From world leaders to pop sensations and media heavyweights to Hollywood stars, the Beech Hill Country House Hotel has hosted guests from all walks of life since it first opened its doors in 1991.
Recently, its owners have been reflecting on past guests and experiences after 25 years at the Waterside hotel.
The family owned establishment has become one of the most internationally recognisable hotels in Ireland in the last quarter of a century under the ownership of Magherafelt native Patsy O’Kane and her family.
As well as hosting famous figures - including former US presidents and three presidential candidates - the hotel has given rise to some of its very own stars, listing celebrity chefs Michael Deane and Noel McMeel among its former employees. In its 400-year history the Beech Hill Country House played a role in many high profile international events including the Plantation of Ulster, the 1641 Rebellion, the Siege of Derry in 1689 and even the defeat of fascism in Europe during World War II.
It was the romantic ideals of Patsy to breathe new life into the iconic property in 1989 which led to the rescue project for the dilapidated old country mansion, nestled in the heart of O’Cahan country woodland in Ardmore, Co Derry. Patsy, along with her brother Seamus Donnelly and their late father Leo Donnelly, had a collective vision for the new hotel which has since been realised “and a whole lot more”, she says.
“Our vision in 1991 was very romantic compared to our vision in 2016 but our values remain the same as we strive to ensure people remember Beech Hill as the home of hospitality,” Patsy explains. The Troubles played a very central role in the early days of the hotel as international peacemakers and the world’s media were mainstays in an embattled Northern Ireland.
“The whole world has changed now and so has our industry in Northern Ireland. Now we operate in a global marketplace whereas in 1991 it wasn’t like that because of the dark cloud which overshadowed Northern Ireland.
“Our ever-loyal local customers helped us grow in the early days and continue to enjoy our offerings - we’ll be forever grateful for that support.
“We were also supported through the challenges presented by the Troubles by guests who were here for that very reason. There were always press and media guests in town and high profile figures including would-be peacemakers became regulars at the hotel. After the ceasefires we didn’t have the international media, peacemakers and political leaders to rely on but then a whole new world opened for the tourism industry not only in Derry but across Northern Ireland.
“Corporate events also became a staple at the hotel as we entered a new era of business growth. It was like the regeneration of the old Beech Hill House went hand in hand with the fantastic revival of the city region and beyond.”
Further projects are in the pipeline for the hotel during the 25th anniversary year.