Down on the farmhouse
GO IRELAND: Farm-stay options are something Ireland does well, with host families piling on activities to keep adults and kids entertained, while local artisanal producers can be relied on to supply delicious treats, writes SANDRA O'CONNELL
FOR AN AGRICULTURAL nation, it’s surprising how little opportunity many of us have to get down on the farm. So many homesteads passed out of families in the generational rush to get a proper job and a home in the ’burbs. It’s why a farm-stay holiday can be one of the most entertaining options around, especially if you’ve got kids struggling with concepts such as milk coming from cows and chips not starting life in the freezer.
Farmhouse stays are something we excel at here. What’s more, many have value-added extras which you won’t find in any hotel.
For example, at Kevin and Bernadette O’Donnell’s Kilmaneen Farmhouse in Tipperary ( kilmaneen.com), you’ll find workshops on everything from stone carving to tapas making. It’s just one of the myriad ways they keep visitors to their lush beef farm entertained.
The couple, the vast majority of whose guests are from abroad, is gearing up for a busy summer season.
“The iPhone has changed everything for us,” says Kevin. “People are able to check us out on the web and then call to book while they are on the move. The trick for us is to hold them in what isn’t a traditionally touristy area.” Although it’s very beautiful, visitors very often only see it on their way somewhere else, he admits.
It’s why at Kilmaneen you can do everything from cookery and beekeeping, to a masterclass in growing your own veg.
In between, visitors – whether Irish or foreign – typically stretch their legs on one of the three mountain ranges surrounding it; Galtee, Comeragh and Knockmealdown. BB starts at €40 a night, based on two sharing.
“People come to me for the scenery,” says Violet Connell of Fortview House ( fortviewhouse.ie), a farm-stay option on the remote Mizen Peninsula in west Cork. In recent years, 90 per cent of those people have been Irish – many of them repeat bookings. The appeal here is a working dairy farm with both self-catering and BB accommodation, a mapped walk around the farm offering gorgeous sea views and, for kids, the thrill of milking cows.
Self-catering guests get a welcome pack of fresh baking and a bottle of wine. BB guests get stunning breakfasts, with fresh fruit or vegetable juices and organic goodies from sausages to cheeses supplied by local artisanal producers.
Located near Goleen, not far from Schull, it’s a great base for a touring holiday, or for walking Sheep’s Head and the Ring of Beara. BB costs €50 a night while a week’s self-catering is €750 in July and August.
Farm stays are particularly good for kids and at Mary Lydon’s Kiltale Farm ( meathselfcatering.com), kids are a priority. The Meath farm has converted one of its barns into a play-shed and runs summer camps for kids during the holidays. “It gives parents a nice opportunity to tour the local heritage sites, such as the castle at Trim or Newgrange,” says Mary.
Every morning, her husband Michael leads a flock of children around the farm so that they can help with tasks that range from hand milking cows to brushing donkeys and feeding hens.
Kiltale is particularly popular with Dubs and not despite the fact that it is only 45 minutes from the capital, but because of it, she says.
“Parents from Dublin like the fact that they can come for a farm holiday, which is a completely different experience for them, and yet not have to worry about a long drive home,” says Mary. A family of four can stay a week here from €395 a week in July and August.
Finally, you can expect to see a lot more of Bernadine and Jimmy Mulhall’s Coolanowle ( coolanowle.com) farmhouse in Laois this year, where BB costs from €50 per person sharing.
Not alone has it been voted Georgina O’Sullivan’s farmhouse of the year for 2012, but Bernadine has just signed up to feature on John and Francis Brennan’s At Your Service TV programme.
From the sound of things, the venerable Kerry hoteliers might learn a thing or two from Bernadine, who has won accolades for her organic farm-to-table food.
“We have our own milk, our own pork, bacon, beef and lamb, our own veg and our own herbs,” explains Bernadine. “In this day and age, when people have so little idea of the provenance of their food, it’s a huge draw.”
And if you fancy helping out on the farm, feel free – Bernadine has a treatment room where you can book a massage or a facial, to help ease you back into suburban life when it’s time to go home.