Rain and shine, a room indoors and edging towards a revival

As the Irish Summer rain hammered relentlessly into my face, and the golf umbrella I had bought just two weeks before turned inside out in the howling wind, I wondered quite what I was doing out in a field in County Kildare, mid-week, without shelter or even decent wet weather clothing.

But that thought came and went in a moment – much like the umbrella. Because the upside – face to face contact with industry colleagues and friends after 17 long months – was priceless, joyous compensation.

“Can’t we just shelter in that castle?” Braving the dark clouds at Carton House were (from left) Karl Marnane, David Spillane, Barry Geoghegan and Dermot Davitt

I spent Wednesday this week in the grand company of Butlers Sales Director Karl Marnane, Duty Free Global Founder & Commercial Director Barry Geoghegan and GTR Sales Director David Spillane, after Karl (who lives nearby) invited us to make up a golfing four-ball at the wonderful Carton House course, set in 1,100 acres of lush parkland.

Early morning cloud gave way to stunning sunshine as Dermot Davitt, Karl Marnane and David Spillane take on (and lose most of their golf balls at) the spectacular 15th, captured close-up below (Photo: B. Geoghegan)

Mind the windows! Barry Geoghegan takes aim at the 18th green, left, as guests on the second floor of the Fairmont Hotel (right) take cover just in case…
Another misjudged putt slips past…
…and swings that would adorn any hurling pitch 

The day offered a reminder of the mixed standard of golfing abilities that runs like a crooked drive right across the travel retail community – the 15th hole was won with a score of eight shots, from which golfers out there will get the general picture (though naturally we all agreed that we were admiring the magnificent scenery, which distracted us from the greenside stream/trees/foliage we fell victim to). But more importantly it evoked the value of the relationships that so many of us in the industry have forged over many years, and the trust and friendship that underpins them.

The stunning Fairmont-run hotel at Carton House, County Kildare

When I say that we even managed to sit inside and have lunch together, readers in Ireland will understand the significance of this victory over COVID-19 – this week is the first in 2021 when this has been possible in our country, and has been brought on by the wider success of the vaccination drive. With over 70% of the adult population now fully vaccinated, and 85% partially, normality is edging closer, even if restrictions on daily life remain in place in ways they do not in other countries, for example our near neighbour, the UK.

July may just be the month we look back on and say ‘that was the beginning of the end’, and not just because we can now travel more freely overseas as well as at home. Several moments mark the way, for me at least. At the start of the month, I was delighted to attend the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, a first event in Ireland with even small crowds, and one that led the way for subsequent sporting events in particular.

As the month closes, on Saturday 31 July, I will take my first flight in 17 months. It’s perhaps fitting that it will be with Qatar Airways, which has continued to keep the flame of travel lit for so many amid the darkness of the past year and more.

I fly from Dublin to Doha, to attend the grand opening of the new upscale shopping and dining avenue at Hamad International, named Viale de Lusso. It should be a thrilling event, one that underscores the faith and investment in our sector from Qatar Duty Free, parent Qatar Airways and Hamad International Airport. Watch out for our on location report next week.

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