Niamh and Joseph Byrne first embarked on agritourism 20 years ago when they built four self-catering vacation homes on their farm in Ballintober, Hollywood, Co Wicklow.
they later opened their farm as a bed and breakfast and diversified further, adding a purpose-built kitchen where they held cooking classes and created out a detour through their ranch.
Niamh says: “Joseph grew up on a farm, which has always been a mixed business, and our kids are the sixth generation on this land.
“It’s a beautiful area that has always attracted visitors, and we knew there was an opportunity for some kind of self-catering accommodation here.”
In 2002, the couple built four wooden lodges where they used to stay.
Niamh said: “We have a lovely piece of land there so we applied for the planning and built guest houses right next to the farm.
The following year, the self-service restaurant Abhainn Rí opened its doors and since then, the Byrnesians have been welcoming visitors from all over the world.
Ten years passed quickly, and the success of the business venture prompted the couple to reevaluate the future of the farm.
“We have always had a large herd of beef cattle, mainly Aberdeen Angus and a herd of Jacob sheep,” said Niamh, who has a background in computers and business.
“And although both of our children (now grown) are involved in farming, neither of them enjoy farming in the traditional sense. So we want to transfer an agricultural business that is not just cattle and sheep.
“Self-service was doing so well that we decided to diversify further into agritourism and convert part of our farm into a bed and breakfast by building two more bedrooms and another kitchen where we can teach cooking and baking classes. guest.”
Both Niamh and Joseph are good bakers and cooks – Niamh has been taking classes with Ballymaloe Culinary School and Dublin Culinary School for many years. They decided to offer a package of afternoon tea to the visitors, making all their own food.
“The farm is about 180 years old and has beautiful skylights and wood paneling. Niamh says it’s traditional Irish food and our American guests in particular loved it.
In 2016, they decided to ditch cattle and sheep and buy a few other farm animals to supplement their tourism business.
“We sold our cattle at the Blessington mart and also sold sheep,” says Niamh.
“Joseph and his father have always loved horses and had the opportunity to buy a couple of retired jumping horses and some Connemara ponies, so we took it.”
The Byrnes also had four donkeys and some laying hens and turkeys.
“We know from the feedback that visitors love to stay in the farm setting and see the animals. There’s something special and unique about a farm stay,” says Niamh.
Their farmland borders the lakes of Blessington, so in 2017 they placed a footpath across the farm, leading down to the lake.
“It was a peaceful and beautiful hike,” said Niamh, who also added a suite of rooms downstairs to their ranch to cater for a few extra guests.
The walking trail has become so popular that the Byrnes went a step further last year, and created a trail that loops through the farmhouse, with distinctive touches.
“We have an ancient fallen crucifix on the farm that has been registered by Trinity College for protection,” said Niamh.
“It’s a point of interest for visitors so we wanted a nice path so they could walk there. We created the loop path and added mindfulness quotes along the way, written on slates from the roof of our farmhouse.
“Since we sold out of livestock, we have not used fertilizer in our fields so our pasture, which we previously used to silage, grows tall and lush and full. ranunculus flower.
“It’s a stunning sight so last year we cut a trail through so guests could stroll through the wildflower meadow.”
The trail repeats at Abhainn Rí past the ancient orchards of Byrnes, whose fruit was eaten as food for guests.
“We have a huge variety of cooking apples, rhubarb and berries growing there,” says Niamh. “We make rhubarb and gooseberry jams and jams and bake some cakes, pastries and scones for afternoon tea from what we grow in the garden.
“We have beautiful wild raspberries to make beautiful jams and desserts.”
Niamh says the eggs laid by her turkeys are also a great addition to her farm’s kitchen.
“They are unusual and most visitors have never actually seen a turkey egg. They’re huge, four times heavier than a hen’s egg, and they’re perfect for baking,” she says.
“We currently have 25 laying hens as well as turkeys so we have plenty of eggs to meet the needs of running a bed and breakfast and providing catering.”
Byrnes can currently accommodate 30 people (24 in the lodge and six in the farmhouse).
“It is a lovely place to stay for young families,” says Niamh. “The kids can come and feed the hens and visit the donkeys and ponies.
“The walkways show the natural beauty of life on a farm and then the cooking classes show what you can do with simple farm produce.”
‘This business is not for everyone – you must be prepared to share your home with others’
How much does it cost to start a business?
We’ve established our business gradually over a 20-year period so we’ve never had huge start-up costs. We always wait to see if one thing succeeds or not until we move on to another. However, the business we were in was not an easy one – we reinvested until we got where we are now.
How long did it take to get your business up and running?
With self-catering, it took two to three years to know that it was going well, and that was the same when we opened the farm. When we see that one thing has been successful, we move on to the next stage. We always judge what’s successful based on feedback from our guests – we find that to be a great way to move forward.
Did you find any agency helpful to get started?
B&B Ireland is great at giving advice and the Self-Service Federation is a great place for anyone starting out in the field. Fáilte Ireland was also excellent. We’ve found it particularly good looking for four-star approval.
Have you requested planning permission?
Yes, we needed it for motels in 2002 and then for bed and breakfast extensions. It is a troublesome and time consuming process.
What is your biggest challenge?
The pandemic was very worrying for us but fortunately we are back on track now. And when we started building the houses, the recession hit. What we do is hard work and it’s work seven days a week. Even so, when you come from an agricultural background, you are also used to hard work.
Running a self-catering business or bed and breakfast is not for everyone, as you must be prepared to share your home with others.
Is financing available from banks?
Financing will be a challenge for us, and that’s another reason why we’ve grown our business in stages.
We found it difficult to get self service at first. It’s hard to convince the banks that you’re going to make something a success.
You need to have good business knowledge when you go to the bank to apply for finance, and even with my background in business we found it difficult.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/agri-business/how-we-opened-up-our-farm-and-home-to-paying-visitors-41460489.html How we open our farm and house to paying visitors