Shannon College of Hotel Management – a hidden gem and remarkable component of the fabric of Shannon…says Shannon Chamber CEO

Adrian Sylver, Head of School, Shannon College of Hotel Management, pictured at the College with Helen Downes, CEO, Shannon Chamber. Photograph by Eamon Ward.


When extoling the attributes of Shannon as an optimal location, reference is often made to its proximity to third-level colleges in Limerick and elsewhere. However, as Shannon Chamber CEO, Helen Downes points out, the pertinent fact that is often omitted is that Shannon is a university town and has been since 2015, when Shannon College of Hotel Management was formally integrated as a School within the College of Business, Public Policy and Law, University of Galway with all its programmes now awarded by the University. 

The College’s genesis dates to 1951, when on 26 July of that year, resulting from the pioneering endeavours of Brendan O’Regan, ‘eighteen young students began training in the Shannon Airport Hotel and Catering School, located in makeshift classrooms in an office block on the windy aerodrome by the Shannon estuary[1]. The only other training in hotel management at that time was a non-residential course confined to females at St Mary’s College, Cathal Brugha Street.

Fast forward to today and the College now educates 400 students in all aspects of hotel management and the 3,000 students who have studied in Shannon since the College’s foundation can be found in all corners of the world, all proud to be part of what is known as the ‘Shannon Family’. 

To quote the remarks of former President, Mary McAleese, when she spoke at a dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of the College: “Time and time again on my own travels, I have met graduates and heard it spoken of with deep respect and I have felt that glow of pride which is the seed-bed of faith in the talents and abilities of our people, our country’.

Step into the campus at Shannon Airport and you sense this pride. The students are impeccably dressed in the College’s business suit, graciously welcome visitors and are assiduous in their attention to detail when honing their skills in practical, business and language modules.

“Shannon College of Hotel Management is a remarkable, yet relatively hidden asset in the fabric of Shannon,” says Ms Downes.

Sited on the estuary drive to Shannon Airport, the College is spread over several buildings – The Trust building, home to lecture rooms and offices; the Food and Beverage building, which houses a restaurant, kitchen, and offices; and Wings 4 and 5, rented from The Shannon Airport Group, which are used as additional classrooms. The function room in the nearby Park Inn by Radisson at Shannon Airport is also used as a lecture room whilst a room in the basement of the hotel is allocated for student recreation.

This dispersed configuration is something that the current Head of School, Adrian Slyver, is keen to adjust.

“Our ambition for the future of the College is to grow student numbers and further enhance our reputation through increasing our global ranking. To achieve all of this, and to be regarded as the best in the world, we need to develop a modern facility in Shannon. Leading hotel colleges such as Cornell or Harvard don’t have the educational facilities or life-skills ethos that we have, but they have amazing facilities.

“We need to develop a modern, purpose-built campus that allows us to build capacity and build on our worldwide reputation. This campus will be in Shannon as remaining in Shannon was part of the agreement when we integrated into the University of Galway in 2015. The benefits of a Shannon location cannot be understated. It is on the doorstep of an airport, gateway to a tourism hub with fantastic job opportunities for our students,” he says.

An Adrahan, Co. Galway, native, Adrian Sylver has been part of the College’s teaching staff since 2006 when he left his job as a lecturer in undergraduate and professional accounting programmes in Dublin Business School to return west, taking up a similar teaching post in the Shannon college. His pedigree was well recognised, as his students in Dublin won fifty prizes at world level in accounting examinations. Dublin’s loss was Shannon’s gain. Elevated to Deputy Head of School in 2018 and to Head of School in 2022, on the retirement of Dr Phillip Smyth, who had held the position for thirty-four years, Sylver’s pride in and ambition for the College is epitomised by his determination to position Shannon is its rightful podium position…the leading hotel management school in the world.

He says this with confidence knowing that, while Shannon College of Hotel Management’s curriculum is very much about students qualifying with an internationally renowned business degree, it is also focused on developing the person.

“That’s why our curriculum includes modules in areas such as life skills, business communications and public speaking. We’re one of the few colleges that have retained the practical elements. A lot of our competitors don’t have the kitchen element; they only have the theory. To equip a kitchen and restaurant is an expensive undertaking but we insist on keeping this as part of our curriculum.

“We have just completed a curriculum review and we were unanimous in agreeing that Year 1, which introduces students to the different departments in a hotel, including working in the kitchen and restaurant, be retained. We feel it’s a strength for our students. With a full-year placement in a hotel, in Ireland or abroad in Year 2 and a further 9-month placement as a trainee hotel manager at the end of Year 4, pre graduation, our students are ready to hit the ground running when they graduate.

“They are grounded in the ethos of the College – professionalism, attitude, courtesy and punctuality – during their four years and nine months under the tutelage of the College’s 35 staff, many of whom are Shannon graduates. The experience they gain from placements in leading hotels in countries such as Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Seychelles, Spain, The Netherlands, The UAE, United Kingdom and USA, and many more, also enhances their employability prospects.

“One of our key strengths is the links we have developed over the past seventy years with the top hotel brands in the world, through our placements, which generally lead to permanent employment on graduation. 

“We are immensely proud of the employability rate of our graduates and their reputation, and the College’s excellent global links with alumni including their patron programme,” adds Sylver.

Expanding on these programmes, which are unique to the Shannon college, Sylver extols the willingness of its graduates to give back to the College either through becoming a class patron or being an active member of the alumni network.

“Every class has a class/year patron. The role of a patron is to act as a mentor to his/her class. They remain in this capacity until the class’s graduation. Our current patrons include John Burke, managing director, The Armada Hotel and Hotel Doolin; David Fitzgerald, general manager, The Woodland Hotel, Adare; Una O’Dowd, Deputy CEO, The Winward (hospitality management company); Ailish Carew, CEO, Epic Museum, Dublin; and Aaron Mansworth, managing director, Trigon Hotels, whose class graduated on 7 March. We will be enlisting a new patron for the class of 2024/5.

“We also have a very active Alumni network with chapters throughout the world. A dedicated website, acts as a networking platform to connect graduates and to alert them of job opportunities and social occasions. Network members also give hands-on guidance to new graduates seeking career moves in new locations.

“Our students are given every opportunity to remain lifelong members of the ‘Shannon Family’. As a graduate of 50 years said at a recent Alumni event, ‘you might leave Shannon College of Hotel Management, but Shannon College never leaves you’. I think that sums up the strength of the brand and the strength of the Shannon Family,” adds Sylver.

Not one for self-praise, Adrian Sylver points to a recent externally validated quality review, which commended the College for: its success in generating the ‘Shannon Family’ pride which students, staff and alumni share; the professional, hospitable and service-orientated attitude of students throughout all parts of the College environment; the range and quality of student-facing professional services, despite challenges posed by limited resources; the balance of the practical and theoretical elements of its programmes, which enable students to successfully contribute to the work environment; and the success of the programme in offering students the widest possible learning opportunities within the hospitality sector, delivered by staff who are highly regarded by students and industry professionals.

These accolades are but one element of the inclusive ethos of the College, which was recently awarded the Athena Swan Bronze Award, in recognition of its commitment to supporting and advancing gender equality in higher education. A commitment to sustainability is also evident in the College’s kitchen where surplus food is allocated to students and a wireless temperature monitoring system ensures food safety compliance and delivers operational efficiencies.

Shannon College of Hotel Management is an eclectic environment, with thirty different nationalities represented in its student population. Delivering programmes at undergraduate and post graduate levels, and with research projects relevant to the hospitality industry and in collaboration with University colleagues gathering momentum, the campus is a high-energy environment, which, under the stewardship of Adrian Sylver is being guided on a new trajectory. 

This will be greatly enabled by the formation of an External School Advisory Board which will be chaired by Gerald Lawless, a 1975 graduate, former CEO of Jumeirah Group and Head of Hospitality and Tourism with Dubai Holding. This board will comprise approximately ten members, representing alumni, non-alumni, industry and education. Its role will be to advise the Head of School in school-related matters.

With a pedigree spanning seventy years, a one hundred per cent undergraduate employment record, linkage with 147 hotels in over 17 countries, ranked in the top 2% of universities worldwide, six post-graduate courses, its students gaining twenty-one months paid undergraduate placement and over 2,900 alumni, Head of School Adrian Sylver is clearly focused on adding to this incredible list of attainments.

Top of the list is a new campus in Shannon and adequate rentable accommodation in the locality to cater for the projected growth in student numbers, who contribute in so many valuable ways to the local economy.

“We are incredibly proud to have a college of this stature in our membership. Its ambitions mirror our vision for Shannon, which is to ensure that Shannon’s legacy for pioneering, inspirational and entrepreneurial achievements perpetuates and is recognised “ adds Ms Downes.


[1] Brian O Connell with Cian O’Carroll, ‘Brendan O’Regan, Innovator, Visionary & Peacemaker, P149