This much I know: Peter Stokes

Everyone thought we were bonkers, taking on a 300-year-old mansion with 5,000 acres.

Castle Durrow certainly seems like home to me now, although we came to live here purely by accident. We were driving through Durrow village on our way home from looking at a completely different property when someone pointed out the entrance to castle. It was almost totally derelict but a few weeks later we arrived back with a cheque. We simply fell in love with the place, even though it was much too big for the ‘restaurant with accommodation’ which we’d had in mind.

After school, I got a job in an insurance company until I realised that my real dream was to open a restaurant. I opened my first business, Barrels steak and wine bar, in 1976. After that I started Coopers, which became a successful brand.

The renovation of Castle Durrow was a labour of love. We had to sell our business in Dublin to finance it and project managed the whole thing ourselves, employing local labour and craftspeople.

I have a passion for old buildings and had already run businesses in very old properties which needed loving attention, but nothing on this scale. Lord Ashbrook, the original owner, had left in 1922 and the place was empty for years until the Presentation Nuns ran it as a school and convent until the 1980s.

We started work in 1998, thinking we’d be open in a year. Four years later, we opened the doors.

My advice to any aspiring hoteliers or restaurateurs is to try out this type of work before you make any rash decisions. You have to have plenty of energy, a thick skin, a real feel for the job — and you also need to be a little mad.

The most bizarre complaint I ever got in the hotel was from a couple who said they couldn’t sleep properly because the countryside was too quiet at night.

I have seven children. They range in age from 30 to nine years of age, so aside from work, they are pretty much my life.

Becoming a parent absolutely turned my life upside down. My eldest son was born when I was 30 and I was surprised at how well I coped with the responsibility. Life changes, but for the better.

The best advice I ever got was from my father during my school days: he told me honesty is always the best policy. And you know what, he was right.

We are on call 24/7 as we ‘live over the shop’. It can be stressful but the satisfaction I get from my job more than compensates.

There is no secret to running a successful hotel and wedding venue. It takes hard work and you have to love what you do. But we’re very lucky that this place has an old-fashioned, romantic atmosphere that seems to appeal to people.

Besides work, and my family, my other great obsession is sailing. I relish the sense of isolation you get being out at sea in a small boat. I suppose you could liken it to living in an old house in the middle of the countryside.

You don’t have to worry too much about exercising in this line of business. I’m on my feet all day.

The one good thing about the recession is that the greed and avarice of the Celtic Tiger are receding.

We are based in an undiscovered part of the midlands — most people only travel through the area in order to get to Cork or Kerry. But, Co Laois has so much more to offer. That’s why we have created a new, free, travel app of the area, to allow visitors to get a real flavour of Laois, with its way-marked walks through unspoiled countryside, past woodlands and rivers.

Fáilte Ireland, Durrow Development and Castle Durrow are launching their way-marked walks around Co Laois, along with an app that offers downloadable guides to the walks at 11.30am on Sunday, Mar 18 at Castle Durrow, followed by a walk of the Leafy Loop. See castledurrow.com

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