The Williamson family has driven development at the award-winning Valley Hotel in Fivemiletown since the early 70s and today, the venue is at the heart of life in the bustling County Tyrone community.
John Williamson (68), MBE and his wife, Sally, bought The Valley Hotel in Fivemiletown for £13,250 in May, 1970 from its former owner, Gore Stevenson. In those days, the Valley was a moderately successful country hotel with 16 bedrooms which closed to guests in the winter. It also had a thriving public bar and it was trade from this element of the business that initially allowed the Williamsons to sustain and develop their new venture.
This wasn’t John’s first foray into the hospitality trade. A strict Presbyterian upbringing had failed to stem his early ambitions for a career in the trade and by 1968 he was in a business partnership with his aunt, Miss George, at Altmore House, a B&B in Dungannon.
“At that time, everything in the business was new to me and I loved it, although my aunt also ran another guesthouse in Belfast at the time – the Somerton Private Hotel on the Lansdowne Road,” recalled John. “I enjoyed being in the business then and I still do today.”
Once established in the Valley, John and Sally turned their minds to developing the fledgling business and by 1972 they had begun work on installing new kitchens at the hotel. In August of that year, however, disaster struck when a terrorist bomb ripped away the front of the premises and destroyed much of the hotel’s bedroom accommodation.
Undaunted, the Williamsons set about salvaging their business. They were known locally for the popular live music nights which they ran three evenings a week at the Valley and that programme continued in a temporary lounge bar at the rear of the damaged hotel as the couple gathered funds to restore the facilities they had lost.
A new 220-seater function room opened in 1975 and the revenue which it generated helped finance the reconstruction of the rest of the Valley. Nevertheless, the business didn’t trade as a fully functioning hotel between 1972 and 1979, when it re-opened with 22 plush new bedrooms.
“We have lots of things that we’d love to do, of course, but it’s finding the money to do them,” added John. “We intend to totally refurbish the restaurant and we hope that will happen in 2014.”
John is clearly very proud of everything he and his family have achieved in Fivemiletown. He modestly recounts a story in which he accidentally heard someone describe how important they felt that the hotel was to the village:
“It was an exaggeration of course, but in a small town like this, a hotel of our calibre does become the hub of the place, it’s a centre for all social activity and everything that goes on,” he added. “Fivemiletown is a great town with good people and if you came in here unannounced and walked along the main street, by the time you got to the other end, half-a-dozen people would have bid you good-day. It’s great to live in a place like that and we’re very glad that we came here.”