Camping in style in Ballyglunin
By Siobhan Holliman
APPARENTLY model and fashion muse Kate Moss was one of those to start the craze and teen-idol Justin Bieber can’t wait to do it.
Forget rolling out a sleeping bag and earning your camping scout’s badge, camping isn’t about roughing it anymore.
The glamping (glamorous camping) phenomenon has really taken off in the UK and Europe and while Ireland is catching up, more than one tent has been pitched in North Galway.
The historic grounds of Brooklodge Demesne is part of one the area’s hidden treasures but thanks to its owner Joe Boyle, its lush green fields, stone walled garden ruins and its tranquil setting along the banks of the Abbert River, it is being transformed into a peaceful retreat.
Last month about 500 people attended a music concert within one of the walled gardens there and Joe is looking forward to attracting more visitors through his newly developed glamping site.
Large Mongolian yurts aren’t what you’d expect to find pitched among the old buildings and ruins of the Demesne and the four yurts of varying sizes certainly catch your eye and interest.
Glamping aims to make traditional camping a much more comfortable and luxurious experience. It offers people a chance to sleep out in the great outdoors while still holding on to some creature comforts.
There’s no need for waterproof sleeping bags here, the magnificent and beautifully decorated yurts are haven of relaxation and come with proper beds, wooden floors, soft rugs and comfy seating.
This has been Joe’s first summer to offer glamping in Ballyglunin and so far a number of families have enjoyed staying there, travelling from different parts of Ireland, including Donegal and Dublin.
The yurts can accommodate a couple and two children and the larger ones can hold up to six people. Visitors have access to a kitchen and a cosy living room in the renovated tower house, which have been traditionally decorated and are a welcome change to many contemporary designed holiday homes.
Yurts really are magical structures. They are originally from Mongolia and are bent wood-framed dwellings with a circular wall made from lattice and covered in thick felt. The interiors have rich colours and are definitely far removed from the usual four-man tent people are used to.
Joe could be seen as one of the recession’s victims but he has chosen instead to be one of its hard-working entrepreneurs. He had been working in construction but closed his business because of the downturn.
“I was watching telly one night and saw Michael Palin in a yurt. I’d never seen anything like them before and thought they were fantastic,” he explains. He had looked them up on the internet but it was his wife Kathleen who took the brave step and ordered them, and her actions surprised even Joe.
The glamping site is a huge contrast to Joe’s original plans for the 11-acre site. A few years ago he secured planning permission for a €7 million holiday village but the recession and fall-off in construction has quashed those proposals.
“There’s no way that can happen now but I decided I’d try and do something,” he adds and for the past year he has spent most days on site carrying out extensive refurbishment and restoration works to the old buildings.
“I suppose we were very lucky that we actually never started the holiday village,” says Joe, who has erected four yurts on the grounds and plans to put up another three in the near future.
Those who stay in the yurts have the use of kitchen facilities and a sitting room in part of the old tower house. When the weather allows, there’s a bbq and outdoor seating area for visitors to avail of.
Joe says much of the buildings are protected and he is restricted in the materials he uses and changes he can makes to the property.
“We’re trying to do everything as eco-friendly as possible. It takes a lot longer but it’s worth it.”
The old schoolhouse church has been transformed into a communal area and Joe feels it’s perfect for joining onto a marquee for weddings and other large functions.
The couple even bought a church pew at an auction and luckily for them it fits perfectly against one of the walls of the building.
The site is extremely tranquil and there are plenty of places for guests to explore. While Joe isn’t keen on over-developing the site, a fairy garden for children is one idea that will be developed over the coming months.
After the success of the Irish music concert he is hoping to have more events like that and will use a larger walled garden for the concert next year.
Work has also started on renovating an adjoining barn into a rural bridal suite.
“I’ve plenty of ideas. It’s been about thinking outside the box. The bank certainly didn’t help out and they didn’t want to hear about my ideas at all,” he remarks.
Joe is fortunate to have a construction background and has carried out the majority of the work himself over the past year. He has enjoyed it all, despite the hard work and holds no regrets about the collapse of his former business.
It’s easy to see the energy and enthusiasm Joe has for the Ballyglunin site. “This is definitely only the beginning. My wife has become the interior decorator and is always out looking for things. It’s something I’m putting time and effort into and I want to do it my way,” he adds.
More information is available at www.galwayglamping.ie.