One of the most enduring landmarks of our city, the Connemara began life as the Imperial Hotel, established in 1854 by T. Ruthnavaloo Mudaliar. Located at the intersection of Mount and Binny Roads, it stands on historic land – property of the Nawabs of Arcot which was once rented out to John Binny of the eponymous firm who built his garden house there. The Imperial was succeeded by The Albany in 1886, which in 1890 became the Connemara. The new owners were the brothers P. Cumaraguru and P. Chokalinga Mudelly. The new name was inspired by the then Governor’s wife leaving him in high dudgeon over his peccadilloes and staying at the hotel for a week prior to leaving for England. Long thought to be a scurrilous story, that she stayed there has been proven as fact, but The Madras Mail reported that it was named after his Lordship.
The Albany became Spencer property in 1890 and was re-christered the Connemara. It was, however, only in 1900 that James Stiven, a Director at Spencer’s, began giving serious thought to running the Connemara. Large additions to the property were made, making it one of the best hotels in this part of the world. By the early 1930s, however, there was need for modernising and this was done based on designs from the architects’ firm of Jackson and Barker of the city. It was they who gave the hotel its art deco façade which is featured in this photo and which still survives. The construction, by Gannon Dunkerly and Co. Ltd, was completed in 1938. It was only in the 1970s that the next major addition came – an independent block by Geoffrey Bawa and P. Poologasundaram, both from Sri Lanka. By then, Spencer’s and the Connemara were largely Indian run.
In 1974, the Spencer’s International Hotels Limited, which still owns the Connemara, entered into a management contract with the Taj Group of Hotels, owned by the Tatas. In 1995, the Taj name was prefixed to the Connemara and so it remained till a couple of years back when, as part of a rebranding exercise by the Taj Group, the Connemara became part of the Vivanta range of Taj Hotels.