Ballybeg House – a venue with a view

When you convert a run-down house into an exclusive wedding venue tucked away in rural south Wicklow, well, you’ve earned the right to a fair hearing!

And that’s exactly what Paddy O’Toole, owner of Ballybeg House near Tinahely, received when he addressed the Rural Science Association on its recent field trip to Wicklow.

A former chairperson of Wicklow County Tourism, Paddy had some knowledge of the hospitality/tourism sector – but, as with other businesses, he still had to source funding from reluctant banks to build his business.

“Whatever we did, we did well,” said Paddy, explaining how a Victorian marquee turned Ballybeg House from a venue catering for 30 people to a sought-after choice for weddings with 160 guests. Added to that, the owners poured €500,000 into Grouse Lodge, a house on the grounds for the honeymoon couple. “We needed €1.8 million – and I put our financial needs out to tender to the banks,” he said. Instead of going cap in hand to the banks, Paddy managed to get the banks interested (and competing) in funding the expansion of his business.

The Celtic Tiger and civil ceremonies in venues other than churches all combined to give Ballybeg House a chance to shine. However, “you have to get it right. If you don’t get it right, your business will fail,” said Paddy.

Today, businesses in the surrounding areas reap the benefit of the extra business being brought into the community: the local hotel provides accommodation for those wedding guests who cannot be accommodated in Ballybeg House; local hackneys compete to bring guests to and fro; an external caterer provides the fine dining experience and waiting staff; local cleaners and garden maintenance staff are also taken on.

Two pieces of advice stuck in this listener’s mind:

  • If word of mouth doesn’t promote your business, no other marketing will do it for you. Whilst a website is critical to the success of Ballybeg House, it serves to confirm the venue’s location once visitors have already heard rave reviews about the venue from bridal parties and guests
  • Don’t cut your prices. If you have a good product, stick to your price. Even though it’s difficult to resist the temptation to trim your rates depending on who’s asking, and you may sweat buckets while holding out for business, stick to your price and you will attract the right customer

It’s a policy that seems to work at Ballybeg House where, as Paddy says, “Everyone gets looked after, even if they can’t remember where they’re staying at the end of the night!”