Laois farm sees stars as glamping facility set to reopen

A Laois farm located near the site of the Electric Picnic festival will reopen its glamping facility on June 29. Barry and Kyra Fingleton’s farm consists of 110ac, with 70ac in tillage which is leased and 8ac in forest and the rest in permanent pasture for horses and hay making. There is a focus on managing for biodiversity.

Barry also runs a building business – WarmBuild Ltd – which offers energy efficient building solutions, mainly using insulated concrete formwork (ICF) while Kyra’s background is in marketing. They opened the glampsite ‘Glamping under the Stars’ in Cullenagh, Portlaoise, in May 2016.

“We were looking for a way for me to work from home in order to be here for our three young children and thought we could use some of the land for a tourism venture to facilitate this,” Kyra said.

“Glamping appealed to us and we could see a market for it. Some of the inspiration came from visiting the Electric Picnic festival and seeing the combination of camping and creativity there,” she said.

The glampsite is located close to our own house which we built on the farm. It takes up about 2ac of land. We have six accommodation facilities on the site, with two wood lodges, three bell tents and a shepherd’s hut.

“The lodges and shepherd’s hut were all handcrafted by Barry. They are beautifully quirky, and a lot of reclaimed materials were used. For example, the shepherd’s hut has a vintage wood burning stove inside as well as a stained glass window.

“We offer a fun and luxurious glamping experience that is popular with families and hen party groups, but we take care not to book these very different types of guests in at the same time,” Kyra said. “We can accommodate six families or up to 25 adults in a party group.

“There is also a quirky camper’s kitchen – our ‘glamp house’ – a barbeque deck, campfire area and proper bathrooms on the site,” she said.

‘Meet in the middle’

“Our guests are predominantly domestic tourists looking for a short break within Ireland, usually a couple of nights or a weekend. Due to our very central location in Co. Laois, we have guests from all over Ireland.

“Groups travelling from different places love to ‘meet in the middle’ here, and, as we are just an hour from Dublin, we get a lot of families visiting us from the city,” Kyra said.

“We didn’t get any grant aid to set up the glampsite. We decided to make the investment ourselves and were very lucky that Barry had a lot of the skills necessary to put the infrastructure and facilities in place. We did our best to keep costs down at the beginning, but setting up a glampsite like ours certainly can be expensive.

A huge amount of hard work, late nights and weekends went into the project, with Barry building the glamp house, lodges and shepherd’s hut in his spare time as the site developed. And of course, there were additional costs associated with planning and development charges. It’s not something that you’d go into lightly.

Her marketing prowess came in handy. “It was very handy to have in-house skills to promote the business as it can be expensive if you have to outsource all of that. Aside from running the business and looking after guests, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes in terms of creating a website, managing bookings and reviews, updating social media pages, and so on.”

‘A lot of changes’

The Fingletons usually operate the glampsite between April and October. “The Covid-19 pandemic meant that we had to close our business before it opened this year which was pretty stressful as we had taken a lot of bookings for the season already. So there were a lot of phone calls and emails, postponing and refunding guests and of course no income for the business,” said Kyra.

“Now we have the news that we will be allowed to reopen on June 29 which is great but we are having to make a lot of changes to our site in order to accommodate the new government guidelines.

We have added new bathrooms to ensure all our guests have private facilities, and are also providing separate barbeques, picnic benches, cooking kits and chimneas – little outdoor stoves for toasting marshmallows – to ensure social distancing is facilitated on-site.

“We have also had to recruit extra cleaning staff and get to grips with the complexities of the new guidelines in a short space of time,” she said.

“We are now confident that we can reopen to offer our guests a fun and relaxing stay, while adhering to all the new rules,” Kyra said.

“Again this has required further investment at a time the business can ill afford it, and I know that a lot of glampsites and campsites around the country have taken the decision to close for the rest of the year, as the requirements were just too onerous.

“But having built up a loyal following of repeat customers, we were keen to reopen and welcome guests back this summer. Goodness knows, people need a holiday after the long days of lockdown.”