Ireland is home to some of the most beautiful spas in the world, many of which are set within traditional manors that date back centuries. With over 20 years of experience in the spa and wellness industry, Peigín Crowley has been at the forefront of this Irish hospitality experience, helping clients create award-winning spas with a portfolio spanning from Adare Manor to The Merrion. The Irish Spa Association co-founder, consultant and industry figure recently launched her own wellness brand, GROUND, a handmade, natural, vegan, cruelty-free, recyclable wellness product line. In anticipation of the new release, Compare Retreats founder Dervla Louli speaks with Peigín on how she entered the Irish wellness scene, her favourite spas in the country and her journey to the launch of GROUND…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in the world of wellness in Ireland? I am a therapist first and foremost. I have always loved the holistic side to spa therapy—the idea that the body can be realigned into balance through different techniques such as Massage, Acupressure, Reflexology, Breathwork and Reiki. I am a firm believer in therapeutic grade essential oils. I know that when specific oils are blended with intention and used correctly, they can penetrate into our bloodstream and help our bodies, whether we want to invite sleep in or stimulate energy or focus. Having worked as a therapist on the cruise liners over 20 years ago, I was fortunate to learn the spa business model at a very young age, managing spa revenue streams of over $3 million a year.
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When I landed back home to Cork in 2000, I launched the ELEMIS brand into the Irish Market, moving it into beautiful properties such as Inchydoney, Hayfield Manor and The Killarney Park. It was such an explosive time for spa development here. Learning spa from the inside out—from both a supplier and operator perspective—I was always obsessing over different spa business models from high street to city hotel spa to resort spa. In 2013, I was developing more into the design element of spa and there was a new wellness element that was emerging—a return to the holistic side. I love exploring the use of space, the customer journey and learning to consult on thermal offerings from pool to sauna design. Most of all, I love building concepts for each individual property, looking at the potential to represent and offer wellness through its own unique landscape, blending the indoor and outdoor experience.
I developed award-winning spas from Adare Manor to The Merrion and I am fortunate to have worked with the best in the business, including The Cliff House Hotel, The Mount Juliet Estate and The Old Head of Kinsale. My passion has always centred around treatment and creating the true wellness experience. This includes the rituals to celebrate the importance of taking space for sacred moments to reconnect, source and replenish. It invites the guest to surrender into the power of touch.
This has evolved into developing product lines to support treatment in collaboration with partners to deliver The Well at Cliff, Moss of the ISLES and MINK, Dublin. In 2020, I founded my own brand GROUND which was born in lockdown as a labour of love. GROUND is self funded and I am so happy to be building it up from the inside out, learning every day as I go.
As Ireland’s leading luxury spa consultant can you share your favourite spa hotel in the country? Ashford Castle in Co. Galway in the west of Ireland is quite simply out of this world, offering a rich heritage of Irish hospitality spanning 800 years. Wellness is layered though every facet of this beautifully restored castle, from the bedrooms, the incredible grounds with 350 acres of beautiful, manicured gardens, verdant forests and woodland rich with birdlife, all overlooking the shores of rippling Lough Corrib to the delicious dining, of which much of the ingredients are grown in their own gardens.
The Spa at Ashford has been awarded many awards over the last 5 years, including Best Hotel Spa In Ireland by World Spa Awards, Voted Overall Spa of the Year, Best In Sustainability and Outstanding Customer Service in the Irish Tatler Awards. This truly encompasses their ethos on restoring beauty and balance through treatment experiences and spa journeys, personalised for all their guests with wellbeing focusing on essential ancient wisdom with modern expertise.
The Ashford Estate has been awarded for the second year in a row with Forbes five-star standard. Ashford Estate epitomises the connection for guests though wellbeing. GROUND is so proud to partner with Ashford Castle with its abundant outdoors making it the most stunning space for rituals and retreats. It has been an absolute pleasure working with award winning Spa Manager Michelle Ryan who is a true advocate of mindfulness in every sense of the world, I am loving working with Michelle to develop exclusive treatments and retreats centred around sleep and gut health. The synergy beyond the spa menu is so strong, with both partners heavily invested in sustainability for both our outer and inner worlds. Michelle and I share a vision on therapist self care, wellbeing at work and inclusion for those with compromised health.
Ireland on a sunny day is one of the most beautiful places in the world, do you have some outdoor spots that you love to explore? True—Ireland has such a beautiful, rich landscape and I am beyond lucky to live in Cork in the very south of Ireland and have the Ballincollig Regional Park, right on the River Lee. It is on our doorstep and offers a stunning walk with friends or family.
Dining will be restricted to the outdoors in Ireland this summer—so that should be fun given all the rain we get! But restaurants and gastro pubs have equipped themselves for all eventualities so we cannot wait to skip down the road to Kinsale to enjoy some serious dining experiences, raining from tapas at Aperitif to the freshest most delicious seafood at Fishy Fishy Restaurant. Once restrictions were lifted in April, we took straight to our favourite spot at Inchydoney Beach in West Cork. We had missed the water and the sea air did us the world of good!
Your wellbeing brand GROUND has taken off around the world. What are the products and rituals we should try to feel more grounded and peaceful? I wanted to create a brand that focuses on rebuilding our ‘at home’ relationship to help bring us back to ourselves, and reminds us of what really matters, especially during these unsettling times. Our calming, restorative products and grounding rituals are created for men, women, and children, encourage us to tóg go bog é; to take it softly; to mind ourselves, and to mind those that we love. Our four families of products are designed to be gifted and shared—to ourselves, to supporting family and friends, and to those that impact our daily lives.
GROUND is artisan aromatherapy. It’s 100% natural and made from pure botanical vegan ingredients that are pesticide and herbicide-free, naturally sourced and wherever possible, organic. Each product is hand-crafted with intention using traditional methods and made by myself in small batches in Cork, Ireland. The at home wellness rituals were created to be introduced morning and evening as simply as washing your teeth. From body brushing to breathwork, looking after our wellbeing can be layered into our daily routines and when coupled with therapeutic grade essential oils, we can see and feel the benefits. Scent has such a powerful link to memory and our subconscious connects beautifully to essential oils where, if we build a routine at night with a sleep blend it can channel directly into our vagus nerve and trigger a rest and digest state.
If layered into a consistent sleep time/routine coupled with breathwork – you can begin to significantly improve sleep quality and generate deeper healing in our organs which equates to living well for longer. Launching at Asaya at The Rosewood in Hong Kong was an absolute dream come true, a beautiful iconic space offering true wellness.
The brand is clean, green, sustainable, cruelty free, refillable and vegan. What was your entrepreneurial journey like from concept to creation, and what lessons did you learn along the way? My journey started during the first lockdown in March last year when all my work fell away, projects were postponed and spas were closed. After the feeling of panic subsided, there was this space and time in my diary for the first time in years… I knew that it was my chance to do my own wellbeing brand and the calling was so strong.
It was so different having the freedom to design and produce my own product line GROUND, blending oils for wellness but this time for clients to use in their own homes and not in spas. It allowed me to step into the retail arena and help bring spa and ritual home using oils and balms made from 100% natural ingredients. I learned so much during this time, while tuning in to my gut and trusting my intuition. With all the noise drowned out I was able to map my critical path from concept to creation. Brown Thomas signed up immediately to launch the brand and that gave immense confidence to the brand. Going to great lengths to be sustainable can come at a price and sometimes you can be blinded by the cause. My labels are so sustainable that they are sometimes not practical and there have been several costly iterations. But it’s all worthwhile and these bumps are what make the journey!
My greatest learning curve was adjusting to the speed and immediate consumer expectation of the retail arena. It differs so greatly from the spa arena where we go softly and slowly, but once you adapt it’s an absolute buzz—it’s so invigorating!
What do your morning and evening routines look like and how important are they to your overall well-being? Looking after yourself well in the past was seen as a luxury. But now people understand that self-care is healthcare, pro-active well-being. Yet it is still hard to book into our days and weeks. But when we do carve out the space and time, our bodies and minds thank us. With people working from home the issue of ‘burn out’ is real, with some people not realising how exhausted they are until it’s too late and they hit a wall. We must all place a stronger value on rest and restoration—the days of glamorising ‘being so busy’ are gone. ‘The Slowing’ has arrived. Whether we like it or not, but it is actually a good thing if we welcome it in. I for one needed it.
I’m a huge fan of taking baths. I believe in the restorative benefits of a bath, but planning a bath takes time, resources and commitment. Setting the room, playlist ready, pouring the salts (GROUND Talamh/Balancing Bath Salts) and then the comfort of warm water. This routine allows the essential oils to enter a double route through lungs and skin. This is my go-to routine even in the summer. It is like a hug to yourself.
When I’m over-whelmed I focus on my breathing. It’s a brilliant hack that takes me into the present and allows me to focus on what I can control—my breath. And in doing so I can hear and feel my heartbeat, and suddenly I have coherence between my head, heart and lungs and that gives me strength and belief in the next steps. Lastly, the kids and I love putting on the GROUND Codladh/Sleep Body Oil at night—it is a conscious ritual where we invite rest into our bodies and trust in the essential oils to lure us into deep sleep. The scent moves through our pyjamas and releases during the night to further relax the body.
In recent months I have been obsessed with Gua Sha Facial Massage so we have incorporated it into all our Ground Facial Rituals with the GROUND Restorative Face Oil. It is incredible how meditative this short practice is before bedtime and how it has helped with my jaw and teeth grinding.
My go to books to anchor myself are:
How did you and your family stay motivated and positive during lockdown? I have a very kind husband and two feisty daughters aged 8 and 12. We were busy but happy in each other’s company. I’ll be honest, I had so much of my identity wrapped up in ego and achieving that I had lost touch with the value of just being. So I took to the nest and just really enjoyed being home with my family. There were some really special times when my mum was in our bubble and the three generations would all hang out in the kitchen listening to tunes while I batched up salts and oils. It was slow and intentional and I will treasure it as a good time.