William J and Mary Kelly, the founder of Kelly’s Hotel Wexford, was born in 1856. He was an accountant by profession and came to the idea of opening tearooms at the age of 37 while working at Nunns. He applied for permission to build his project in 1893 on a site provided by his wife, Mary’s family. Two years later, in 1895, Kelly’s Tea Rooms opened. Mary and William raised six children.
Nicholas Kelly, son of the founder William, took over the running of the family business in the mid-20s. He was a keen photographer, filmmaker and bird watcher, and he combined all three interests by filming the vast bird colonies on the Saltee Islands. His films were shown regularly to guests in this Wexford hotel. Nicholas was an avid gardener and is responsible for the proliferation of the cordyline palm tree in Ireland, having imported the first specimens from France. Nicholas and his wife, Kathleen, were very business-like when it came to the hotel and worked tirelessly throughout the 1930s and 1940s to promote it not just in Ireland but also in the UK. They had three children – Patsy, Billy and Christine.
William J Kelly, known to every visitor as Billy Kelly, was born in 1927 and took over the hotel’s running in 1953 at the age of 26. He married Breda Hennessey from Emly in Co Tipperary, and together they built Kelly’s into one of the leading hotels in Ireland. Billy was one of the first to train at the Shannon Hotel School under Brendan O’Regan, and both he and Breda were always on the lookout for good ideas from top hotels abroad that they could adapt and use themselves. Billy and Breda gradually expanded their hotel’s open season from just three months in the 1950s to most of the year around. They also instigated a long-running programme of extensions and renovations that included the construction of a swimming pool, squash and tennis courts and dozens of new bedrooms.
Billy & Breda realised early on the need to provide their guests with plenty of activities and things to do in Wexford. They quickly became the country’s first and finest Resort Hoteliers, with a hotel that was just as attractive to guests in February and November as in June and July, albeit for entirely different reasons, and these paid off. They lead the way for Irish tourism growth with their pioneering ideas and set the pace and standards that are still evident today.
At home, they worked almost as hard in the cause of the Irish Hotel industry. Billy became president of the Irish Hotels Federation in 1972 and was a founding member of the Irish Hotel and Restaurant Managers Association and the Irish Hotel and Catering Institute. His contribution to the federation and his fellow hoteliers is still commemorated with the Billy Kelly Award of Excellence, presented every three years, to hoteliers who have excelled in the service of their hotels and found time en-route to be of service to their colleagues in other hotels.
Following Billy’s untimely death in 1977 at the age of 50, Breda continued his work until the return to Rosslare of the couple’s son, Bill. During the intervening 10 years, Breda was in charge of seeing to the needs not only of the hotel, guests and 140 staff, but also her seven children, Mary, Anne, Liz, Kate, Bill, Vonnie and John Paul. Breda initiated the development of many of the hotel’s facilities, including the indoor tennis courts, and she upgraded the bedrooms and expanded the kitchens. One of her most outstanding achievements has been building up the collection of fine art, which has become one of the most striking aspects of the hotel. An evident feature of her management style has always been her genuine concern for the welfare of the hotel staff and their families.
Bill Kelly, the fourth generation Kelly to run the hotel and the third named William J., is known as Bill. He returned to Kelly’s on completion of his training at Switzerland’s famous hotel school in Lausanne, where he met his wife-to-be Isabelle Avril, daughter of leading French wine-maker Paul Avril, from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Bill and Isabelle took over the running of Kelly’s Hotel in 1987 with the management team and have overseen a range of developments at the hotel, including the development of the Aqua Club Leisure Centre, La Marine Bar/Restaurant, the modernisation of all bedrooms (enlarged and refurbished), the addition of 30 rooms, redevelopment of all ground floor areas, of Gardens, Children’s area, Reception/Gallery and the creation of the SEASPA. Bill and Isabelle have six daughters – Laura, Clara, Eva, Anna, Faye & Grace.
Laura Kelly, the fifth generation Kelly, returned in February 2014 to take the helm beside her father Bill and grandmother Breda Kelly. The eldest daughter of Bill and Isabelle Kelly, Laura, joined the management and staff of Kelly’s when it reopened on Valentine’s Day, Friday 14th February 2014. Laura has gained vast experience in the business and tourism sector through her studies in UCD and later in the Hotel Management School of Switzerland. After completing her degree in Commerce and Italian, Laura could not ignore her passion for the Hotel industry. Like her ancestors before, she decided to further her education by applying to the renowned Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. Travelling to many parts of the world, Laura has gained invaluable work experience in Singapore, New York, London, and recently with Club Med in Turkey and Morocco. Laura hopes her knowledge will add a new dimension to this already popular resort hotel in the South East. Laura married Richard Whitty, a Restaurateur, in 2021 and have two children, Kate and Sophie.