A Galway family who ‘upped sticks’ to France to carve out a new life on the land in a move which proved such a success, they are now diversifying into the farm holiday business.
Locals in Eyrecourt had mixed views when Declan Gardiner and his wife Emily decided thirteen years ago that they were taking their young family to France where they intended purchasing a 300 acre farm which came with a 300 Charolais herd.
Declan and Emily sold their house and nine acres in Eyrecourt – to effectively cut their ties and make them focus on their new life – and move to the Nouhant region which is around 230 miles directly south of Paris.
Since 2006 they have developed the farm, purchased a new holding, increased his Charolais and Limousin herd and they are now farming 1,250 acres of land.
The couple moved with their three children Luke, William and Laura who were twelve, eleven and seven at the time.
They attended local French schools and while it proved extremely difficult for them initially, they are now fluent speakers in the language 13 years on.
Now in his mid-twenties, Luke worked in Amsterdam but is now back in Ballinasloe in the concrete manufacturing business; William (24) is in Clarmont in France where he is involved in the manufacture of cosmetics (Celine Dion is a customer) while 20 year old Laura is spending a year in Australia.
“She is the real farmer in the family,” admits Declan.
Prior to them leaving, Declan, who was 41 at the time, has been rearing pure bred Limousin bulls for the previous 15 years as well as being employed as a fitter in Galmoy Mines in Kilkenny and just before his move, he had around 150 of a herd.
Emily, originally from Birr, County Offaly, worked in Chanelle Pharmaceuticals in Loughrea.
Declan admits that the first two years were difficult and a few doubts crept in during that period. Language was a main barrier and trying to get things done in the development of the farm also had its obstacles.
Having spoken to other people from both Ireland and England who had sold up and moved lock, stock and barrel to France, he was tempted by the idea and went in search of a farm of land.
He was quite surprised to discover that good agricultural land can be purchased from around €1,000 to €1,400 an acre – in parts of County Galway in 2006 reasonable quality land has achieved in excess around €20,000 an acre at the time.
In Ireland they owned a house and nine acres of land and were renting a 100 acre farm, where they had built up a pedigree Limousin herd.
But since moving to their new farm in central France they have increased their cattle herd and cereal production and since 2009 were milking 200 goats but have recently and reluctantly ceased this enterprise mainly due to the lack of availability of farm hands, particularly at weekends.
“It was turning over €40,000 clear profit alone,” Declan said.
In more recent times, the Gardiners have developed a unique farm holiday business which involves guests occupying the four houses on their farm to get away from it all and have a hands on experience on the farm at the same time.
It has proved hugely popular with Irish tourists who want to experience the French farming way of life and have no problem with getting ‘down and dirty’ to achieve this.
But the Gardiners have also had guests from Germany, England, Holland, Switzerland and as far away as Dubai and Thailand.
Depending on the work that the guests contribute on the farm, it is reflected on the cost of their stay at the end of the holiday.
“We had a retired couple who stayed three months on holiday and worked on the farm as well,” Declan added.
And indeed it is Declan’s intention to try something similar himself. His plan, over the next couple of years, is to travel to Pennsylvania in the States to work on farms operated by the Amish community.
He has only been home to Ireland four times since he left while Emily travels at least twice a year – but they are as determined as ever to live out their lives in France.
Anger within GAA community over rejection of €5m plan
There is widespread anger within the GAA communities of Oranmore and Maree this week after planning permission received for the €5 million Renville Sports Project – which includes four playing pitches and a public playground, among other facilities on their 34-acre site – was rescinded by An Bord Pleanála.
The Planning Appeals Board reversed Galway County Council’s decision to greenlight the project ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed’ in relation to the junction on the Maree Road leading to the proposed development at Rinville West.
An Bord Pleanála maintains that if the proposed development was to go ahead, this junction ‘would endanger public safety by reason of traffic hazard, due to the additional traffic turning movement which the proposed development would generate’.
It’s understood An Bord Pleanála had sought clarification in relation to this from Galway County Council and that ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed as part of the proposed development to address these deficiencies within the existing junction’, it was refusing permission.
Given the scope of the proposed multi-million euro centre of excellence, those associated with the Renville Sports and Community Grounds project are furious that Galway County Council did not address this issue in the initial planning stage – particularly as they originally gave the project the go-ahead.
“The land where they could widen that (junction) entrance to take the right turn, they actually own all that land down the right hand side,” fumed Oranmore/Maree Club Chairman Gerry Rabbitt this week.
“You could put a roundabout in there! They have dropped the ball on this one and they have made a mess of it. We have spent nearly €90,000 on planning and this is just unbelievable.”
The proposed development was to provide three sand-based grass playing pitches along with an all-weather synthetic playing pitch, three warm-up and training areas, floodlighting and a covered terrace for one of the playing pitches, a hurling wall, a looped amenity walkway, 248 carpark and eight coach spaces and a public playground.
Galway County Council granted planning permission last July to Renville Sports Project Committee on behalf of Oranmore Maree GAA Club, subject to 15 conditions.
However, local residents appealed the proposed development under a number of headings.
One of those concerns raised focused on the existing road infrastructure, which residents maintained was unsuitable to take the traffic a development of this magnitude would generate.
It was on this point – restricted sightlines and an inappropriate speed limit at that location – that An Bord Pleanála upheld the residents’ objection.
The decision is a big blow to the Renville project, which operates under the slogan ‘Supporting Renville, Our Clubs, Our Community, Our Future’, and the committee is currently considering its next step.
While a Judicial Review can be sought in the High Court within eight weeks of the planning authority’s decision, the Renville Project Management Committee can only question the validity of An Bord Pleanála’s decision and cite, on this ground only, why the decision is ‘invalid or ought to be quashed’.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Management Committee considered the issues raised as ‘addressable’ and said they will be ‘doing everything possible to overcome this setback to the project’.
Mr Rabbitt said all concerned remained deeply committed “to bringing this vital project to fruition”.
Whether the Renville Project Management Committee explore the option of a Judicial Review or not, it looks as if the project may have to go through another extensive planning process once more.
“It’s terrible,” stated Mr Rabbitt. “That could be two years down the road. We have €600,000 (raised through fundraisers and donations) already and this is just a massive disappointment for us all.
Ballinasloe Horse Fair officially cancelled for this year
One of the oldest horse fairs in the country has been officially cancelled this year on health and safety grounds – with the organising committee planning to meet at the end of the year to make plans for 2021.
The Ballinasloe Fair and Festival Committee decided to cancel this year’s event – traditionally held in October – because of the continuing uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak.
The October Fair attracts around 80,000 visitors for the week-long festival – including a major influx from England – providing a huge economic boost for the town, and the pubs and restaurants in particular.
The co-ordinating committee said that the decision to cancel the Fair was taken with regret but that the public’s safety was paramount – because the crowds that throng the Fairgreen would be very difficult to implement social distancing
“The Committee made the decision in the interests of public health and safety and has agreed to meet in December 2020 to prepare for the return of the Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021 and make advanced plans to celebrate the 300th anniversary in 2022,” said the committee in a statement.
“The Co-ordinating Committee would like to thank the local community, sponsors, and all associations involved for their ongoing commitment and support.
“We look forward to welcoming all participants and visitors to Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021,” they added.
The recent meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council saw some elected members urge a ‘wait and see’ approach, given that the event takes place in October and that the Covid situation could change considerably in the meantime.
But that suggestion divided members of Ballinasloe Municipal Council with the majority believing that the public’s safety should be the primary consideration and that the event should be scrapped for this year.
The meeting was also told that the HSE’s advice was that the Horse Fair should not go ahead but that all ‘stakeholders’ would be contacted in advance of any decision being taken.
The annual Ballinasloe Horse Fair dates back to the 18th century and there were pleas from some councillors that it be retained on restricted basis but this suggestion was largely rejected by other elected members.
Atlantic Masters swimmers fund radios for lifeboat crews
A group of Galway swimmers – forced to cancel their annual fundraiser for the lifeboats – decided instead to pool their club subs to buy new radios for the service.
And within 24 hours of taking delivery of the four new VHF radios, Galway Lifeboat members used them on three separate call-outs – to save lives on the water.
The Atlantic Masters’ Lifeboat Swim took place for the first time last year, raising over €7,500 in funds for local sea-based organisations.
But Covid-19 restrictions forced the club to postpone the 2020 Atlantic Lifeboat Swim on June 12 – and at the same time club members’ training sessions were unfortunately cancelled as well.
But when offered refunds, members decided to pool their refunds and purchase four VHF Radios for the RNLI – in the hope that this would go some way to fill the gap in funding due to the cancellation of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim.
Galway Lifeboat Operations Manager Mike Swan expressed his thanks on behalf of the Galway Lifeboat and RNLI.
“Atlantic Masters club members are as passionate about water safety as they are about swimming and that can be seen by this generous donation of VHF radios,” he said.
“Within 24 hours of receiving the radios they were in use on three separate shouts, enabling crew members to respond faster and with greater efficiency. They truly will save lives,” he added
Last year’s event saw over 120 swimmers take on the 2km swim in Renville.
And as restrictions are being lifted and guidelines being created for hosting outdoor sporting events, Atlantic Masters Club have not given up hope of being able to run a version of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim at some point in the coming months.
Atlantic Masters chairperson Helen Colfer acknowledged that the health and safety of swimmers and local communities was their number one priority – but as the rules changed, they would look at their options.
“We are liaising with all relevant governing bodies to identify what we need to do to hold an event, be it virtual or scaled down, that could support the RNLI,” she said.
“As a swimming community, we cannot stress enough the gratitude we have for the work the RNLI do. Our club members are delighted to be able to help them in any way we can.”
For more information about Galway Lifeboat or to donate, click HERE