Once a staging post for horse-drawn coaches travelling from Dublin to Sligo, the former Royal Hotel in Boyle, Co Roscommon entered a new era on Wednesday when Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys officially opened a new cultural and business hub there.
Promising that the €3.4 million Boyle Town Regeneration Project based at the former hotel would be “transformative”, attracting investment, wooing tourists and “most importantly creating jobs”, the Minister pointed out that the building had been a derelict “eyesore” just a few years ago.
But with a €4 million library now planned adjacent to the new “state-of-the-art cultural and enterprise centre”, the Minister said the former hotel was set to be at the heart of a new cultural quarter linked by a riverside promenade with King House, another key cultural landmark in Boyle.
The Royal Hotel, which has been rebranded as An Ríoga, was built in 1782 by an innkeeper named John Freeman when it was a 14-hour journey by coach from the Hibernian Hotel on Dublin’s Dawson Street to the front door.
For 230 years, the premises was a centre of hospitality, with guests over the years including WB Yeats and Maud Gonne, and Boyle-born Hollywood actor Maureen O’Sullivan. But for generations of Boyle families, the hotel was a place where every important milestone was celebrated, with many local couples having met or married there.
Among the locals who dropped in on Wednesday to survey the transformed building were great-grandparents Maura and John Murphy, who held their wedding reception there in 1967 and who almost 56 years later remember the day with delight. John worked as a chef in the hotel in the 1970s and when he retired from his job at the local Plunkett nursing home, he had his retirement do at the Royal, as did Maura’s father, Martin (Mutt) Dolan, when he retired after 40 years as a printer with the Roscommon Herald.
“We were at a lot of weddings in the Royal. It was the only place. It is still missed but it is lovely to see it open again – although Boyle badly needs a hotel.”
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Fine Gael TD Frank Feighan, another guest who grew up down the street, had his 21st birthday bash there and said “you couldn’t cross the bridge without dropping in to the Royal”.
While many in Boyle regret that the town has no hotel now, Ms Humphreys said a facility such as An Ríoga, with 12 workspaces and an exhibition space for local craft, artisan and farm producers, will make a hotel a viable project in the not-too-distant future.
An Ríoga is funded to the tune of €2.5 million from her department’s Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, with the remainder of the finance provided by Roscommon County Council, which bought the building in 2017.
Dublin artist Greer MacKeogh who has been researching the hotel’s importance to the community, said she had heard of locals whose christenings, weddings and funerals were marked by their families with get-togethers in the Royal.
“When it closed there was a vacuum but most people feel very strongly that at least it wasn’t torn down and turned into a car park,” she said.