“I want them and everyone to love Derry the way I feel”
Seamus Kennedy and his wife Helen bought 4 Abbey Street in 1998 with plans to open a bed and breakfast on the edge of the Bogside.
In 2000, they opened the guest rooms of the Abbey. This would be the first B&B established in the Bogside area of Derry.
The Kennedys ran a café in Strabane for nine years after returning from London in 1992. Over the past two decades, the couple have hosted many famous faces, including many of the city’s music stars.
Seamus said, “We have had senators from the United States, award-winning mystery writers, famous musicians, singers, footballers; we had a lot of very interesting and famous people.
“Notably, we have had Irish music legends, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunney, the McAuley brothers from London, Paul Heaton, singer of Housemartin’s and The Beautiful South, celebrated his 50th birthday here. Jive Aces, Ripetide Movement, Dana visited once and two years ago we had Dubliners member Sean Canon who came for a weekend for the 50th anniversary of Dubliners coming to Derry in August 1969 to play in this very famous fleadh; one room in the abbey is called the Dubliner Room because it’s the same room that Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew and the boys slept in sleeping bags this weekend, so there’s a story inside of these walls.
The B&B has also seen Celtic football legends such as Tommy Gemmell, John Fallon, John Hughes, Charlie Gallagher, Allan McINally spend nights at the popular B&B. Seamus continued, “Our clientele is very diverse, ranging from three of the different priests from the Father Ted comedy series to a lifeguard model from the American show Baywatch who stays with us. She loved Derry so much that she returned with her family on a trip a few years later.
“When we opened the tearoom it is now closed, John Voight, the actor, spent a few hours there with his friends and George Galloway was around the same time.
2003 at the Abbey B&B – Celtic legend Tommy Gemmell and former Scottish international footballer and Sky Sports expert Alan McInally and former Scottish footballer Chic Charnley with members of the Jimmy Delaney Celtic Supporters Club from Cleland, Scotland.
“But the real interesting people are always the regular guests everywhere.
“People like our local musicians such as my friends Stevie O’Carolan, Robert Peoples, Tomas Quigley, Ramonn Feguson, Kevin Quigley, Eamon McLaughlin, Anne Marie Hickey, the band, Connla, Gabby Fitzgerald, Johanna Fegan and many more have all played. at the Abbey for fundraising. They are the real music stars of this city, there are too many others to mention.
The many faces, including famous faces who have stayed at the Abbey, are a testament to the hospitality that Seamus and Helen offer.
Seamus said: “We say who we are and never claim to be bigger than just a traditional guesthouse, but unique. We offer guests a clean and comfortable room with private bathroom, good Wi-Fi is important these days, a good breakfast and a little bit of craic with four lounges to relax in.
“It’s no secret, just be nice to people while maintaining a level of respect, diplomacy and distance. Although many of the guests have become friends, it is a different experience.
Seamus with Dana, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.
“Our location is our strong point, three minutes on the flat to Waterloo Place is good in a hilly city like Derry. Our outside environment is great and I will officially say that there are no more beautiful or more patient people than the average person from Bogside. The youngsters are all great and many of those who were weaned back then now carry their own children on their shoulders, the most honest people in Ireland to me.
“However, the most important part is to have a very understanding wife in Helen who is also a wonderful cook, as well as our great housekeeper Eli. The guests are well taken care of. It is also very important to mention that at over the years we have always had a wonderful support staff – they know who they are – who have given the company so much of their personality along the way. I will always be grateful to them. The women of Great Derry have always worn this city and it is still the case today.
Due to the pandemic, Seamus and Helen had no activity for 18 months. Seamus continued, “It was like a complete break. It has been a terribly sad time for a lot of people and like a lot of people in this town, I suffered personal grief during this time. We lost my good brother. -loved, who is a year younger than cancer, so I was grateful to have so much free time to spend with my family and close friends who have also lost loved ones.
“Business isn’t important when something like a pandemic breaks out, but family, friends and people still are.
“Beauty only lives and dies in the heart, that’s really what matters in this life that passes to all of us.”
Seamus was born and raised in the Donegal Hills to a very large family in Inver, in the southwest of the county.
However, he was persuaded to move to Derry after meeting Helen, from Derry herself, “Once you meet a girl from Derry they can be very persuasive, and I have met the best,” a he declared.
Looking ahead, Seamus hopes to have many more years at Abbey B&B. He hopes to focus on his other areas of interest and introduce them to the company. “I rarely look past the current day, but I hope to be there for a while.
“I have other interests that I intend to bring into the business, all of which revolve around music, literature and most important to me at the moment is my native language.
Local musicians Steven O’Carolan, Robert Peoples, Tomas Quigley and Dublin legend Sean Cannon and his son James perform at the Abbey B&B.
“Everything I do from now on will have my language involved even though I am still learning and not yet fluent, but we can all use and promote the little we know and use on a daily basis, we have already introduced the Irish language inside the building our new glass permanent protective screens in reception and in the service area are written in irish and this is just the start.
“The dynamics of hosting are changing all the time and Airbnb’s assaults have touched every area of this industry from top of the chain to the bottom. I still maintain that this is not a substitute for real hands-on experience, it really is just a new name for self-healing.
“A diverse offer of accommodation is always welcome and I wish everyone the best of luck who ventures into offering interesting and different types of accommodation, there is always enough for everyone. People are always looking for interesting places and new things to do or visit and Derry is a great city that is slowly developing.
“As someone who has worked in the tourism and hospitality industry for almost 30 years, I am disappointed that Derry is nowhere near where it should be.
“I want them and everyone to love Derry the way I feel. For me, Derry’s future should be about language, music, peace and respect for all. Forget the old norm, the new normal in the city we love so much should be a lot better, I think it will.
Seamus hopes Derry will build on its tourist culture and rich history. He thinks that with the musicians and the music that were born in the city, it should be a “music mecca”.
Also, that literature and language within the city should be a key element of the culture that is projected there.
Seamus sees Derry’s potential and thinks there is a lot of work to be done as Derry holds the keys to being one of the great tourist centers.
Helen and Seamus are very grateful for these incredible 21 years at the Abbey and look forward to what the future holds for both their business and the city.
“We have had amazing experiences and in turn, I have visited many of my guests in their own countries to witness sad and happy occasions. Great friendships have been formed throughout this trip.
In conclusion, Seamus said, “Here it’s a bit like walking on a comedy set every day. Think of Father Ted or Fawlty Towers and we could certainly write a similar script; but what happens at the Abbey remains at the Abbey.