Inside Destination Athlone: Yew Point, Hodson Bay Hotel, Johnny O’Sullivan

The first in a series – a glimpse of the people and personalities behind Destination Athlone businesses. Johnny O’Sullivan tells us about Yew Point at the Hodson Bay Hotel.

Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the pandemic, Yew Point at the Hodson Bay Hotel is a truly visionary initiative from the enterprising O’Sullivan family. It is 140 acres of remarkably unspoiled land on a promontory jutting out into Lough Ree, a biodiversity paradise of ancient woodland and natural beauty. The O’Sullivans have ambitious plans to give controlled public access to this remote headland while preserving and protecting it.

During lockdown the need to be outside in nature became more acute for everyone. Fáilte Ireland surveys began showing the increased importance of walks and trails and a little kernel in the back of John O’Sullivan’s brain began to take root. John O’Sullivan is a genuine entrepreneur and Chairman of the Hodson Bay Group. Originally from Kerry, he had several other successful careers before moving into the hotel industry, first with the Hodson Bay, followed by the Galway Bay, the Sheraton Athlone and most recently the Hyatt Centric in Dublin. He’s a thinker, a strategist and a dreamer. Yew Point is a dream come true.

“Yew Point has been both a dream and a concept in my Dad’s head for years”, explains Johnny O’Sullivan, Group Operations Director, “It all came together fortuitously during lockdown – after years of hoping, a company was set up, funding was secured to buy the land in January 2020 and we opened the walk in June”. Johnny, along with his siblings Ciara, Aidan and Brendan are integral parts of the group management. Family friend Padraig Sugrue has been part of the company from the start and is now the Group CEO.

During lockdown both the O’Sullivans and their staff experienced first-hand the importance of walking somewhere like Yew Point. It proved to be an uplifting and inspiring escape, ‘otherworldly, like an island’ is Johnny O’Sullivan’s succinct observation. In the mossy woodland, ancient trees abound – oaks up to 900 years old, ash protected from die back, sycamore, beech, birch, willow and ancient hazels with trunks measuring four feet around. Undisturbed wildlife thrives; mammals, insects, fungus and waterlife. It is a special area of conservation – a nesting ground for migratory waterfowl. Yew Point is indeed very special.

Recognising the unique and delicate qualities of Yew Point’s rich biodiversity, the O’Sullivans are keen to develop it sympathetically and in an ecologically sustainable way. They are working closely with international sustainable design experts, Waterways Ireland, Roscommon County Council and Fáilte Ireland. The plan is to create a raised boardwalk as part of a looped walk – similar to the celebrated Acres Lake in Leitrim. This looped walk will be developed in conjunction with Waterways Ireland and open to the public. There is a small charge on the current walkway to retain control over access. Currrently it costs just €4 to follow the walking trail.

Plans include a fairy trail (already begun), guided tours, outdoor yoga classes, school tours, team building days and food/beverage experiences with an emphasis on education and artisan locally inspired products. Currently, fortunate guests at the Hodson Bay Hotel can book a butler picnic experience. Now that is outdoor dining in style!

This interview series was funded by Westmeath & Roscommon LEADER programme.