TAKING the reigns of a family business is never easy, but local hoteliers James and Rosemary McKenna have welcomed the challenge with open arms.
The local brother and sister team took over the Manor House Hotel some 10 months ago, and alongside a committed team of staff, loyal customers and the odd bit of advice from their parents, have successfully put their own slant on this well-known family concern.
Situated just outside Enniskillen, the Manor House Hotel has been in the McKenna family for 35 years, having been acquired by Mary and Liam McKenna in 1989.
In their time as Directors of the hotel, they oversaw a huge number of developments to the property, including two major extensions, which grew room numbers from 8 to 80, and saw the introduction of Fermanagh’s first luxury leisure centre and spa.
But as with any family business, there comes a time to let the next generation make their mark. In June, 2023, siblings James and Rosemary took over operations.
“We’re lucky to have such brilliant mentors in our parents,” Mr. McKenna said.
“They built the hotel up from eight to 80 bedrooms, constantly making improvements and adding new strands to the business.
“But they’ve also purposefully been quite hands-off, allowing us to figure things out for ourselves and encouraging us to put our own stamp on things.”
The past 10 months have been busy, but rewarding, and the next generation has had the support of many long-standing staff members to help with the transition.

“We’re privileged to have a senior team who care as much as we do about the business, who are dedicated and who want to see the hotel succeed,” Mrs. McKenna remarked.
Today, the Manor House employs more than 100 staff, with some having been at the hotel for more than 30 years.
The siblings unanimously agree that the people make the business what it is.
 “Whether it’s the experience and wisdom of those who have been here for a long time, or the energy and fresh ideas of our newer team members, we know that the success of the hotel is a collective effort”, Mrs. McKenna said.
Anyone who has visited the hotel will know that it has always celebrated a combination of old and new.
 The 18th Century Grade Two Listed building oozes old-world charm, while offering a real sense of modern luxury and comfort.
“We absolutely want to embrace the building’s heritage and uphold the traditional elements of the hotel, while also refreshing things and bringing in some new ideas,” said Mrs. McKenna.
And the approach appears to be working. The pair report a significant growth in occupancy in the first quarter of the year, in what is notoriously a difficult period for the industry.
“There are undoubtedly huge challenges facing hotels at the moment,” Mr. McKenna said. “The cost of living crisis, rising wage and energy costs and food inflation are a perfect storm for the sector.
“Thankfully we have an extremely loyal base of customers, many of whom have been coming to the hotel for decades.
“Through our marketing efforts, we’ve also been able to attract a significant portion of new customers, which has helped us combat these challenges.”
At the end of 2023, the hotel won a series of prestigious awards, including Ulster Hotel Restaurant of the Year at the Irish Hotel Awards.
Executive Chef Stephen Greenwood and his team also claimed an AA rosette for the Belleek Restaurant.
In this sense, Food and Beverage Manager, Kalem McLoughlin, is proud that the hotel is building a reputation locally for its food.
“Fermanagh has a buzzing food scene, which is great to be a part of,” he said. “More and more local people are seeing The Manor as a fantastic local dining destination, and we’re committed to building that trade even further.”
The wedding end of the business has also seen a boost, with Una Monaghan being awarded Ulster Wedding Manager of the Year, and the hotel being voted Northern Ireland’s top-rated wedding venue.
 “The wedding industry has changed significantly post-Covid, and we’ve worked extremely hard to refresh our offering to better reflect what couples today want,” explained Mrs. Monaghan.

“Our focus is on curating unique, customised experiences while upholding our reputation for excellent food and service.”
Indeed, these changes have had a significant impact, with bookings for 2025 pacing well ahead.
Whether it’s dining, overnight stays or weddings, ensuring top-notch customer service has always been the ethos of the Manor House.
Operations Manager, Pascal Whitley, who joined the hotel last summer, explained the importance of keeping a keen eye on guest feedback.
 “Great customer service is what keeps people coming back time and again, and delivering that warm Fermanagh hospitality is key,” he said.

"The feeback from guests consistently mentions staff going out of their way to create a welcoming environment, which is something we’re really proud of.”
And in the day-to-day running of the hotel, things show no sign of slowing down.
Mr. Whitley continued: “March is set to be a very busy month for us, with our Mother’s Day and Easter Sunday Carvery lunches and St. Patrick’s Day and Easter Holidays all falling in quick succession.
“But it’s great to see such a buzz around the hotel. It creates a great atmosphere.”
In coming months, the hotel is also placing a renewed focus on entertainment, with live music every Friday, Saturday and during holidays.
“There is so much musical talent here in Fermanagh, and we’re delighted to be able to showcase that,” Mrs. McKenna explained.
 “Come the summer months, we’ll also be focusing on curating experiences on ‘The Lady of the Lake’, our fully licensed luxury cruiser.
“We had great success at the end of last summer with our Cocktail Hour Cruises, but we know there’s so much more we can do to create really unique and memorable events on the Lough!”
Looking further to the future, ambitious plans for the hotel are at the fore.
“From the moment we took over, my dad has encouraged us to think about its next phase of development,” Mr. McKenna said. “His philosophy has always been that if you sit still for too long, you start going backwards.”

Designs are currently being worked up for an expansive renovation to the lake side of the hotel, creating a new wedding garden and outdoor event space.
“Our location overlooking Lough Erne is such a gift, and we want to maximise it as much as possible,” said Mrs. McKenna.
Between getting to grips with running a business and planning for the future, it’s clear the dynamic brother and sister duo have been busy.
“There’s certainly never a dull moment”, Mr. McKenna concluded, with a smile.