John Shovlin, right, with Louis Murphy of the Dunraven Arms outside the hotel Picture: Michael Cowhey
IF you have found yourself in the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Limerick at any stage over the last 40 years, there’s a good chance you know John Shovlin.
Immediately recognisable by his friendly smile and his soft Donegal lilt, the restaurant manager has served presidents, royals and even a pope during a stellar luxury hotel career in hotel, located in the centre of Adare village.
But on New Year’s Eve, the veteran maître d’ welcomed his final customer before ringing in 2018 as a retired man - after 37 years as the face of the much loved Dunraven restaurant.
“I’ve looked after lords, ladies, presidents, but definitely my heart is with West Limerick and the people of Limerick. The everyday people, they were my life and my years at the Dunraven. The people of Limerick gave me some welcome, and I’ll never forget that,” said John, who settled in Adare for the long-term after his move to the Dunraven in 1980.
“I have been there in the same position for the 37 years, restaurant and banqueting manager from the very start. I was at Ashford Castle for a while before that, and I came to the Dunraven shortly after Bryan Murphy bought it. I’ve worked with some fantastic people - some have passed on unfortunately, and some are like me, now retired.
“But others are still there, and in all my time I could never say that I had a bad time there. I enjoyed working for the Murphys. We had our ups and downs, but at the end of the day, it’s still a great place to work.
“And everywhere you go, people seem to know and remember it. Thankfully, a lot of people seem to remember me, because I was ever so long there! I don’t know if that was a good or a bad thing,” laughed John.
One thing is sure, John made himself known to everyone who stayed at the hotel. His attitude towards the job can be easily surmised to hear him talk about the customers who he “looked after”. Those customers often included high profile names from the worlds of politics and global nobility.
“President Mary Robinson was a regular visitor there, President Mary McAleese as well and more recently President Michael D. Higgins. And I’ve looked after the taoisigh as well,” he said.
“In my time at Ashford Castle, I was lucky to have looked after US President Ronald Reagan. I was brought in to look after Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy, and I was flown into Knock from Ashford Castle by helicopter in 1979 to look after Pope John Paul II,” remembered John.
When it comes to handling royalty, there is certain protocol to follow - but it “went out the window” after a stay in John and the team’s care.
“I looked after Princess Anne when she came. A lovely lady, she had dinner and everything in the restaurant that night. There was no fuss with her. I found her down to earth and an absolute lady. I believe that you’re not supposed to kiss the royalty, but she kissed me that morning when she was leaving,” he laughed.
He was also invited to Áras an Uachtaráin for an official dinner with President Mary McAleese, such was the impression he made at the hotel.
Another standout memory he has from his career was when he stood out at the front of the hotel, looking across at the US president.
“When President Bill Clinton was at Adare Manor, that was a big time for us as well. I remember him standing and waving at us from the gates of the Manor across the road,” he said.
One of his biggest roles at the Dunraven has undoubtedly been dealing with the weddings. “No two brides are the same”, according to the man who has attended thousands of weddings over nearly 40 years.
“It’s their big day, and of course, brides can be so excitable on the day so you have to keep them calm, so that in itself was really important,” he said.
Of his regular customers, he said “you get to know them”.
“I knew their goods and their bads, how to assist them, how they liked their beef. When you’re there for 37 years, you get this knowledge.”
Paying tribute to the long-standing employee, Louis Murphy of the Dunraven said: “John joined my brother Bryan here at the hotel 37 years ago, he had been working with our uncle Rory Murphy, the then-Managing Director of Ashford and Dromoland castles.
“His personality and warmth has been endearing to every guest over the years and he had a great capacity for remembering everyone’s name. It has been a privilege to work with John, who has been a valued senior member of the team for so many years and he will missed by staff and guests alike. Bryan, Hugh and I would like to thank John for his wonderful service and loyalty to the Dunraven and we wish him and his lovely wife Margaret many happy days in his retirement,” he added.