Burren farming couple cook up a storm

A farming couple based near the Burren in Clare scooped two Georgina Campbell awards this year.

Stephen and Eva Hegarty’s Burren Free Range Pork Farm in Kilfenora took the natural food award as well as the ‘welcome standard’ in the Irish Breakfast Awards.

Stephen Hegarty took over the running of the 30ac farm, that is fragmented into three lots, from his parents approximately 20 years ago. They had kept sheep and milked cows, but later converted to beef farming.

“We still have a small herd of continental beef cattle and over the last 10 years also free range Saddleback pigs. Since we are in the Burren and farm in a traditional way, we keep our cattle outdoors all year around and follow the ancient farming tradition of ‘Winterage’, when the cattle are brought up to the highlands of the Burren for the winter months,” said Eva Hegarty.

I have no farming background myself, coming from a small town in the western part of Finland, so it was a steep learning here for me, but I have grown to love it, and I suppose it was my idea to start breeding pigs.

‘Glamping’ was next on the agenda. “I used to sell the meat at farmers’ markets but with the economic downturn a few years ago, I felt we had to come up with another idea of generating an income. Since we are in an area with big numbers of tourists  – located only 20 minutes from The Cliffs of Moher – we wanted to try and explore agri-tourism, since Stephen has already worked part time as a tour guide of the area for many years,” she said.

“My passion is in food, and since 2011 we are part of the Burren ecotourism network and the award-winning Burren Food Trail.

“We bought a vintage horse truck that we have converted into a bespoke ‘glamping’ unit, under the ‘Burren Glamping’ banner. ‘Glamping’ is short for ‘glamorous camping’ – which means that you go camping without all the hardships that could include getting cold and wet.”

The truck – described by Georgina Campbell as “Ireland’s cutest accommodation” is fully insulated and fitted with a wood-burning stove, shower and toilet.

“For breakfast, our guests are welcome into our own farmhouse where I cook an Irish breakfast, using our own produce from the farm, as well as fresh scones. We have a poly tunnel and a garden where we grow vegetables and fruits that are also used for the breakfast table. A flock of hens provide our fresh eggs.”

The Hegartys have just finished their second season and it has proved to be a successful venture. “We have a lot of foreign guests, mainly Americans and mainland Europeans, but Irish numbers are on the increase.

We believe in sustainable farming and don’t use chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Climate change is our biggest challenge as the land is getting wetter and wetter every year, and putting pressure on the number of animals that we can feed on the farm.

“The two main income earners in this area are agriculture and tourism, both of which are adversely affected by the weather,” Eva said.

“We are constantly looking at new ideas of diversifying and further improving the farm, in an environmentally-friendly way.”