And while the global pandemic caused Caitríona Hanley lots of stresses along the way, it also resulted in a booked-out summer season.
Caitríona, originally from Crosshaven, has been working on her Wild Atlantic Glamping idea since 2012. Located on the idyllic Bere Island off the West Cork coast, her €600,000 development was set to open last July.
When the pandemic hit, and with the construction sector shutting down, she took a pragmatic attitude that we were ‘all in it together’ and quickly realised she’d have to wait it out until this year.
“But when construction shut down again back in January, it was much more difficult. We had just launched our website, we had taken bookings, everything was looking so positive,” she recalls.
She had no option but to shelve her scheduled April opening date, planned to coincide with Easter, and remembers: “It really was an incredibly stressful time, not helped by the fact that I was still living in Cork and with travel restrictions couldn’t even get to the site.”
She’s now made the move to the island, where she has strong family connections, and it’s a case of all hands on deck to put the finishing touches to her water-front glamping site for a June 18 opening.
And despite all of the challenges and stresses caused by the pandemic, she says it’s brought more positives than negatives.
She also works as a designer and project manager at MK Illumination a professional Christmas lighting company, which has had an incredibly busy few months.
“Shopping centres would usually be our main customers, but the county council put more money into communities this year, which really saved us. Towns like Cobh, Macroom and Millstreet all had grants for lighting, which meant we were very busy,” she said.
And with regards to the campsite, she’s convinced she’s launching ‘at just the right time’.
“I think people are really open now to what Ireland has to offer. People have been on their screens for months and just want to get away from them and enjoy the simple things in life and we have it all here — things like rock pooling, sea swimming, fishing off rocks and BBQing the mackerel you catch, toasting marshmallows in the fire pit.
“We are now completely booked out from June until August. We will have 30 people on site every night which is absolutely amazing. People are so positive and excited about what we’re doing.”
Interestingly, around 65% of their guests are from Cork: “In fact some are from as near as Bantry and Castletownbere and even within 5km of here! It’s also interesting that lots of the bookings were made back in January and February when people needed some hope, something to look forward to, but were perhaps afraid to stray too far from home and wanted travel security.”
And while guests may be close to home, she says, her island destination still provides them with a wonderful sense of adventure.
“There’s just something about getting on a ferry that helps to create distance, helps people to really switch off, slow down the pace and tune into a different way of living,” she said.
“The type of customers we’ll be welcoming this summer aren’t what I had expected either,” she added.
“We’ve a few big family groups who have booked out the entire site for exclusive use, for reunions. That gives them a great sense of control and security, so that type of business has come directly from Covid.”
The site currently has eight bell tents, with various sleeping configurations, and they’re kitted out to the most luxurious standards in terms of stoves, quality mattresses, linen, throws, etc.
“Each tent also has its own deck and deckchairs with views over Bantry Bay. The vibe is modern and contemporary. There’s a high level of comfort, but still with an element of wildness and the site is deliberately unmanicured,” she said.
Special touches include welcome kits with a jar of honey made from her uncle Barry’s island bees; a jar of blackberry jam made by Edel Murphy, who runs the island café, and her scones, along with other treats and surprises.
There’s a communal kitchen, communal BBQ area, and a hang-out room which a gable wall exposed to the elements which will help people feel comfortable during Covid times.
Caitriona says her business is very much a family one with her dad, an island native, and her brother fitting the kitchen and making the picnic benches, her cousin and his girlfriend working with her for the season and the entire development designed by her architect cousin, Alan Macilwraith from JCA Architects.
Caitríona explains how this will be an eco- tourism business with a ‘leave no trace’ principle, and is designed to function in all weather conditions. Bantry Bay Boat Hire will be working out of the campsite for three days, offering kayak rental and guided tours so people can explore the rocky inlets and hidden coves of Bere Island’s coastline from the sea, and she is already planning events for the off-season, including a yoga course in September, which is already fully booked, and a yet to be advertised photography weekend.
“I’m also very excited to have booked musician John Spillane and writer Conal Creedon to perform here together at the end of August.
“I faced many challenges over the years from planning to funding but I was determined to make this project happen — it’s been all-consuming for the past while but I’m really looking forward to welcoming my first guests. I can’t wait!”
Bere Island is 2km offshore from Castletownbere. It’s served by two car ferry services — one from Castletownbere (15 mins) to the west end of the island and one from the Pontoon Pier (30 mins), 3km from Castletownbere on the Glengarriff Road, into Rerrin Village on the east end.
The island is roughly 11km x 5km in size with a population of just under 200, which swells during summer months. Its weekly Park Run has been voted the best in the world!