Skål President’s “Leaders In Tourism” Award
Our current National President of Skål, Margaret Cahill had the honour of choosing an individual to receive the Skål President’s “Leaders In Tourism” award, which was presented at the Networking Business Dinner at the National Tourism Forum.
This award is the highest token of respect and admiration that the Skål clubs of Ireland can bestow on someone, and it is only presented to an individual who in the opinion of the Skål Ireland leadership, has made a significant and substantial contribution to the Irish tourism industry over an sustained period.
Margaret has chosen for the 2017 Skål Leaders In Tourism award a legend in Irish tourism circles, not alone in her own native Galway, but also on the national and international stages too, given the magnificent contribution she had made to our industry,
And that person is Mary Bennett…..
Mary O’ Donoghue, as she was then, made her appearance into the world away back in 1938 as the eldest of the six children born to Thomas and Mollie O’ Donoghue, of Boston in County Clare.
After her national schooling in Boston, she went on to attend secondary school in the Convent of Mercy in New Ross, County Wexford.
After school, she spent a brief time working In a secretarial position in Ennis. Mary then moved to the Great Southern Hotel – now called the Meyrick Hotel – in Galway’s Eyre Square in 1957 as a trainee manager, and thus began her life-long involvement with the Irish tourism industry. Interestingly, the man who hired Mary for that job, the late Brian Collins, went on to become manager of The Malton – and soon to be re-named Great Southern Hotel.
During her time with the Galway Great Southern, Mary gained a broad experience of the workings of the tourism industry and more importantly she discovered a passion for the business that she has carried with her to this day.
During this period also, Mary became involved with an initiative that was to have a lasting and profound effect on the rest of her life. She was tasked with the opening of a shop within the hotel, which was known as “the shop under the stairs”, and it’s name very accurately described it’s location in the hotel.
The shop started out by selling basic essentials like shaving gear, toothpaste and pyjamas, but it soon expanded it’s offering significantly, to include a broad range of Irish products – items like woollens, crystals and pottery. And on one famous occasion, believe it or not, they actually sold a brand-new Rolls Royce to an American guest.
As well as her love for tourism, Mary also found the love of her life in the Great Southern, in the form of the late and much-lamented Eddie Bennett, who worked there as a hall porter at that time.
Mary and Eddie were married In April of 1961, and had fifty wonderful years of marriage until he sadly passed away in early 2011. Eddie was Mary’s staunch and steadfast partner in every facet of her life and career, and his unwavering love, encouragement and support played a vital role in helping Mary have the amazing career she has had and make the fantastic contributions to our industry that she has made, over the last sixty years.
At the time that Mary and Eddie got married, the infamous marriage ban was in place, and because the Great Southern Hotel was a semi-state body, Mary was forced to give up her job with them.
She didn’t stay idle long though, because she turned their home in Salthill into a guesthouse, which she called ‘Capri’, the place where Eddie and herself had gone on their honeymoon.
Not content to just run a very successful guesthouse in one of Ireland’s most popular tourist spots at that time, Mary looked around for new ventures and opportunities.
Her mind wandered back to that little “shop under the stairs” in the Galway Great Southern, and Mary determined that what Galway really needed was a quality retail outlet that would provide both the local and tourist markets with top quality Irish produce, served by warm and professional people in a warm and welcoming environment.
And so, the legend of Mary Bennett and The Treasure Chest in Galway was born.
On Friday October 14th 1966, Mary opened her little gift shop In Ellington street in Galway, and the rest as they say is history. She was paying a weekly rental of one old pound for the 300 sq. feet premises and on her first day she took in the princely sum of one hundred pounds and one shilling.
Fifty-one years later, The Treasure Chest has been transformed Into one of the bright shining stars of the retail sector in Galway, occupying as it does one of the premier spots in one of the premier shopping streets in that city. For sure and certain, Mary and her Treasure Chest have both come a long way from one pound weekly rentals and one hundred pound daily takings.
Mary didn’t focus all her energies on just her Capri guesthouse and her Treasure Chest gift shop. She was always a bigger picture lady, and it was her commitment to working to improve everything around her that really has made her the person we all admire and respect so much today.
It was through her involvement with the Capri guesthouse that Mary discovered a whole new outlet for her boundless energy, and that was her enthusiasm for volunteering her time and her abilities to tourism, charity and business development bodies, at local, national and international levels. For the rest of her career, right up to the present day, Mary Bennett has given of herself to so many different and diverse organisations.
At various times she has been the chairperson of the following bodies.
- Galway City & County Enterprise Board
- Galway Chamber of Commerce & Industry
- The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland
- The I.S.P.C.C. (which she has chaired twice)
- Ireland West Tourism
- Additionally, she has been a director of
- Enable Ireland
- Bord Failte
- The Irish Goods Council
- National Breast Cancer Foundation
- Aer Lingus
Mary has also been the recipient of numerous awards down through the years. She has received honorary citizenship of both Jacksonville in Florida in New Orleans in Louisiana. She was the Rehab person of the year in the millennium year of 2000. And most significantly of all, she joined the ranks of such distinguished historical figures as Eamonn De Valera, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and John Hume, when in 2011 she received the Freedom of the City of Galway.
If all of this wasn’t enough, Mary became the first lady to become the World President of Skål an international travel & tourism organisation with more than 17,000 members in 80 different countries.
We are very proud to announce our 2017 Skål Leaders In Tourism award recipient, Mrs. Mary Bennett.
NATIONAL PRESIDENT 2017:
I am delighted to have been elected as President of Skal International in Ireland at our recent national AGM. I take over from Sean O’Driscoll, Group General Manager of iNua Hospitality and one of Ireland’s leading hoteliers. Sean brought energy and vision to his role as President and developed an ambitious strategy to improve membership numbers and make Skal International more relevant to existing and new members. Sean remains on the National Committee and deserves massive appreciation for his work and time as National President.
My goal is that this on-going strategy should remain the focus of activities during my presidency. The main points –
- Work with each club to retain membership and develop recruitment opportunities.
- Plan monthly events with educational/marketing opportunities to ensure the content is more relevant to today’s business.
- Work to improve the image of Skal International within the travel industry in Ireland and create more compelling reasons for membership.
Having spent most of my career working for Irish tourism I find Skal International an excellent organisation to engage with people with similar objectives and challenges. The overriding challenge for all of us is to ensure the future of our clubs and to work to make them viable and attractive to members. We will embrace and participate in the work being done by headquarter colleagues in Torresmolinos on the world wide 3 year Strategic Plan.
I am joined by a national committee with vast experience. I wish to pay tribute to Joe Collins, Dublin Club and Dave Kelly, Galway Club who have held the honorary positions of Treasurer and Secretary respectively. A huge thanks to both Joe and Dave for all their work over many years. I look forward to their continued support.
During the coming year, I look forward to meeting all our members. I welcome any comments or suggestions on how we can improve Skal in Ireland.
Skal International – Republic of Ireland.