ralph and Gwen Slazenger of Powerscourt House, Wicklow, in their Dublin office. The house was originally owned by Lord and Lady Powerscourt. ‘One of the highlights while working for the Slazengers was their hosting of ‘Le Bal de Petit Lit Blanc’ with Princess Grace of Monaco as their guest. For me it was a very exciting and interesting year there.’ We all know that thirty or forty years ago children strictly adhered to what their parents wanted them to do. It was no different for Anya. ‘When I left school my father told me I was to go and work in the Bank of Ireland, so after I left the Slazengers I joined the Bank of Ireland. I worked as a relief staff member working in many branches from north to south. Finally, I took up a permanent position with the bank in Athlone.’ Anya stayed at the Athlone branch for two years. However, the travelling bug had taken hold, perhaps because of so many moves previously. She now found herself casting her eyes towards faraway places. ‘I applied for a position as air hostess with Aer Lingus, was successful and worked on the London and European routes. That is where I remained for the rest of my working life as a single girl. ‘While still working with Aer Lingus I met Tom, my husband,’ Anya says. Tom and Anya subsequently married and settled in Roscommon where she is now living for thirty-six years. She went on to talk about the Grealy family and the original hotel. ‘It was founded in 1860 and was one of the prime hotels in the country, situated on the corner of Church Street, Roscommon town. It continued as this hotel until 1975, when a fire destroyed the premises.’ The late Tommy Grealy set his sights on the Abbey manor house, visualising its potential. ‘Tom’s father, Tommy Grealy, purchased the 18th century Abbey manor house in 1962, converting it into a hotel, at the same time retaining the Corner Hotel. ‘Tom’s mother, May Grealy, managed the Abbey Hotel and when we married, Tom and I moved in to the ‘Corner House’, the name Grealy’s was known by. Together as a family we managed both hotels side by side for a number of years.’ I asked Anya how she felt at this time. Here was a girl whom through most of her life had travelled all over this country and throughout Europe with Aer Lingus. Suddenly she found that her feet were planted firmly on the ground in the small market town of Roscommon. ‘I fitted in easily, particularly because I married into a business and my experience through the Bank of Ireland and indeed with Aer Lingus helped me greatly. I did miss my friends but we have always kept in touch. ‘There was a lot going on around me at this time, Tom, my husband, having other business interests. We had a contract with the Western Health Board for ambulance driving and we were distributors for Monaghan milk.’ Anya quickly settled in to her new environment, now having an outlet for meeting people combined with the opportunity of becoming involved in the business. All that she had learned and taken on board in her working life was now fully realised and utilised. Anya Grealy had at last found her niche. ‘I was very fortunate in the welcome and support I received from the people of Roscommon and that has continued down through the years.’ Things moved along at a comfortable pace and there came a time when Tom and Anya took a close look at their business. ‘In the mid seventies we looked at both businesses. Grealy’s corner hotel was made up with the acquisition of a lot of houses side by side. At that particular time perhaps it was considered a little old-fashioned. We decided to wind it down and begin to develop the Abbey Hotel which had much more potential. ‘Because of the coal strike in the mid seventies we found ourselves without anthracite which we needed for our large kitchen cooker in the old hotel. We had no choice but to close down the food outlet and continue with just bar service for a number of years.’ So it was this economic situation that altered the course of events. Mrs.  Grealy took over the management of the corner house hotel and so Anya and Tom found themselves ensconced in the Abbey Hotel. ‘My father-in-law bought it in 1962, always with the intention of converting it into a hotel. It opened as a ten-bedroom hotel in order to qualify at that time for the hotel licence.’ Now the hotel has over fifty bedrooms and it has been extended and renovated in all directions. However, Anya has ensured that it did not impinge on the existing atmosphere or décor. By concentrating on every detail and making sure the old and new blended together, you can see at a glance that the Abbey Hotel has retained the old world charm of a manor house. It is surprising the number of staff that is required to operate efficiently. ‘We employ seventy to eighty people on a full time basis within the confines of the hotel. We are indeed very fortunate in the quality of our staff and they also have a great interest in the business maintaining a high standard. We cannot do that on our own.’ I asked Anya about her family and their interest in the hotel business. ‘We have four children, three sons and a daughter. Adrian is married to Anne Marie Greene and they have given us our first grandchild. Tom married Geraldine in May 2006. Robert is a doctor in Dublin. Mary Claire, my daughter, works in the newsroom in Shannonside radio.’ Does she visualise any of her children continuing the tradition of a family-run hotel business? ‘There has been a long line of the Grealy family as hoteliers. The original hotel was opened in 1860 and down through the generations it has always been run by family so we hope that it would continue.’ She is comfortable in her role as director of the hotel and enjoys the busy daily schedule. In addition, she manages a property company. Her business qualities are being further utilised as she takes her place in local organisations i.e. Chamber of Commerce, County Enterprise Board, Development Board, Skill Nets, etc. At present she is chairing a committee of the Chamber of Commerce. endeavouring to establish a high technological centre in Roscommon. She is also Treasurer of the Elphin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes and goes there in August every year as a helper in the hospital. I wondered how Anya viewed the hotel from the inside. ‘I see it as a small family-run hotel, serving the needs of the town and its environs. We have built up a very good reputation for weddings and functions. I hope we would continue down that road and of course we have plans to develop the hotel still further. We hope to continue to improve the facilities and standards now expected from a four-star property and to meet whatever challenges come our way.’ Coming in from the outside you can feel the warm and welcoming atmosphere envelop you. Here you can forget the trappings of the twentieth century and be transported back in time. Where better to have your wedding reception than in the idyllic setting of the Abbey Hotel? In addition to the interior, the grounds, with its abundance of mature beech trees, shrubs and lawn, has so much to offer. It has become ‘a garden of Eden’ for the radiant bride, who down through the years will linger over those cherished wedding photographs. Before I left I paused for a moment in the reception area to look at the gold-framed portraits of Tom Grealy’s parents and his paternal grandfather. They do indeed deserve to be remembered and respected for the legacy they have imparted to the Grealy family and also to the people of Roscommon.