Our Responses to VRBO Review(s)

The following is our response to the review on VRBO entitled:

‘Unique experience, but expectations not met’

Reviewer:         Kelly K, Aug 12, 2015
Date of Stay:    November 22, 2014

This was a lovely group of four families who all stayed with us in November 2014. I recall they are from Chicago, and they very kindly invited Margaret, me and our two children to spend Thanksgiving evening with them, full of traditional Irish musicians and dancing, in the Castle on the fourth night of their stay when they also, most generously, allowed a camera crew to take some footage of their celebrations for Irish TV (which you can see on our own website). We rarely get to enjoy our own castle, so it was a real treat to see it come alive with happy families and children dancing to the live jigs, reels and hornpipes.

This review has come as quite a surprise to us for many reasons (which I list below), and moreso disappointment for these families because of the fact that they had given us no indication or notice of these sentiments whatsoever during their stay back in 2014, even during our long evening with them on Thanksgiving.

It is Margaret’s way to try to go above and beyond her best to help bookers organise their stay in any way she can before and after they arrive. When one expects the usual number of emails being exchanged about availability and rates, etc. leading to the booking being made, Margaret had exchanged 87 emails with this particular booking, which is quite a lot when you consider that we are only a vacation rental and do not provide any other travel services.

We are so delighted to see that for the kids the castle was an ‘A’ and hope that they will have great memories to last a lifetime, and indeed that the adults found Ballyhannon to be ‘lovely and unique’. We really appreciate this reviewer’s compliments in that regard, and of us personally, and we thank them for that.

In equal measure we are personally saddened (for the reviewer’s group, and indeed for us) to read that they were disappointed with our service and value. With regard to value, this is very subjective, and every guest will have their own perspective and yardstick against which to measure and compare, so we completely respect this reviewer’s opinion in that regard based on their own expectations and situation.

We are always eager to learn from our guests’ reviews, and what we primarily read from this review is that this group was disappointed because their expectations were not met. Although they never told us directly what their precise expectations were, we see now that they say they expected a ‘high end’ property.

Ballyhannon is not advertised as such, simply because it can only ever be described as what it is – an experience of an authentic medieval Irish castle and a several hundred year old coach house converted into a delightful country home, both of which are, as this reviewer very fairly acknowledges, ‘lovely and unique’.

We really appreciate you having the interest to read our owner response, and the following were the service-related issues that this reviewer listed, and our response to each to clarify what happened, which we hope will serve to answer any facility-related questions you might have about our vacation rental:

1. according to this reviewer: ‘The stove required my husband to clean out one of the compartments that was dirty and caused the stove to turn off periodically through the week’:

Our reply: yes, this is like any solid fuel burning stove that leaves ash accumulate. The stove’s way of telling us that it needs to be cleaned is that it turns itself off, which is an understandable safety feature;

2. according to this reviewer: ‘The stovetop in the coach house did not work. We alerted Margaret of this as soon as we noticed it. It took a few days to be repaired’:

Our reply: this group checked in on Sunday evening and notified Margaret the following Wednesday night that they couldn’t get the gas hob of the cooking stove in the coach house to light, but it didn’t take ‘a few days to be repaired’ as they say. The following is what happened:

– Margaret went to the coach house immediately on being notified (on Wednesday night) that they were unable to get the gas hob to light. This usually only happens when the bottle of gas is empty and simply needs replacement. Margaret tested it and found that no gas was emanating, so she changed the gas bottle, but strangely to no avail. She returned home, and I immediately went to the local store to get another new full bottle of gas and then brought it to Ballyhannon to see if I could resolve it myself.

When I was changing the gas bottle (located outside) I noticed that the on/off switch on the regulator was missing (had been broken off somehow since the gas bottle was last changed), which was the simple reason why we were unable to turn on the gas to feed the hob inside. Many members of this group of guests (mainly the men) happened to be outside near me as I was doing this, and I explained to them what I found. I then went in to the coach house and explained the problem again to those in the kitchen (mainly the ladies), one of whom included the author of this review.

I said that although the stores were now closed, I believed that I had a spare replacement regulator (with the all-important on/off switch) at home. I said that if they intended using the stove that night I would go home and get the replacement regulator and fix/replace it immediately that evening (within the hour), or asked if they would be cooking instead in the castle that night, and in that case if it could wait until tomorrow to be fixed. They replied that tomorrow would be absolutely fine, and I returned the following day (not two days later, as they say in this review) when the group were out and about touring, and I replaced the regulator and the gas hob was working perfectly again then for them on their return.

3. according to this reviewer: ‘Upon arrival, the accommodations were damp and cold’:

Our reply: this group checked in on Sunday, and unfortunately at no stage during their stay did they tell us that they would have liked more heating in either building. The first time I met them myself was on the Wednesday evening when I went to the Coach House to investigate the cause of why the gas cooking hob/stove wasn’t working (see point 2 above). It was a bleak wet night. While I was outside attending to the gas bottle a number of the group were in the garden, and others came out of the castle/coach house and introduced themselves to me. What I found unusual was that they were all in T-shirts while I was glad to be wrapped up in a warm winter coat.

When I remarked on this jokingly to them they said that they found our weather very mild (‘like summer‘, they described it) in comparison to the sub-zero temperatures they had left behind in Chicago. What I especially remember is, when I went into the coach house to check the gas cooking hob/stove I was met with a blanket of heat the minute I opened the front door. They had the heating turned up as much as possible, so it seemed to me that they needed a much higher degree of heat compared to what we normally encounter and had set on their arrival, so perhaps we didn’t have it turned up enough to meet their particular needs when they initially arrived, hence this criticism that they felt ‘cold on arrival’. For that we apologise to this reviewer.

4. according to this reviewer: ‘The TV in the coach house did not work’:

Our reply: it does, and it did. It does have 2 remote controls (one for the TV itself, and the other for the device through which the channels are received), so we accept that this may have been confusing for them to use. In light of this review we have replaced this TV with a new one that has only one remote control.

5. according to this reviewer: ‘The TV in the castle was covered up’:

Our reply: yes, when not in use we leave a throw on it simply to ‘camouflage’ it with the furnishings rather than having it stand out as a 21st century appliance in the middle of the Great Room. Again, no one had mentioned anything to us about this TV during their stay nor that they believed that this meant that it was not in use, so we had no way of knowing that this is how they interpreted the quilted sheet over the TV. As this TV actually gets very little use, we have decided to remove it altogether to avoid any similar misunderstandings.

6. according to this reviewer: ‘The dryer in the castle did not work’:

Our reply: it does. Again, no one told us that they couldn’t get the dryer in the castle to work during this stay, and we only knew of this on receiving an email from this reviewer a month following their departure. Aside from the one in the castle, there is a dryer in the Coach House too, which is what we presume they used instead as this group rented both properties from us. The castle dryer has been used by all guests since, without issue.

7. According to this reviewer: ‘We were told not to use the showers at the same time in the coach house’:

Our reply: we have 2 types of shower in the Coach House. One type is fed hot water from a tank of hot water (that heats up like a large kettle, so it depletes on usage until the water reheats), and the other type is what we call ‘electric’ (which has an unlimited flow of hot water). It is this second type that this reviewer is referring to, and it is correct that only one electric shower can be used at a time, and there is a legal/technical reason for this which I have explained in boring detail below for those interested in the ‘science bit’!

8. according to this reviewer: ‘Wifi was only available in the castle….on the 4th floor. We alerted Margaret, but this was never repaired during out stay’:

Our reply: there was nothing to ‘repair’. It is correct that there is only wi-fi in the Great Room on the 4th floor. It cannot spread out beyond that room because of the thickness of the walls! Until recently we didn’t have any fixed broadband at all because the castle is an Irish Registered Monument and Protected Structure, which meant that we were legally unable to do any work to it to connect broadband to the structure itself.

Then, recently as I say, after many years of applications to the Irish authorities to do some conservation work (which happened to include ducting down through the castle) we were very lucky to have the opportunity to be able to bring a cable from the very top, down through the new conduits, to the Great Room where we now finally have wi-fi. Sometimes this signal makes its way further down the internal service duct to the kitchen, meaning that it can occasionally be picked up there too, but this is unreliable and the Great Room is where the hot-spot is located.

9. according to this reviewer: ‘There were large bees in the coach house…… We alerted Margaret……. It was not addressed during our stay’:

Our reply: when Margaret was at the coach house during a visit this was indeed mentioned to her, though in a very casual way during general conversation. She immediately offered to go upstairs to look at this but the group replied that there was no need whatsoever, and that they were telling her this for our own benefit as the bees were dead or dying at the end of season. When Margaret said that she would indeed prefer to investigate this herself for them, the group again insisted that there was no need. She didn’t wish to intrude on their privacy by going upstairs against their wishes, and left it to them to come back to her if this was or became a concern to them, but nothing more came of it until we read it in this review. The only reason, therefore, it was not addressed during their stay is because we were given no opportunity to do so and were expressly told not to do so.

10. according to this reviewer: ‘There was additional charges for garbage disposal that added up significantly’.

Our reply: what this reviewer does not say is that there is no charge for a reasonable amount of garbage (i.e. what fits into our bins). It is only when groups accumulate significant amounts of excess garbage that we simply pass on the cost to us of having it disposed of (we have had groups who left garbage that has filled two trailers!). To keep these costs down for guests we always mention that they can, if they so wish, take care of disposing of their own excess garbage at the nearest municipal waste disposal facility. This is what we believe this group chose to do without actually telling us until afterwards, choosing to drive the distance to the waste disposal facility (approx. 17 miles away), which we would otherwise have done for them after their departure. We cannot therefore see how this is a basis of a complaint against us.

11. according to this reviewer: The horse stable (onsite) we booked and confirmed multiple times over 9 months leading to our trip canceled on us the night we arrived. She told us she was leaving for Africa for vacation! It was a huge disappointment. The kids were heartbroken’:

Our reply: there is an independent riding stables business next to us (and others also nearby), but we have no riding stables ‘onsite’ as part of our own accommodations, so we do not understand why this reviewer is including this in her review about us. As accommodation providers only, we do not get involved in any way with our guests’ itineraries, though we are very happy to pass on contacts we have for local facilities and activities, which we did for this group and we see from this review that they chose to contact the riding stables next door to us to arrange horse riding.

These stables are a completely separate business to ours, and any such arrangements by this group were not made through us nor to our knowledge. While we are sad to read in this review that the owner’s departure for vacation meant that this group’s plans to go horse-riding with them had been cancelled, we as only their accommodation providers cannot then be responsible for what other businesses might do for any activities that guests have organised with them.

We very much appreciate you taking the time to read our perspective as proud owners of Ballyhannon Castle & Coach House, two historic medieval properties that we are delighted to be able to share with anyone who seeks the adventure of experiencing them just as they were over 500 years ago (apart, of course, from the modern day comforts we have incorporated that you do not have to compromise on!). There is great pressure on us to meet all expectations, and despite our best efforts we accept that there are times like this when we simply cannot.

We are greatly consoled by the positive points that this reviewer does so fairly ascribe to us, and you will see from the almost unanimous, overwhelmingly complimentary reviews on another global review site that this review is the exception (and, in particular context, that guests who stayed subsequently and posted a review of their stay, had a great experience). We wish in no way to diminish nor dispute this reviewer’s opinions on her experience, and that her motives for posting this review is solely for the benefit of fellow travellers. By posting our response, as owners, we seek only to deal with the factual discrepancies in her review by relaying our equally valid perspectives in order to add balance to this case for the equal benefit of prospective future guests.

Thank you again.

Liam & Margaret.
Ballyhannon Castle & Coach House

Why only one ‘electric’ shower can be used at a time in the Coach House:
(Those electricians and plumbers among you will undoubtedly understand the following ‘science bit’):

– they are called ‘electric showers’ because there is an electric wall unit inside the shower cubicle that heats the water as it passes through it (as opposed to the hot water coming from a tank like with the other type of shower we also have, or the likes of a community/external water heating system which we don’t have in Ireland).

So when taking an ‘electric’ shower, cold water enters the electric wall unit via the internal plumbing, gets heated by the unit itself (like a kettle, but instantly), and flows out of the showerhead hot. To heat cold water instantly on contact like this, such units require a lot of electric power and are therefore extremely ‘heavy’ on electricity, and the number of such shower units that anyone here in Ireland can have in their home then relies on/is dictated by the power ‘phase’ they have connected to their property.

In the Coach House we have a ‘single-phase’ electricity supply, which only permits one electric shower to be used at any one time under Irish Health & Safety Regulations, and for many years we therefore only had one such electric shower in the Coach House.
We were then advised that if we fitted a safety breaker-tripping box, we could install more electric showers throughout the coach house for the convenience of guests, so that instead of everyone waiting to use one specific shower in the main bathroom, they can use their own (either in a downstairs en-suite/shower room, or in the en-suite of the main bedroom upstairs) when the others were not in use.

The only condition (‘fly in the ointment’ as it were) being that the electricity supply to the coach house legally obliges us to limit the use of electric showers to one at a time, and this is what the safety breaker-tripping box does. It ‘supervises’ what shower unit is being used, and when one is in use, it stops the other two from working.

We understand this box to be a safety mechanism to protect against the mains electricity supply ‘blowing’/tripping the supply to the whole house due to an overload by the use of the showers in the context of the single-phase electricity supply. Sorry for that boring information, but that’s the practical and mandatory reason why only one shower can operate at a time, and contextualises this reviewer’s mention of it!