Hello everyone, I’m so thrilled to be racing around the countryside sampling the delights of all your winners from the weddingsonline awards… it’s been brilliant so far and I’m so impressed with all the stunning wedding venues we have unique to our beautiful country. It’s impressive to see the difference in styles and weddings that are held in each venue; but for me, the top of the cherry is how much every hotel and country estate takes pride in their weddings and understands that giving the bride and groom the attention they need and being patient is key to making any big day a success. I’m so impressed also with the amount of heart and love that is poured into making each wedding day memorable and that’s just the staff! To my mind, it’s only from talking to the men and women BEHIND the doors of your venues that you get to understand the level of passion and commitment they invest in you to make your day shine.This time I kept it closer to my home with a stunning property in Kildare; the Clanard Court Hotel who won Hotel Venue of the Year in Leinster!On arrival I was greeted by Claire Dunne (Wedding Co-ordinator) and Mary Fennin-Byrne (Owner and MD) who alongside their colleague Anna showed me around the hotel. I had never been to the Clanard Court before and I have to say first impressions last as I fell in love instantly. It’s a hotel that oozes country chic and cosy perfectly. I wanted to bed down for the night. There would have been no moving me – with a massage, afternoon tea and a glass of Prosecco, I would never have left! Aside from the stunning gardens and sumptuous rooms, the atmosphere is so welcoming, it’s no wonder everyone feels at home here.Firstly I couldn’t go a step further without congratulating them on their super win of ‘Hotel Venue of the Year Leinster’ – I mean, that’s a feat in itself! So, how did owner Mary Fennin-Byrne feel about scooping the coveted prize on the night of the weddingsonline awards?“We were absolutely flabbergasted, delighted! We had gone up to the awards with no expectations…obviously we would have loved to have won it, we put a lot of work and effort into it but when our name was called out we were overawed!”What does it mean for a small family run business such as this to win this award; aside from the local notoriety, does it mean more confidence in what you do?“For us it’s a recognition of the hard work we have put in, it’s that trophy we’ve been chasing for the last 13 years and when we finally got it, we felt we were doing something right! We are constantly upgrading and reinventing ourselves, adding new bits and pieces to the hotel so when it’s noticed by the professionals behind the scenes, it really is great!”What struck me about the humble approach to winning by Mary and her team was also the fact that this is a very hands on hotel. Mary and her father tend to the gardens and Mary loves interiors which is very much a part of the fabric of Clanard Court. On inspection the rooms are beautifully decorated and tastefully achieved through pops of bright colours that really cheer you up and make you feel like not only would your time here be fun and restful, but that you’d enjoy going to bed at night in either your turquoise room, Hampton’s blue room or even your more daring black and green room complete with black chandeliers.“I’m inspired by Pinterest, I see things and I follow them. I pin it and see if I can enhance it and then I google and chase the look and don’t stop until I get the look. I think you really need to capture the wow factor when you walk into any bedroom and you do that by colour, quirky features and the colours for me need to all tie in.’The Bridal Suite is very unusual, it has scatterings of green and pinks and is very friendly, cosy and uniquely designed with a large four poster bed and an amazing ornate marble fireplace. I can see why couples flock to stay in these unique and stunningly designed rooms. As mentioned the Clanard Court Hotel is a family country chic hotel and this is reflected in its ballroom complete with vintage chandeliers and room decor. This beautiful ballroom has a feature that no money can buy… the garden.The gardens would make Diarmuid Gavin proud and come complete with preened rose bushes, a stunning centrepiece Weeping Willow Tree and little love seat at the back. The grass is lush and green and I could see many brides vying for an outdoor wedding if the weather holds, which was the case last weekend on the hottest day of the year! Simply stunning.“Weather dependent, we work with every bride and groom, it can be inside or outside on the day and we just need an hour’s notice if the sun is shining. We are always prepared to be inside over-looking the gardens. Everything outside is looked after by my Dad who is 86 years old! The garden is his passion, he’s usually out pottering, nursing, planting bulbs and making the garden burst with colour all year round. It gets a lot of life in it and a lot of TLC too.”As you can see, this is essentially a family run hotel with a strong sense of togetherness which stands out a mile, but aside from the family side of things, what makes the Clanard Court Hotel stand out from the crowd?“Our people for sure; we have 80 staff in the hotel and we are like one big happy family, a wedding day is made up of teams from the porters, floor staff, sales office, wedding co-ordinator, management to housekeeping and kitchen and if they’re not all going in the same direction, we will drop the ball. We all have one goal which is to look after people. We are all about making people feel at home, everyone sings off that, it’s the way we feel, it’s just what happens and we don’t have to work on it.”I also caught up with wedding co-ordinator extraordinare Claire Dunne who talked me through the steps that she does to ensure that your day goes off without a hitch…“The most important thing here is tailoring the day to meet the needs of the couple. I always embrace the uniqueness with each individual. There are no two couples alike so no two weddings are the same and we cater for that.”But it’s not just that personal touch that couples can look forward to, they also have some amazing facilities at the Clanard Court Hotel. Brides can avail of their ‘Bridal Beauty’ service in the Revive Treatments Rooms where all their bridal beauty needs can be taken care of on the day itself, or if you’re after some pre-wedding pampering beforehand.Another fabulous addition to Clanard Court has to be their resident Alpacas that roam the beautiful mounds around the hotel whom I learnt are happy to be in your wedding photos backdrop! But Alpacas aside, I had to ask… what was the most unusual request Claire’s ever had for a wedding?“Yes, the Alpacas are adorable and people love getting photos with them up on the hill outside the venue, their job is to keep the grass down and when guests spot them they love getting photos with them, the horses, the sheep etc… so they are a big attraction. But the most unusual request would be the bride and groom wanting a pint of milk as their welcome drink complete with milk urns! It was very much a country style wedding, they wanted a harvest theme also as they were from a farming background.”I think it’s the dedication and energy that the staff at Clanard Court put into the weddings that reaps the rewards:“We had an Indian wedding one New Year’s Eve which was fantastic. The girl was a local girl and was Indian. It was very much a multicultural wedding and the couple changed into their traditional costume and performed an Indian dance after dinner which really lifted the roof off… the atmosphere that night was electric and we did everything we possibly could to help their dreams come true.”However, the final words from the winning hotel came from the MD herself Mary Fennin-Byrne who stated why Clanard Court is a loved hotel around the country and it’s for very good reason…“If you’re a guest in the hotel, you’re a guest in our own home, we don’t have to work on it, the staff are loyal, they love what they do and do it with pride. I think if you look back on our ratings on Tripadvisor and other online sites, it’s always about the people and we make that emotional connection… you can have nice touches and nice decor etc. but if you don’t have heart, you have nothing.”Hear Hear Mary, I couldn’t have said it better myself! Congratulations!
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Lisa Cannon is best known as a presenter on TV3's hugely popular movie show, Box Office. She blogged all about the lead up to her Big Day in Italy in September 2015.