Visitors to Richard and Veronica Mannion’s solar-powered, geo-thermal holiday property in Mayo get to take scenic walks through the farm, feed lambs and watch shearing done by hand
Veronica and Richard Mannion are welcoming visitors from all ends of the earth after opening an Airbnb on their farm.
The Mannions’ house, rental property and farm at Devlin North, Killadoon, are all powered by solar panels.
“We both come from a long line of sheep farmers. We took the scenic route to actually becoming farmers ourselves, however,” says Veronica.
Veronica was a fitness instructor and swimming instructor, while Richard worked in biochemistry.
“Before buying the farm and building our house and farm buildings, we had been living in the town,” says Veronica.
“Growing up, sheep farming had been a way of life for both of us, and Richard had already been keeping a few sheep on the side while he was still working full-time.”
When Richard bought the land, he moved his flock onto his new farm and increased stocking numbers, fencing the land for sheep.
“He already had Mayo black-faced ewes and they do well here on this type of ground, so we continued with them,” says Veronica. “Much of the farm is hill land which is ideally suited to this type of ewe.
“It’s well known that they thrive when on high ground and are less likely to get fluke than if they were on lower, wet ground. So we drive them up the mountain and they stay there.”
The couple built a shed on the farm to house their sheep during the winter, as well as a cottage.
“Richard’s mother was in a wheelchair at the time and we built the cottage with her in mind. We made it totally wheelchair-accessible. Unfortunately, though, she passed away before she had a chance to use it,” says Veronica.
The Mannions keep their farm and home as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible. As well as installing the solar panels, their farmhouse is also geo-thermal.
“We have a Euro Solar boiler which uses the heat from the daylight to heat the water which comes directly from the well on our farm.
“We like to preserve tradition with our farming system while also applying modern techniques to make our farm and home as environmentally friendly as possible,” says Veronica.
“The sheep shed and any electrical equipment needed on the farm are also solar powered.”
Richard has always shorn the sheep by hand using a traditional hand shears, but struggles to find a profitable avenue for the wool.
“The Mayo Black-faced ewes have a hard, coarse fleece which sometimes isn’t ideal for spinning for clothes,” says Veronica.
“Every year we were left with a fair amount of wool and nowhere to even dispose of it because you can’t even burn it. We had been selling it here and there to different merchants and one year, we only made €4.50 for the whole lot.
“Eventually, we found a new merchant who exports it for use in carpets. Most of our wool goes to Russia and the Middle East. It was a market we didn’t even know about.”
The cottage had been lying idle for some time, and they wondered what they could do with it.
“After thinking about it for a while we realised that it could be a great Airbnb rental property. It was fully wheelchair-accessible and our sheep surrounded it, making for a unique, country experience,” says Veronica.
“So, we created a website and advertised it for rent there and on Airbnb. Very quickly, we had inquiries coming in and before we knew it, we had our first guests.” Veronica wanted to add a personal touch to her venture, in the form of a ‘welcome box’. To make this as farm-orientated as possible, she got some laying hens.
“We always kept hens when I was growing up so I knew a bit about them. So we got a few Rhode Island Reds. They produce the best eggs and are great layers,” she says.
“I started adding the eggs, along home baked goods, to a welcome box for our guests and it went down a treat.”
Veronica has since increased her hen numbers, but she has had to take some extreme steps to protect them from predators.
“Mink proved to be a massive problem for us. There seems to be an abundance of them around here,” she says. “One day my daughter went out and found all of our hens flat, dead and lined in a row. It was horrifying.
“Mink are persistent and will dig underground to reach their pray so keeping them out is difficult.”
Richard built an insulated, concreted-based shed with slats.
“It’s like garage with low gates and slats. It keeps the predators out and keeps the hens safe, so it’s been working well,” she says.
The Mannions found that their visitors were extremely interested in the farm, prompting a new idea.
“Life is always busy on a farm. Every season brings something new and we knew that if we opened our farm for our visitors to explore, it would work well,” says Veronica.
“We take on around 15 pet lambs every spring. We feed them little and often in their natural pattern, every two hours or so, not just twice a day. We let our visitors help with feeding them, which always goes down well.
“Then, in the summer, when Richard is shearing, the visitors can come and watch. This is particularly popular with those from outside of Ireland.”
Veronica and Richard’s farm is steeped in tradition, with ancient stone walls outlining the fields, large Famine beds still visible and fairy forts dotted around the land.
Visitors can take a scenic walk through the farm and experience the best of Irish heritage and traditional farming.
How much time was needed to get the business off the ground?
To get to where we are now, it’s taken over two years. We did things gradually, when we were sure we had a market for each aspect.
Was financing readily available from the banks?
Financing wasn’t really required for what we did, but there are various types of start-up loans available for farm businesses.
Was there any grant aid available?
We got a Trading Online Voucher from our Local Enterprise Office to set up our website. It was a great help.
Did you find any support bodies or agencies particularly helpful?
Mayo LEO has been excellent for advice and assistance.
Do you need any licence or need to register with any bodies?
We are registered with Mayo County Council for tourism.
Was insurance required?
Yes, we have farm insurance and public liability insurance.
Was planning permission required?
Yes, for the house and all builds on the farm.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently?
Yes, I’d have created a website, blog and social media platforms sooner.
They have given us a deep appreciation of where we live, our home, the landscape and our community as a place people want to stay and explore.
We’re grateful for the journey because we’ve met and connected with people from Korea, India, Israel and America, all on our sheep farm.