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Closing the door on 30 years at the Old Ground Hotel

HE FOUND it a hard decision to close the doors on 30 years of meeting stars of the silver screen and the entertainment world and talking to people from all corners of the globe. But now that he has decided to step down from his post as night porter at the Old Ground Hotel, Joe Shannon is slowly getting to grips with his new lifestyle.

While Ennis slept, Joe was busy looking after the requirements of hotel guests, during his long career in the well-known establishment. Some looked for food, others preferred a drink and many joined Joe for a late-night chat. Being a native of Ennis and with his knowledge of the town and county, he was often a mine of information for visitors trying to trace their Clare roots.

Joe’s association with the Old Ground Hotel goes back to 1985, when he received a phonecall from John Woods, another Ennis man, who was head porter at the time. He offered him a porter’s job on a temporary basis, to cover for a person who was off sick. Joe accepted the position and worked until the other porter returned.

However, some months later, Joe got another phonecall from the Old Ground, this time from manager, Graham Young, offering him the position of night porter on a full-time basis. Even though he accepted the offer, he found it hard to settle. Then, as time moved on, he realised that the job was one which he should have gone for years ago, as he liked meeting people.

“I set up a lot of friendships with people from many countries, with the result that there is hardly a place I could go to without being able to make a telephone call to someone,” said Joe, who said he was delighted to have made contact with some very nice people.

He recalls that the first big personality he came across was US film actor, Chris O’Donnell, star of films such as Scent of a Woman, Batman Forever and Vertical Limit. “When I went into work one night, everyone in the place was gone mad over the presence of such a personality in the hotel,” he said.

Joe met him near the reception desk, across from the big chair presented by Burl Ives to the hotel when the O’Regan family were in charge. The two talked for a while and Chris signed his autograph for Joe’s daughter. He said he was in Ennis for a few days’ break.

A few months later, when he arrived for work, he was told they had another VIP in the house – film actor, Richard Harris was staying in the De Valera suite.

Harris phoned Joe at his desk at 12.30am, asking for something to eat. His order was brown soda bread, sliced tomatoes, no butter and a glass of milk. Joe brought the order to his room and they talked for over an hour. Harris spoke of his long association with the Old Ground and former manager, Jackie Donnelly, who was married to his sister.

Joe asked Harris did he visit any establishments during his stay in Ennis but, before he could reply, Joe guessed that he probably went to two bars on O’Connell Street, Brian Hogan’s and John O’Dea’s. He was right. They also spoke about Richard’s years in Kilkee and he recalled when the Ennis Boy Scouts had their holiday camps there with their pipe band and how they marched to mass each morning.

Joe was also delighted to meet Bobby Kerr junior, whose father was manager of the Old Ground in the late 1950s. Another interesting personality who stayed in the hotel was Jim Reynolds, a brother of former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds. They spoke about the Reynolds family, their ballrooms and the showbands.

Another memorable occasion was a visit from The Chieftains. They stayed in the holel when playing for a special concert in Glór. Others who came to mind were Boyzone member and actor, Keith Duffy; world boxing champion, Barry McGuigan; singers, Christy Moore, Ronnie Drew and Finbar Furey; and sports personaities, Peter Taylor, who managed the English soccer team; footballer, Johnny Giles; rugby player, Mick Galwey; and numerous rugby people who came to play in the Ennis RFC Pro-Am golf tournament.

Joe, who is a member of a well-known Ennis family, also has vivid memories of the tight security which surrounded the holding of the de Beers international conference when the hotel was closed for business to the public.

When Joe started his hotel career with Old Ground, it was owned by the Trusthouse Forte Group. He said it was a big change when the Flynn family took it over but he was delighted with the energy and enthusiasm they showed in further developing the hotel, without losing its character.

Looking back over the past 30 years, he said that the work was tough but he enjoyed it. He had a lot of freedom and, when decisions had to be made, he did not have to consult anyone. If there was an issue, he had to deal with it.

The decision for Joe to call it a day was influenced by his ongoing back ailment. And while he has retired from his post two or three weeks, his 30 years’ service will not conclude until April 24 next.

“In all my years with the Old Ground, I don’t think I fell out with anyone in the hotel. I enjoyed meeting so many personalities.

“No doubt I will miss the scene,” Joe said, as he reminisced from his home in Gordon Drive, Ennis.
He concluded by saying that he could not let the occasion pass without thanking and paying tribute to his wife, Maureen, and children, Fiachra and Elaine, for their understanding and patience as the hours he worked were different to most.

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