Carnlough hotelier is acclaimed as a tourist ‘hero’

Denise O'Neill receives the NI Heroes award, dedicated to her late husband Frankie, from Alan Clarke, NITB chief executive, at the NI Tourism Awards. INLT 22-614-CON
Denise O'Neill receives the NI Heroes award, dedicated to her late husband Frankie, from Alan Clarke, NITB chief executive, at the NI Tourism Awards. INLT 22-614-CON

A RESPECTED local hotelier who passed away earlier this year has received special recognition at Northern Ireland’s most prestigious tourism awards.

The late Frankie O’Neill of the family-run Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough, was honoured with a posthumous accolade at the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards.

Tributes were paid to Frankie, one of the best known hoteliers in Ireland, as his widow Denise accepted the award at a gala dinner in Belfast’s Ramada Hotel last Thursday.

The Carnlough man, who died in February,was the first person to be accorded a posthumous award in the NI Heroes category, which acknowledges an individual’s outstanding involvement and impact on local tourism.

Frankie went into the hospitality business with his parents 30 years ago, and was responsible for the careful restoration of the Londonderry Arms over recent years.

During the ceremony, which was hosted by BBC Radio Ulster presenter Karen Patterson and attended by over 270 members of the local tourism industry, Frankie was hailed as “a special Northern Ireland hero” who “worked tirelessly to make the hotel an unforgettable place to stay”.

Paying special homage to Frankie, the Tourist Board said: “Frank never lost focus when it came to managing his family-run hotel and was dedicated to offering a personal service. He was a recognised and respected businessman in the area and his passion for the tourism industry was well known.

“In tribute to the affection in which Frankie was held across the industry, to his personal warmth and his services to tourism, we remember him as a very special Northern Ireland hero”.

Denise attended the glitzy awards ceremony after receiving a personal invitation from NI Tourist Board’s chief executive, Alan Clarke. Upon receiving the trophy, she told the assembled crowd that the award would always be treasured and that she would be trying hard to live up to Frankie’s high standards.

Speaking to the Larne Times after the event, Denise told of her pride that Frankie had been recognised in this way.

“It really was great honour and it was nice to know that we are still be thought of. It is something for my three daughters to be immensely proud of, not to mention all the staff at the hotel.

“I want to thank the tourist board for this kind and thoughtful gesture,” she concluded.

Awards were presented in a variety of other categories, including Excellent Events, Taste of NI and Best Visitor Experience.

Belfast City Council received an award for its Outstanding Contribution to Tourism over the past 12 months, while Fermanagh golf and hotel complex the Lough Erne Resort was crowned NI’s best hotel despite being in administration. Other award winners included Rayanne House in Holywood, for best Serviced Accommodation, The Parson’s Nose in Hillsborough for Taste of Northern Ireland and the Killyhevlin Hotel and Health Club in Enniskillen for Marketing and Sales Excellence.

NITB chairman Howard Hastings said: “Tourism has had a massive £300million investment from the headline projects in Belfast, Londonderry and the Causeway, to smaller scale improvements from the Glens to Fermanagh. We expect to boost visitor numbers, attract an additional £140million in revenue and create over 3,000 new jobs as a result of activity in the next two years.”