Mayo farm schools Chinese students in the ways of the West

Group of children taught to play bodhrán, cut turf and dance jigs at Glen Keen Farm

 Musician Brendan Keegan gives bodhrán lessons to Chinese student Cherry Zhou.

Musician Brendan Keegan gives bodhrán lessons to Chinese student Cherry Zhou.


A Mayo sheep farm hosted a group of Chinese students over the summer as part of a drive to promote Ireland as a tourist destination, teaching them English and the ways of the West.

In addition to language classes the eight 12 and 13-year-olds cycled the Wild Atlantic Way, were shown how to play the bodhrán and dance jigs and taught how to play Gaelic football and cut turf.

Their adventure far from home came about, at least in part, as a result of the determination of a Mayo woman to seize a portion of the growing Chinese tourism market in Ireland.

Catherine O’Grady Powers runs the 1,400 acre Glen Keen Farm, 10km from Louisburgh on the Leenane road. It is close to Killary Harbour and is part of Fáilte Ireland’s China Ready programme .

As a result of relationships she has made with tour operators there, a group of children from the Shandong province were brought on a visit to the farm this summer.

The group spent their nights at the Delphi Adventure Centre and their days on the farm and at nearby tourist attractions.

The students learned how to live like shepherds and were taught the instruction commands for the farm border collies to herd mountain sheep. They were also taken through the steps of sean nós dancing with musician and dancer, Brendan Keegan and learned to play the bodhrán.

The group was led by Chinese entrepreneur Sun Chao who was first invited by IDA to come to Ireland to set up the European headquarter for his family Agricultural business in 2017 and visited the farm in 2018 with a Chinese delegation.

Ms O’Grady Powers has previously travelled to China to promote the Irish Farm Experience and has worked closely with Tourism Ireland to bring more tourists from China to the west coast.

“It is really a trial run and I have to say it has been fantastic,” she said.

“Normally groups from this region would go to the UK but because of contacts we have made with Chinese business people they decided to come to Mayo instead.”

She said the children had “absolutely loved” the experience. “It is nothing like home. They have been amazed by the wildness of the scenery and they have loved the fresh air and even the rain.”

She expressed the hope that the summer camp would be the “start of something big which will see more students coming from China to this part of the world in the years ahead”.