A couple farming in the Burren national park are making the most of their special location by running farm tours. Brónagh and Cathal O’Rourke were in a partnership with Cathal’s father and, when he died, they took over the 500ac as beef farmers.
“We purchase Hereford and Angus heifers at three weeks old. We feed them milk replacer and wean them at eleven weeks old. They spend the summer months grazing and are fed with 1kg of meal,” said Brónagh.
“Farming in this special area of conservation is specialised and we farm under the Burren programme, which is a very important part of the rich biodiversity here. If our cattle didn’t graze the winterage we wouldn’t have the amazing flora and fauna that this area is renowned for,” she said.
After years of people wandering in our boreen to see ‘a real Irish farm’, l decided to undertake a tour guiding course last year with the aim of diversifying as we are in a very popular tourist destination.
“The farm is one of very few privately owned farms in the Burren national park and with the added archaeological points of interest, it was obvious to me people would want a closer look,” she said.
“We got insurance from an English company which has assured us that we will be fully covered for 2020. It was hard getting a company but as all our tours are fully guided, that helped as guests are supervised at all times.
“We have had enormous interest last season and are getting a lot of interest from tour operators for 2020. We offer a unique authentic guided experience in one of the most distinctive landscapes in Europe, being UNESCO designated, by qualified regional tourist guides.”
‘Culturally curious tourist’
Brónagh and Cathal offer experiences ranging from seated tours to gentle strolls, strenuous walks and rustic picnics, interspersed with informative and entertaining commentaries on the geology, flora, archaeology, biodiversity and farming practices of the region.
Walk highlights include vast limestone pavement expanses, Burren speciality wild flowers, outstanding archaeological monuments and views of the Burren mountains and Lough Bunny.
Our main demographic is the culturally curious tourist looking for an authentic experience, engaging with Irish people. They are mainly from Germany and the US. We are seeing increased interest from China which is a more difficult market to break into, but give us time.
“We get a lot of inter-generational family groups that want to explore together and they love the nostalgic feel of what we offer,” Brónagh said.
“We have many plans for the future but are focused on the farm tours for 2020 and, who knows, maybe accommodation could be an option down the line. We are currently renovating the old farmhouse Cathal’s grandmother lived in so we can offer groups a place to have tea and sandwiches,” Brónagh said.
“I think our location in the Burren national park is a massive opportunity and eco tourism is a good option for us but is certainly not for the faint-hearted. There is a lot of hard work networking and getting yourself out there and noticed.”
More information is on: www.burrenfarmexperience.ie.