Western People Interview with our Director of Operations

Carmel Kelly is a woman who knows how to get the job done. She is the Director of Operations at the TF Royal Hotel and Theatre in Castlebar, one of the largest indoor entertainment venues in Ireland.

carmel kelly - director of operations

Carmel knows the business inside out – having worked her way up through the ranks from her initial role as a receptionist 25 years ago. She takes the role in her stride, you get the feeling when you walk in the door that she makes things happen very seamlessly. Carmel has immense pride in her place of work – a family-run business that maintains a human and local touch. The happiness of the team around her is a key priority and maybe that’s a tell-tale sign of why she has risen to this position and is in the venue as long as she is.

Angelina: Carmel, thanks for talking to me. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Carmel: I’m a proud Mayo woman. I’m from a village outside Ballintubber called Clogher, and I am the youngest of five girls. I’m married to a Galway man – Donal Kelly from Oughterard. I went to national school in Clogher and then to secondary school in Balla. I enjoyed school. I loved the sport side of it – I played basketball and football to a slightly lesser extent, so I loved that side of it.

Angelina: What did you want to do when you were at school – did you have a leaning towards hospitality?

Carmel: I always loved numbers, accountancy, that type of thing. I never thought I’d end up in hospitality. But I did hospitality in college and after my placements, I went to Geneva for four years. I went to broaden my horizons. And I love the French language, so that was a big draw for me. I worked in the hospitality sector there too.

Angelina: What was that experience like?

Carmel: It was just fantastic. It was totally different. There were a lot of Irish out there at that time. But it was incredible to learn a different language, experience different cultures and see different places. You could jump on a train and end up in Paris in less than three hours or go to Italy – anywhere in mainland Europe really, so it was an amazing opportunity. I came back after four years for family reasons – my sister was getting married and I was bridesmaid for her, so I came back at that time. And I was straight back into working here in Ireland, again in hospitality.

Angelina: So when did you start in the TF Royal?

Carmel: I started here 25 years ago. I actually applied for a job in reception and I got it. After that, I was promoted within the company to various roles including head receptionist and then duty manager and now Director of Operations.

Angelina: Do you think that’s important – experiencing various elements of the business?

Carmel: Yes, I think so. That’s the way you learn everything. You’re learning from scratch, you’re learning from your supervisors, your peers, your colleagues, how they work, how they do things, so you learn from that. For me, it’s the best way to learn in any business. It gives you such an understanding of every level of the business and what the various needs are.

Angelina: This is such a busy venue – between the theatre and the food and beverage side of things – there must be a buzz working here?


Carmel: It’s very exciting. No two days are the same. It’s very hard to explain it. You have to be on site to realise it, to get the buzz of what’s going on.

Angelina: I know this is probably a tough question because no two days are the same, but what does a typical day look like for you as Director of Operations?

Carmel: My role means that I oversee the operations of both the hotel and the theatre. So that goes from making sure bookings are in to making sure staff are looked after. It’s very important to me that our staff are taken care of and looked after. 

Prior to big events, you need to make sure everything is ready and prepared, down to the littlest of details. It’s my job to deal with all the different groups who come through our doors – be it first communions and confirmations, civil ceremonies or the international conferences and international acts that are coming to the theatre. 

It’s lovely to see when you’ve dressed up a room for the civil ceremonies, the surprise on the bride and groom faces and how that adds to their special day. Something that you take pride in is that every customer that comes in, be it for whatever function it is, is looked after to the highest degree. All those events really matter to me and the team here.

Angelina: Hospitality usually means long days and nights – but it’s probably nearly in your blood at this stage Carmel?

Carmel: It’s in your blood – it’s in your DNA when you’ve worked this long in the sector. It’s what hospitality is about. You don’t go into it thinking you’ll be doing a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday job because, unfortunately, hospitality is not like that.

Angelina: Have you had any favourite gigs from the many that have been staged here over the years?

Carmel: There have been so many, it’s very difficult to choose. I think Billy Ocean – famous for his hit single ‘When The Going Get Tough (The Tough Get Going)’ – was one I really, really loved. I worked very closely with him when he was here, so I would have spent some time with him and he was amazing. The other one was Brad Paisley. He was so nice as well – he came into what was the Café Bar at the time and had dinner. Nobody knew who he was – he just sat in like everyone else. It’s just fascinating to see – they are all just ordinary people who transform into their stage persona when they hit the stage. It’s incredible.

Angelina: This is a really big venue – sometimes people probably don’t realise how big.

Carmel: The venue is huge. We are a 2,000-seated theatre and 3,300-seated and standing. It’s a huge place to operate – from tickets to the everyday management I look after all of that. We’ve renovated our restaurant as well recently – it was always known for its carvery and now it’s a standalone restaurant, which has proven to be very successful. We’ve also added the Yew Tree Cafe. That was the front pub originally and years ago, it would have been the life and soul of Castlebar. But things change and we have to evolve too and the cafe has been another huge success. It’s fantastic to see. The upgrading of facilities has to be ongoing. You have to keep up with everything that is going on in the industry.

Angelina: It’s also a family-run business and I know that’s something people love about the place.

Carmel: It’s a very unique. Pat, Mary and the Jennings family are extremely proud to have this amazing venue in their hometown and it’s brilliant to be a part of that. It’s a very different experience to work for a family-run hotel and venue than for one of bigger chains. There is such a human element and touch to everything we do and that comes from the top. The Jennings family have built a legacy in the town as the key hospitality and entertainment venue and I love being a part of that and the opportunities that it brings.

Angelina: I know there is a cause you’re involved with in a voluntary capacity that you feel very passionate about.

Carmel: I was involved with a small group who got together to form a committee to set up the Castlebar Darkness Into Light event in 2017. The numbers attending DIL in Castlebar have been very high over the past few years. It’s for a very good cause – a worthy cause. So again, on May 11th just gone, at 3am, I joined the rest of the committee and volunteers for DIL 2024, starting in De La Salle Hall in Castlebar. We had a great turnout on a beautiful May morning. 

I feel very strongly about Darkness Into Light and what it represents. This event brings volunteers from lots of different groups around Castlebar and its lovely to see everyone helping out and getting involved.

Angelina: What drives you Carmel?

Carmel: I feel very passionate about my work here in the hotel and theatre. Every day is so different. I love meeting people and being in a position to help make their event or occasion a special and memorable one. You look back after a day at work and all that we have achieved as a team and this makes me feel very proud. We are just like one big family here.

carmel kelly - director of operations


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