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Farmer who's outstanding in the hospitality field


Sinead Muldoon. Photo Martina Regan

Sinead Muldoon. Photo Martina Regan

Sinead Muldoon. Photo Martina Regan

Sinead Muldoon runs a student exchange programme from her farm in Co Galway:

"I had been hosting foreign students on our farm for years. We always made an effort to ensure that the kids really saw Ireland, taking them surfing, hiking and sight-seeing.

But I quickly realised that their friends staying with other families weren't getting anything similar, leaving Ireland with a negative impression.

Then the recession hit and I lost my job teaching pre- and after-school Irish lessons for local schoolchildren here in Tuam. I decided to concentrate on turning what we did with foreign students into a business.

Now we help students from all over the world to come to Ireland for a top-quality educational visit. We will work with about 80 students in 2015. During the school year we place them with local families and schools and make sure they are fully immersed into Irish culture by taking them on activities and adventures; they climb some of the country's highest mountains, sit in on trad sessions, take a trip to the mart. We head up the Irish arm of Aventuro, which is a non-profit organisation that specialises in exchanges between Ireland, France, Spain and Germany.

I have also opened our own language school on the farm for the summer period, now in its third year. It is open for six weeks and can facilitate 30 students. I and two other locals do the teaching. We have Cambridge University language teaching qualifications, which are recommended by the Irish Education Board.

What makes us different is our a quality of service. When our daughter went to France for nine months in transition year we arranged everything because we couldn't find an agency we trusted. We also treat visiting children like our own and know where they are at all times. You often see groups of foreign students hanging around town unsupervised in the summer with poor English.

We don't allow that, we only place two or three kids per school in rural communities. The school benefits from capital grants from the state.

Time has been the biggest challenge; we have two young boys. My husband Martin was diagnosed with cancer last January and that was a serious blow. After three sessions of chemotherapy five times a week he got the all-clear in August. He is now retraining in IT because online marketing has been another obstacle. Our website is our shop window.

When Leader accepts applications we will apply for funding. We want to build up a farming element, where visiting students can experience farm life, collect eggs and pick fresh food for their lunch. Lots of kids from big cities have never been on a farm."

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