Abhainn Rí Team
March 23, 2022
How we opened up our farm and home to paying visitors – Irish Independent 24/02/22
We are so delighted to feature in this weeks #irishindependent newspaper in the Agri Business Farm Diversifiction section. The feature is about how we diversified from farming into tourism and opened up the farm lands and family farmhouse to welcome visitors from around the world. A very special thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way over the past 20 years. Grateful appreciation to our guests, family, friends, tourism organisations and especially to the superb staff both present & past that have made it all possible to achieve. #bandbireland #abhainnri #agritourism #selfcateringaccommodation #letsgoselfcatering #failteireland #Visitireland #visitwicklow
The Byrnes can host 30 guests in the B&B and self-catering lodges on their beautiful Wicklow holding, where they also offer cookery and baking classes and farm walks. The agri-tourism has been so successful, they sold their cattle and sheep
Scenic: Joseph and Niamh Byrne with their eggs at Abhainn Rí Farmhouse B&B overlooking the Wicklow mountains and Blessington Lakes. Photos: Dave Barrett
March 18 2022 08:51 AM
Niamh and Joseph Byrne first branched into the agri-tourism sector 20 years ago when they built four self-catering lodges on their farm in Ballintober, Hollywood, Co Wicklow.
Since then, they’ve opened up their farmhouse as a B&B and diversified further, adding a purpose-built kitchen where they hold cookery classes, and creating a looped trail through their farm.
“Joseph grew up on the farm, which has always been mixed enterprise, and our kids are the sixth generation on this plot of land,” says Niamh.
“It’s a beautiful area that has always attracted visitors and we knew there was an opening for some type of self-catering accommodation here.”
In 2002, the couple built their four lodges where their vegetable patch used to be.
“We had a lovely plot of land there so we applied for planning and built the lodges right beside the farmhouse,” says Niamh.
The following year, Abhainn Rí self-catering was open for business, and since then, the Byrnes have been welcoming visitors from all ends of the earth.
Bánóg the goat and her two-month-old kids
Fast-forward ten years, and the success of their business venture prompted the couple to re-evaluate the future of the farm.
“We’d always kept a large herd of beef cattle, mostly Aberdeen Angus and a flock of Jacob sheep,” says Niamh, who has a background in computing and business.
“And although both of our children (who are grown up now) have a connection to agriculture, neither of them are interested in farming in the traditional sense. So we wanted to pass on a farming enterprise that wasn’t just cattle and sheep.
“The self-catering had been doing so well that we decided to diversify further into the agri-tourism side of things and convert part of our farmhouse into a B&B by building two extra bedrooms and another kitchen where we could teach cookery and baking classes to visitors.”
Both Niamh and Joseph are keen bakers and cooks — Niamh has taken classes with Ballymaloe Cookery School and Dublin Cookery School over the years. They decided to offer an afternoon tea package to their visitors, making all their own food.
“The farmhouse is around 180 years old and it has the gorgeous sash windows and wooden panelling. It’s traditionally Irish and our American guests in particular just love it,” says Niamh.
Niamh with the morning baking
In 2016, they decided to get out of cattle and sheep and buy a few other farm animals to complement their tourism business.
“We sold our cattle at Blessington mart and sold the sheep too,” says Niamh.
“Joseph and his father always loved horses and the opportunity came up to buy a couple of retired jumping ponies and some Connemara ponies, so we took it.”
The Byrnes also got four donkeys and some more laying hens and turkeys.
“We knew from feedback that visitors loved coming to stay in the farm setting and seeing the animals. There’s something special and unique about the whole farm holiday,” says Niamh.
Their farmland borders the Blessington lakes, so in 2017 they put in a walkway through the farm, leading down to the lake.
“It’s a beautiful, peaceful walk,” says Niamh, who also added a downstairs suite to their farmhouse to cater for a couple of extra guests.
The walkway was so popular that the Byrnes went a step further last year, and created a looped trail through the farm, with special touches.
“We have a fallen, ancient high cross on the farm that has been documented as protected by Trinity College,” says Niamh.
“It’s a great point of interest for visitors so we wanted a nice path where they could walk to it. We created the looped trail and added little mindfulness sayings along the way, written on slates from our farmhouse roof.
Pogue and Paisty the donkeys wait for morning snacks
Pogue and Paisty the donkeys wait for morning snacks
“Since we sold out the cattle, we haven’t been using fertiliser on our fields so our meadow, that we would previously have used for silage, grew tall and lush and filled with buttercups.
“It’s such a gorgeous sight so last year we mowed a trail through it so that guests could take a walk through the wildflower meadow.”
The looped trail at Abhainn Rí passes through the Byrnes’ ancient orchard, whose fruit is used to make food for guests.
“We have an abundance of cooking apples, rhubarb and berries growing there,” says Niamh. “We make rhubarb and gooseberry compotes and jams and bake some of the cakes, treats and scones for the afternoon tea from what we grow in the orchard.
“We have beautiful wild blackberries that make gorgeous jams and desserts.”
Vintage: The farm Massey Ferguson
Niamh says the eggs laid by her turkeys are also a great addition to her farmhouse kitchen.
“They’re unusual and most visitors have never actually seen a turkey egg. They’re huge, about four times the weight of a hen egg and they’re great for baking with,” she says.
“We now have 25 laying hens as well as the turkeys so we have plenty of eggs to meet the demand of running the B&B and doing the catering.”
The Byrnes can host 30 people now (24 in the lodges and six in the farmhouse).
“It’s a lovely staycation for young families,” says Niamh. “The children can come and feed the hens and visit the donkeys and ponies.
“The walkways show the natural beauty of living on a farm and then the cookery classes demonstrate what you can make with the simple produce that comes from the farm.”
Niamh and Joseph outside their B&B
‘This business isn’t for everyone — you have to be prepared to share your home with other people’
What level of start-up costs did you incur?
We’ve established the business gradually over a period of 20 years so we never had a big initial start-up cost. We’ve always waited to see if one thing is successful until we move on to another. The business we’re in isn’t an easy one, though — we’ve reinvested until we got towhere we are now.
How long did it take to get your business off the ground?
With the self-catering it took two to three years to know that it was going well, and it was the same when we launched the farmhouse. When we’d see that one thing was successful, we’d move on to the next phase. We’ve always judged what is successful based on feedback from our guests — we find that a great way of moving forward.
Did you find any agencies helpful when starting out?
B&B Ireland was brilliant for advice and the Self-catering Federation is great for anyone starting out in this sector. Fáilte Ireland is excellent too. We’ve found it particularly good when looking for four-star approval.
Did you require planning permission?
Yes, we needed it for the self-catering lodges in 2002 and then for the extensions to the B&B. It’s a troublesome process and takes a lot of time.
What has been your biggest challenge?
The pandemic was very worrying for us but thankfully we are back on track again now. And when we started the cottages, the recession hit. What we do is hard work and it’s a seven-days-a-week job. When you come from a farming background, you’re well used to hard work though.
Running a self-catering business or B&B isn’t for everyone, because you have to be prepared to share your home with other people.
Was financing readily available from the banks?
Getting finance would have been a challenge for us, and that’s another reason why we developed the business in stages.
We found it difficult to get initially for the self-catering. It’s hard to convince the banks that you’re going to make a success of something.
You need a good business knowledge when you’re going to the banks for finance, and even with my background in business, we found it difficult.