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Would you have what it takes to run a bed and breakfast?


Warm welcome: Karin Bjorkman-Loney
Warm welcome: Karin Bjorkman-Loney
In love with the job: Susan McCague’s Baytree Boutique B&B
Karin with daughter Emely, who also works at Maryville House
Busy man: Michael Kelly outside MK’s B&B in Strabane
Non-stop: Ursula Walsh at one of her two B&Bs, the Station B&B on Northland Road in Londonderry
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Have you ever dreamed of giving up your job and opening your own B&B? Leona O'Neill visits four establishments across Northern Ireland during the busiest weeks of summer to see what really goes on behind the scenes.

Maryville House, Belfast

Karin Bjorkman-Loney runs Maryville House Tea Rooms and B&B in Belfast and loves the buzz of business.

"We have been running our B&B since 2010," she says. "We bought the house and basically breathed new life into an abandoned building.

"It is a family-run business. My sister-in-law works here and my husband, Lindsey, does maintenance.

"He was the one who took the derelict building to the shape it is in now. We have six bedrooms in the main house."

Karin works long hours, but the interaction with guests and seeing them leave happy gives her great satisfaction.

"Because we have the tea rooms, I employ 10 people in total," she says.

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"It's not like a lot of B&Bs, which are one or two-man bands. My job would be more to do the stuff you don't really see.

"I run around and I fix things, water plants, do the bookkeeping and help out behind the bar when needed for shifts.

"I also check people in and out and help them with their luggage - whatever needs done. I am a bit of a dogsbody."

Karin loves the B&B life because no two days are the same.

"The nicest thing is at the end of the day, if you've had a good day, you feel real job satisfaction," she explains."People are leaving happy and full of compliments.

"Meeting people from all over the world is amazing. You meet businesspeople, tourists, young people, older people. You meet people with really interesting lives. Some of them have decided that they are going to spend their lives travelling the world, fitting in as much as they can.

"Then you get the people who come back to us again and again because they love the homely feel of our place.

"We love to make them feel welcome, make them feel at home.

"It's personal and we build a great rapport with guests.

"It is very physical work, but then if you don't like physical work, you can sit behind a desk.

"I think what is good about it is that it is versatile. There are no two days the same.

"There are always different things which need attended to and different people coming in with different needs.

"There is always a buzz in the place, which I really love."

MK’s B&B, Strabane

Busy man: Michael Kelly outside MK’s B&B in Strabane

Michael Kelly runs MK's B&B on Strabane's Derry Road. His business has a busy bar attached to it and summer is no different from winter in terms of visitor numbers - every week is busy.

"We have been in the B&B business for 17 years," he says. "When I bought the building, it was a bar with flats above and behind it. I kept the bar and turned the flats area into five beautiful rooms for a B&B. We have never stopped since.

"It is a family-run business. My dad and my sister have helped me over the years, working weekends and the like. My mum, who sadly passed away, did the accounts.

"When you have a B&B, it very much has to be hands-on. It is really hard work, but it is also enjoyable."

Michael no longer has to do the early morning work - his staff handle the breakfasts, leaving him to start later in the day and go long into the evening.

"I am blessed with amazing staff," he says. "We have two fabulous housekeepers who run things.

"Because I work nights in the bar, I don't do the early mornings. Instead, I do the check-ins and make sure we have all the provisions.

"My housekeepers do breakfasts from 8am to 10am. They also do the rooms.

"I come in at 3.30pm and make sure all the rooms are okay and do the laundry.

"We had 13 people who checked out this morning, so you can imagine the amount of towels I was dealing with.

"You are on the go the entire day. I also work in the bar five nights a week and my dad does two."

Despite all the hard work, Michael adores the job.

"I do love it," he says. "I love welcoming someone down to breakfast and starting their day off nicely with a positive attitude. Summer is no different to any other time of the year. We are constantly busy.

"During the week we have business customers and then at weekends tourists and visitors - and then you have walk-ins.

"The best part of running a B&B is most definitely the people you meet.

"We are in a small border town and we get a lot of people staying with us from Australia, Scotland and America.

"People come to stay when they're going to weddings and functions. It's lovely to hear all their stories.

"The worst part is, I suppose, that it is physically hard work.

"You are here seven days a week, but we love it, or we wouldn't do it."

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Baytree Boutique, Hillsborough

In love with the job: Susan McCague’s Baytree Boutique B&B

Susan McCague and her husband operate the Baytree Boutique B&B in Hillsborough.

"We've been in business for two years now," she says. "I came from a teaching background. I was a primary school teacher and took early retirement - I felt like a change of direction.

"I had a detached house on my property and I like cooking, I like baking, I like people and I have a house, so it just all felt right. It was something that evolved.

"It's a family-run business. My husband, William, is involved on a part-time basis.

"We have three sons, two of whom have flown the nest and one still living at home.

"That was another reason for setting up the B&B - the empty nest. And with my three sons, I'm well used to feeding people."

With a smaller B&B, she doesn't have to get up excessively early to prepare breakfast.

"I have two rooms, so it's only ever four people," Susan says.

"My day would begin at around 6am, when I fix breakfast, which I prepare fresh, using local produce.

"The B&B is in a separate building, so guests come into my house to the dining room for breakfast.

"Then I turn the place around, preparing tea and coffee and something home-baked for when my next guests come in."

While the work can be tiring, meeting fascinating people from the far-flung corners of the world keeps Susan energised.

"I have all sorts of people come to me from all over the globe," she says.

"It really is part of the fascination of the job, meeting people from different walks of life.

"I have had some really interesting guests. I had the BBC's Lucy Worsley to stay.

"We are right next to Hillsborough Castle, but I haven't had Prince Charles or Camilla, or indeed Harry and Meghan, to stay just yet, but you never know what might happen in the future.

"The best part of running a B&B is the people you meet. This week I could have local people to stay from down the road or people from the other side of the world.

"It is far busier in the summer than it is in the winter. May is always particularly busy because of the Balmoral Show.

"From April through to September would be busy and the rest of the year just ticks over, with weekends being busier.

"I've had brides come to stay with me. I had one bride leave for her wedding from here, which was very special.

"I've also had people come for sad occasions. That is the beauty of it. You meet so many people from all corners of the world, from all walks of life, each with their own story. It's fascinating."

The Station and The Bridge B&B’s, Londonderry

Non-stop: Ursula Walsh at one of her two B&Bs, the Station B&B on Northland Road in Londonderry

Ursula Walsh runs two award-winning B&Bs in Londonderry, the Station B&B on the Northland Road and The Bridge B&B on Dacre Terrace. Her day starts before the sun comes up and she can't remember the last time she had a day off.

"I have been in the B&B business properly for four years," she says. "It is a family business. I have three children, Liam, Kevin and Helena, who do help a lot. My husband, Sean, does all the maintenance."

There are barely enough hours in the day for Ursula to get through all her work.

"I get up at around 4.30am and have a quick shower, get down into the kitchen, put my apron on and get started at 5am," she explains.

"I just get going with the cooking. At about 6.30am, when I have everything pre-cooked, chopped and sorted, I start taking things out to the table, so that people can come along and pick out their own stuff.

"Taking trays out takes me up until 7am, when I can have a quick cup of tea myself before putting out the milk and things for the people coming down for their breakfasts.

"At 8am one of the staff comes in to help me. She serves people and I do all the cooking. I'm flat out making scrambled eggs, poached eggs, whatever people want, until 10am."

After breakfast is served, the tidying up begins.

"At 10.30am everyone has left the dining room and we start whipping everything back out to the kitchen, clean and tidy the room and lock it up for the next morning," Ursula says.

"Then we concentrate on cleaning the kitchen and that's when I make my exit and leave it for the staff.

"I empty the bins and head for the recycling centre and then to the cash and carry for more supplies for both B&Bs.

"I have two lists on my phone and just run around and get everything that is needed. That takes me to 1pm.

"While I'm doing all that, my staff are cleaning and replenishing the rooms.

"I get lunch with my husband and do all the laundry, then I start ironing and watching all the cameras for the guests coming in.

"When they arrive, I am there to greet them. They want to talk to you about where they want to eat and want to go. I can show them what's what on a touchscreen I have.

"There are nights I am still waiting for guests who were to be there at 7pm but they're still not in at 10pm.

"I finish my ironing and my husband would maybe stop off with a slice of pizza for me and say goodnight to me.

"I get everything sorted and get into bed at around 11pm. I'm no sooner in bed when the doorbell goes because someone didn't know that the key for their bedroom also opens the front door, or they forgot their key.

"That could happen at 1am, 2am or maybe 3am, then I'm back up and at it at 4.30am to do it all again - and that is seven days a week."

Ursula doesn't remember having a single day off in the past four years, but for her the hard work is worth it.

"I don't actually get tired - I must be running on good batteries," she says.

"I get a lot of satisfaction out of pleasing people and seeing people happy and making them welcome.

"The best part of owning a B&B is meeting all the people from different countries and listening to their stories. They also listen to mine.

"I suppose the worst part is dumping all the rubbish that people leave.

"There are times when people maybe have enjoyed themselves a little too much and have been sick into a bin.

"Running a B&B is very, very hard work, but I love it and I'm up for it. I would never change it and I hope to keep doing it for another few years."

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