Tuesday, May 23, 2023

SARA Dolan is the Commercial Director of Mount Congreve Gardens and Waterford Treasures and has just completed her first year in the role. A native of Ardmore who now lives in Dungarvan, Sara has over 15 years of experience in the luxury hospitality industry, both domestically and internationally, the latter brief primarily spent in France where she worked on four and five-star luxury campsites set on grounds quite similar to Mount Congreve. Having also taught English for a year against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean, Sara returned home where she worked as Sales & Marketing Executive of Ardmore’s Cliff House Hotel before being promoted to Group Director of Marketing for the Cliff House Hotel, Cliff at Lyons in Celbridge and the Cliff Town House on Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Mount Congreve and Waterford Treasures represents a “slight career change” on Sara’s behalf but one she is clearly relishing.  

Life in a Day 

I’m an early riser – I’d be up at 6am on workdays – and living in an apartment by the water in Dungarvan certainly makes those starts as pleasant as possible. Now I tend to go to bed very early – as in 8pm – but I’ve always been like that. As a child, I tended to fall asleep quite early and be brought down to bed so ‘early to bed and early to rise’ really is the habit of a lifetime. I’ve got two beautiful dogs called George and Simon. They’re Shar-Pei, which was once one of the rarest breeds in the world but thankfully the numbers have recovered. The breed is originally from China and date back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) – they’re quite wrinkly in nature. I’ve had one of them since he was as a pup and the other is a rescue dog and they’re great fun. The two boys wake me up and have a nice breakfast of no-grain nuts and duck, sprinkled with a bit of chicken, whereas I myself have no breakfast. I like things quiet in the morning to get my thoughts ready for the day.  

If I’ve an early call to make, I’ll do that at home before I reach Mount Congreve at 9am typically, and this is my base when it comes to both Congreve and Waterford Treasures. Mondays tend to be a catch-up day for us after the weekends, which is our busiest time, and then there’s calls to make with Fáilte Ireland, reading and answering reviews and making sure everything is alright for our guests at the Gate Lodge, which is booked all the way through to September. In terms of Waterford Treasures, I’m there every Thursday when we have our weekly meeting. We’re working on our retail project at the moment and of course the Museum of the Irish Wake is coming on stream soon. There’s a lot going on at the moment but I’m finding it all very enjoyable. It’s an exciting time on many fronts for Waterford.  

What school did you go to? 

My primary school was St Declan’s at home in Ardmore and my secondary years were spent in Ard Scoil na nDéise in Dungarvan.  

What teacher do you remember most vividly? 

Two spring to mind: Victor Mullins who was the principal in Ardmore – he actually used to bring me to school. And Tommy Collins was my biology teacher in the Ard Scoil and I’ve got good memories of both them and my school years.  

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self? 

God, that’s a good question. Save as much money as you can. That’s good advice for any young person, I think.   

How do you relax? 

The dogs occupy a good deal of my leisure time but I’m not too good at relaxing per se. I like working. I like being on top of things and, for me, the sense of relaxation I can relate best to is when I have a clear inbox – which doesn’t happen very often. I do enjoy travel but Covid has somewhat taken the sheen off that for me. I’ve not really got back into that old habit but in the meantime I’ve been pretty busy. Relaxation wouldn’t be top of my list but I’ve found what works for me – it’s just a different wavelength.  

What is your favourite film and piece of music? 

Filmwise, I love ‘Amélie’ (2001), the French romantic comedy. It feels like a comfort blanket whenever I watch it. In terms of music, I’ve recently found myself going back to a lot of ‘90s stuff and I’m really leaning back into Radiohead.  

When was the last time you cried? 

I’ve been known to cry when speaking in public and the official opening of Mount Congreve (on March 1) was one of those moments – not out of nervousness or anything like that. It’s emotion, it’s passion and a sense of gratitude for the team at Mount Congreve given the incredible level of work they’ve done to get the gardens and the new offering to where they are now.  

What has been your happiest moment of recent times? 

The previous answer pretty much ticks this box too! The launch and the response we’ve had since has been wonderful. Visitors are really leaning into the experience and enjoying it so there’s a huge sense of reward in that.   

Do you pray? 

I do. I pray at night; it’s generally just one prayer and a single thought.  

What is your biggest fear? 

Failure – whatever that means. Disappointing someone is a fear of mine as well.   

What is your most treasured possession? 

Oh, the dogs. They’re just lovely!  

What is your favourite thing about Waterford? 

The diversity we have within the county boundary is immense. Being from Ardmore, I’m automatically drawn to the coast but then we’ve got the mountains and a beautiful city with such stunning architecture. I think many Waterford people don’t realise the extent of what we have at our disposal and people from further afield definitely don’t.   

If you could change one thing about Waterford, what would it be? 

I think we ought to have more pride in our city and county. For some reason, that level of pride is not where it should be right now. We have so much going for us in Waterford. We really do.  

In conversation with Dermot Keyes  

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