Belinda Bielenberg and her family are passionate about horses, so it's not surprising there's a big painting of two horses hanging high between the exposed beams in her lovely home.
he house is deep in the Wicklow/Carlow countryside, so it's almost a given that other farm animals have a place on the walls of the house, too - and, sure enough, there's a cute painting of pigs. But Belinda splashed out the most on a tiny painting of some sheep in snow, and that's even more apt, as her cosy home was - almost unbelievably - until recently a barn, housing sheep.
"We got this in a raw state. There was still manure everywhere, and the walls were covered with algae and leaking. The sheep used to run through to their dip tub there, there were pheasants in one part, a bull house in another; it was a real working barn," recalls Belinda.
Belinda now lives in the converted barn with her husband, Lorcan Carpenter, and their adorable children, Anna (four), and twins Jessica and Tom (two).
The conversion was done very quickly. - from November 2018 to April 2019 - and Belinda credits the programme The Great House Revival and its presenter, Hugh Wallace, with some of the efficiency in getting it built. She credits Hugh in particular with the ideas for some of the house's interesting features - for example, the picture window in the sitting area, which provides lovely views of the surrounding countryside.
There's a large 18th-Century farmhouse just metres from the barn, and Belinda's parents live there - the second generation of her family to do so. Belinda's grandparents arrived in the area in 1948, and bought the house and a farm of 600 acres.
Her grandmother was the well-known Anglo-Irish writer Christabel Bielenberg, who in her memoir, The Past is Myself, recounted how her German husband Peter had been imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp for his part in the plot against Hitler's life. With Christabel's help, Peter survived it, and they escaped to Germany and made their way to Ireland and Wicklow, where Belinda's grandfather became a farmer.
"They moved in on St Patrick's Day, 1948. My grandfather had trained as a lawyer, but he bought a book called Teach Yourself Farming and put it into practice, and made himself a successful sheep farmer," Belinda explains. "He rarely talked about Ravensbruck, but when he did, he got very upset. It was a women's camp, and he said the most horrendous thing was listening to the women being tortured. I was very close to both of them, they used to tell us fabulous stories about farm life when they started."
Belinda's parents ran Luttrellstown Castle, so as a child she lived there, and then she went to St Columba's to board. In her teenage years, her parents moved to Wicklow to be near her grandparents, and eventually they moved into the farmhouse.
Belinda who is one of five, studied auctioneering, and after six years living in Naas and working in auction houses there, she moved to Dublin to a job in CPL, a recruitment company - it was where she met Lorcan.
"Actually, Lorcan interviewed me for the job. Then we worked together for about a year, and we used to meet for lunch. We'd walk across Merrion Park and I'd think, 'He's going to hold my hand today, definitely today'. I always had this romantic illusion that he was going to slip his hand through mine, and it never happened. Then, when he was leaving, I thought, 'That's it, it's never going to happen'," the warm brunette volunteers with a laugh.
But something did happen. At his going-away party, which was on St Patrick's Day in 2011, Lorcan took Belinda's hand and asked her to dance, and they've been together ever since.
Lorcan went to work in Google, and later became a recruiter in Salesforce in Sandyford, while Belinda continued in CPL. Then, around the time they got married - in 2013 - Lorcan suggested that they capitalise on the Munny Trail on Belinda's parents' land.
"It's the only horse trail of its kind in Ireland. There are two parts to it; one is 14 kilometres, the other part is four kilometres, and it's very scenic, with jumps en route," Belinda explains.
With the agreement of Belinda's parents, the couple decided they would start a business whereby people would bring their horses to Munny on holiday. They started The Old Forge Glamping, and currently have four yurts, a log cabin and a cottage, as well as stables for the horses - up to 30 at a time.
"They're let out all summer and families come with their kids and horses, and we have things like a zipwire. The kids can run around until 10pm and then fall into bed," Belinda enthuses. She adds: "We can sleep up to 30, so off-season it's ideal for a birthday celebration or a big family get-together."
To get the business up and running, Belinda and Lorcan commuted at weekends, but it took off and so they moved full-time to Munny where they lived first with Belinda's parents. Then, when Anna arrived, they moved into a small converted barn.
The couple really settled into country life. It's perfect for Belinda, given her love of horses, while Lorcan, who's from Castleknock originally, started the Pure Mile initiative which involves cleaning up the area, and he has got awards for his work. The family also love to ride horses, and Anna has her own pony, called Cilla Black.
However, with the arrival of the twins, new living quarters were essential. "My parents love living in the old house, it's a lovely, lovely house, though they have to wear lots of jumpers," jokes Belinda. "But they transferred over the yard and the barns to us - the idea is if they ever want to downsize, we can all just do a swop."
The barns date from 1820, and are made of thick granite. The couple decided they wanted to keep as many of the old features as possible, but incorporate modern comforts like underfloor heating and an air-to-water system.
They also wanted several bedrooms and bathrooms, and a big kitchen/dining/living area. And they wanted to be as sustainable as possible. "As well as that, we wanted it to be sympathetic with the old barn, exposed granite, exposed beams, colours compatible with the countryside," Belinda says, adding they had a lot of help with the design - Lorcan's aunt and uncle, Barbara and Seamus Carr, who are architects in Limerick, were very helpful. Their initial drawings set the project in motion, and they selected a local architect, Paul Potignano, to work on the project.
"Paul lives three minutes away. We tried to keep everything local, all the tradespeople, and that worked out very well," says Belinda.
And then there was The Great House Revival. "Because we had the twins, we were in a great hurry. We saw The Great House Revival show and liked it, so we sent an email, and they came out and fell in love with the place.
"They were so helpful. Hugh Wallace is a conservation architect and he said, 'You ring me if you need any help'," Belinda says. "Every time they came to film, he would walk through the house for the film-shooting part and then he would say, 'Now, talk me through everything. Where are your difficulties? What do you need extra help with?'
"He re-jigged some of our plans to give us an extra bedroom, and he gave us this picture window, which we hadn't thought of. He was really incredible. He's very passionate about old buildings," she says.
She adds that the locals took to him, too. "He was in the local garden centre and mentioned that he was filming up at the Bielenberg farm and that he was freezing, and one of customers took off his socks and gave them to him," she says with a laugh.
Lorcan, whom Belinda calls "the backbone of everything" still has the day job and commutes twice a week to Dublin, so it fell to Belinda to keep an eye on the build, and she was on site every day.
"If someone was supposed to be here but wasn't, I was on the phone immediately. I had to be pretty strict because of the time frame - we had to be finished by the time the glamping season started in the summer," she says.
Halfway through the project, the couple changed builder, and with the help of a friend, another builder, Belinda found local people to finish the job. On time.
However, as with every project, there were setbacks, both personal and professional. "We really didn't know what we were walking into," Belinda says. "My father broke his hip, the children had chicken pox, and then after we had spent €30,000 on the roof, it leaked." Thankfully, they weathered these, and once completed, they've settled in beautifully. The house is furnished with a mix of Ikea, charity-shop finds, and lovely antiques which Lorcan's mother found in the North.
Belinda says it's hectic, but she happy. "I love living in the country. I always did. I just went to Dublin for two years, nabbed a husband, and brought him to the country with me. And he loves it here, too," she says.
Horses, sheep, kids and comfort - what's not to love?
The new series of 'The Great House Revival' continues on RTE One tonight at 9.30pm. See theoldforgeglamping.ie