‘Friends said we were mad to leave London but we’ve got a new lease of life on Hook Head’
This couple made a snap decision to leave UK but it didn’t take them long to set up a cool new B&B
It was a New Year’s Eve break back in Ireland that first prompted Tristan Fahy and Emma King to think about changing their lives. “We were down in Fethard on New Years Day . . . it’s just a beautiful place and I said, how do we change our life to get down here.” The couple returned to London where King worked as a nurse and Fahy in marketing, and they spent their free time thinking up ideas that could bring them back to Ireland.
“Bike tours, coffee shops, restaurants were all put into the hat. There was a lot of soul-searching , but in the end, opening a B&B seemed the most risk-averse. We could live in it, and make money,” says Fahy. Once the decision was made, they took a two-pronged approach, scouting for property in Ireland and trawling vintage shops and markets for the kind of B&B they had in mind.
As it turned out, finding the property was the easy part. They focused on Fethard and found plenty for sale in the area, but, says Fahy, most were either beyond their budget, or just not right. Still, one property stood out, an eight-bedroom holiday home in need of an update. “When we saw this, it had the scale we wanted, and it was in our budget because it had that dated holiday home vibe.” In other words, perfect for a B&B.
The couple had spent hours on Pinterest and knew the look they wanted to achieve could be worked into the large dormer house with sea and countryside views. So far, so good, but they hit an inevitable road block when they went looking for a bank loan.
“The banks wouldn’t look at us, because although we were were Irish coming back, we were treated as non-residents and therefore only eligible for a 60 per cent mortgage. You often hear about barriers to enter a country, but what about ‘barriers of re-entry’! Fortunately, we engaged a fantastic broker who was our agent on the ground and made life a lot easier.” It took a lot of negotiating with lenders and with the owners until, finally, they were able to strike a deal last November.
Six months later, Hook Lodge has opened for business with four B&B rooms – named after big cities – offering cool laid-back interiors, a cafe-style breakfastroom, an honesty bar and a library stocked with books, and hundreds of DVDs. There’s no TV, no Netflix. The aim is allow people to relax completely and not to sit around flicking from screen to screen. The beach is a short stroll away and a good gastro pub, the Templars Inn, is even closer.
Fahy says they are still amazed at what they’ve done in such a short time. “Our friends thought we were mad to leave London, and it was a huge decision.
“We left stable careers behind us, but we wanted to do something different. Life was passing us by and we wanted to break out of the mould. I was in marketing, and work was becoming predictable. I could see where I would be in 20 years. Emma was working as a nurse and seeing some stressful situations in hospital every day. We wanted to do something different, that would give us a new lease of life. Emma was even thinking that we should move to New York and work in restaurants.”
Starting the B&B has been a huge learning curve, he says. “In the last four months since I have been full time in Fethard, I’ve learned more about business than I think I did in the previous eight years. You have to know how to be a computer person, a gardener, a painter, a website designer, a cook . . . all these things were new to me. In London, it had gotten to the stage where I could hardly change a lightbulb. I would just ask the the landlord. Now I’ve upskilled.”
They finally got the keys in January 2018 and began work immediately, staying in a nearby holiday home that was in the family, and working 10-hour days on Hook Lodge to get it ready for this summer season. “We worked on it solidly for 2½ months, sanding down the entire house for starters.” The snow and the storms were crazy, and to make matters just a little more stressful, they acquired a dog, Charlie. “It was the worst thing we could have done, unfortunately, as he was chasing everything and taking a nip at anyone who called by, like the postman.” Luckily, a farmer who was in search of a good hunting dog took Charlie in and the work at Hook Lodge continued.
It was time to bring their ideas into play, and to introduce their quirky collection of art and furniture to the house. The four guest rooms: London, Tokyo, Sydney and New York would be dressed appropriately. Sydney has the best views of the sea, Tokyo is all green and calm, New York has a cosy loft-like feel and London, well, there’s an Underground sign for starters.
Most of the furniture came across in two back-to-back ferry journeys which Fahy still shudders over. “We dropped a huge load of stuff one evening, and went straight back the next day and did it all over again.” Their collection had been built up over many weekends of dreaming in London. “We’d be walking around thinking about the rooms and picking up small things that we thought would work. If we didn’t go out drinking, we would treat ourself to a cool piece of furniture, or a clock that you won’t find at Ikea, though don’t get me wrong, we also got stuff from Ikea!”
‘We were suddenly open’
A few weeks ago, as Fahy was working in the garden, he was approached by a German couple looking for accommodation. He explained that Hook Lodge wasn’t ready for business, but finally agreed to let them stay. “And so, we were suddenly open. They stayed the night, loved the omelette the next morning and went on their way. Hook Lodge was open for business.”
A proper trial run followed when they invited eight friends down to stay. “They all descended, and put us through our paces,” says Fahy, who had once dreamed of becoming a chef. “Everyone had something different for breakfast. They really pushed us and they were pretty honest and gave us some good feedback.”
Gradually, says Fahy, their families’ concerns for them and friends’ doubts about their decision have melted away, as Hook Lodge takes shape and spreads on social media. “We think people can begin to relate to the reasons why we made this change. There is still going to be early mornings and late nights trying to ensure we are providing the best service to guests, but the difference is we are doing something that we own and that we control. Our quality of life has dramatically improved while our stress levels are being channelled towards something we both want. Of course the, evening beach walks after all the hard work is done makes the ‘big change’ all the more easy.