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Home Vacation Getting on board with sustainable and fun holiday accommodation 

Getting on board with sustainable and fun holiday accommodation 

by Staff

All too often the word ‘accommodation’ conjures a feeling of anxiety these days — whether it’s someone looking for somewhere to live or somewhere to stay for a holiday.

Take the cost and the supply (or lack of it) and there’s little joy to be found for a lot of people.

Irish staycationers and international visitors have been left astounded by the price of some hotels in recent years with some having to fork out hundreds per night for a standard room. It kind of takes the fun out of a holiday when you fear the trip may just bankrupt you.

But there are people around the country who are getting creative and finding solutions where few would think to look. They are offering a more sustainable option for tourists while breathing new life into disused spaces.

Whether it is a double-decker bus or a horse truck, you can be sure you will remember the experience of staying at one of these holiday homes.

Jamie Duff converted a horse truck into a cosy tiny home in Ashbourne, County Meath

Saddle up for a great stay

Renting out a converted horse box probably isn’t what 23-year-old Jamie Duff had pictured himself doing while he was studying Multimedia at DCU but he couldn’t be happier with where he has ended up.

The idea to buy and convert the horse truck came from his own love of travel and quirky experiences.

When they graduated from college, Jamie and his girlfriend, Martha Constantine, decided to try vanlife — living in a converted van and travelling around Europe.

The front yard of Jamie Duff's Ashbourne, Co Meath home
The front yard of Jamie Duff’s Ashbourne, Co Meath home

On his return, Jamie realised that he wanted to be able to offer others the same fun experience of staying somewhere a little out of the ordinary and he wanted to challenge himself: “Staying in Ireland, finding all the hidden gems, and enjoying a unique stay rather than going abroad is something I love so much so I knew other people would enjoy it as well.”

Working on converting the van that became his home for 10 months gave Jamie the confidence to take on a bigger project.

With the help of Google and YouTube, as well as some real-life friends, Jamie was able to convert a shabby horse truck into a modern, stylish, and comfortable home away from home in just nine months.

A glutton for punishment, the Meath native entered new territory when he added an outdoor decking area which includes a bar and a hot tub.

The hot-tub of Jamie Duff's tiny home
The hot-tub of Jamie Duff’s tiny home

Jamie is quite rightly proud of what he has built and the feedback from guests has only added to the feeling of accomplishment.

“It’s a funny feeling having people stay in something that you’ve created, and they have a great time. It’s such a nice feeling when they say they’ve enjoyed it or they want to come back,” he says.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Jamie is already eyeing up his next project. He tells me that the search for the next truck is underway, and he hopes to start work in the new year.

Jamie Duff's tiny-home kitchen
Jamie Duff’s tiny-home kitchen

With Ashbourne only a stone’s throw from Dublin, offering a unique stay to international tourists is a great way to generate business in the local area.

The horse truck is, of course, located in the middle of an equestrian centre so holidaymakers can add a horse-riding lesson to their activities.

As the bookings continue to roll in, it is safe to say this has been a successful venture for Jamie. So, what is his advice for anyone thinking of taking on a similar project?

“You have to just take a risk and go for it!” 

Ellie O'Byrne in her Eco Bus in Tramore, County Waterford. Picture: Patrick Browne
Ellie O’Byrne in her Eco Bus in Tramore, County Waterford. Picture: Patrick Browne

Dervla and Desmond Dekker

Ellie O’Byrne cannot help but laugh when I ask if she has always been a DIY enthusiast.

“No, not at all,” she says — although looking at the double-decker bus that she converted with her partner Mark Graham it’s hard to imagine that she was a relative newbie when they took on the project.

The whole thing happened in a whirlwind after they stayed on a similar bus in Galway during covid. Within a couple of hours of arriving, Mark was online checking out buses for sale.

 The top deck of one of the Tramore Eco Buses. Photograph: Patrick Browne
The top deck of one of the Tramore Eco Buses. Photograph: Patrick Browne

There may have been a little bit of naivety when the couple embarked on this adventure, believing that they would get it done and dusted in a year despite both having other jobs.

Snatching windows of free time where they could, all in all it took two-and-a-half years for Dervla to be ready for visitors.

In saying that, when they were several months in and had a much better idea of how much was involved in a renovation like this, they still made the decision to purchase a second bus — Desmond.

 The stairwell of a Tramore Eco Bus. Photograph: Patrick Browne
The stairwell of a Tramore Eco Bus. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Work on Desmond began last month and it is hoped he will be up and running — figuratively, although both buses can drive they won’t be going anywhere — some time next year.

So, how does a couple make it through not one but two bus-to-tiny-home projects and make it out the other side with their sanity intact?

One of the most important things, Ellie tells me, is being able to laugh.

Ellie O'Byrne and Mark Graham with their Eco Bus. Photograph: Patrick Browne
Ellie O’Byrne and Mark Graham with their Eco Bus. Photograph: Patrick Browne

“We have just had such a laugh even when things have gone wrong. I think if you have a good sense of humour that is going to see you through pretty much anything.”

However, it is also important to know when to step away. In 2021, Ellie and Mark did reach something of a low point and were feeling out of their depth. So, they took the summer off and came back with renewed energy, ready to tackle anything Dervla might throw their way.

Having a genuine love and passion for what they created also plays a major role in keeping them motivated.

 The Tramore Eco Bus, Tramore, Co. Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne
The Tramore Eco Bus, Tramore, Co. Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne

A Waterford native, it was important for Mark to play a part in helping people discover all the beautiful things his home has to offer. Guests are provided with plenty of local knowledge and tips for lesser-known spots to visit.

Another thing that was a priority for them from the start was that it was sustainable throughout the renovation and beyond. They reused a lot of materials and reclaimed wood; hemp insulation was used; all cleaning products used are sustainable and free from petrochemicals; even the homemade jam provided to guests by Ellie is made with foraged and donated fruits and berries.

Bookings over the coming months will go towards the cost of installing solar panels. They’ve been using quieter off-season times to get stuck into work on Desmond so he’s ready for this summer.

You can follow Desmond’s glow-up on their Instagram as they document their progress at @tramoreecobus

Anna McCarthy with the family's Ballinadee Bus. Picture: Dan Linehan
Anna McCarthy with the family’s Ballinadee Bus. Picture: Dan Linehan

 Fun on the farm

“You’re not going to forget the time that you stayed on a double-decker bus on a rescue farm with a hot tub. Like there’s alpacas right next to you when you’re in the hot tub.” After that sales pitch, what else is there to say?

What started as a small family venture to keep them occupied while in the throes of grief during lockdown has become a thriving little community in Ballinadee that has been bringing joy to people since it first opened to the public.

Thomas McCarthy, his sisters Anna and Rachel, and Anna’s fiancé Aiden spent seven months turning an old Dublin Bus into a gorgeous, colourful home away from home.

 The Ballinadee Bus. Picture: Dan Linehan
The Ballinadee Bus. Picture: Dan Linehan

The Ballinadee Bus was a runaway success once it opened for bookings so it felt like the natural next step was to expand and take on a second bus.

“It would be stupid to sit where we are now when there’s so much potential,” Thomas says.

“This is such a beautiful area. We are so close to Kinsale, we’re close to the city, we’re about a 10-minute drive from four different beautiful beaches.”

Taking it easy is not in this family’s DNA.

 The Ballinadee Bus. Picture Dan Linehan
The Ballinadee Bus. Picture Dan Linehan

As they approach the third anniversary of the purchase of the OG Ballinadee Bus, they are the proud proprietors of two tiny home buses, a coffee truck, camping grounds, and a rescue farm.

The McCarthys still aren’t done though and Thomas let me in on their plans.

“We are planning on a pizza restaurant, a physical farm shop and café, and then glamping pods, a swimming pool, and expanding the rescue farm,” he rattles off the list without taking a breath.

 The Ballinadee Bus. Picture Dan Linehan
The Ballinadee Bus. Picture Dan Linehan

It is clear from speaking with Thomas that their little slice of Ballinadee means a lot to them. You can see their heart and souls have gone into every little detail.

There is purpose and thought behind each decision. Sustainability is at the heart of the entire project and by bringing in tourists, they are helping to bring business to the community that would often have been bypassed in favour of nearby Kinsale.

The most important thing to these entrepreneurial siblings, however, is that they are doing it together as a family. They are building a little empire but no matter how much they expand, Thomas says it will always be a family-run business.

 The Ballinadee Bus' patio and eating out area. Picture Dan Linehan
The Ballinadee Bus’ patio and eating out area. Picture Dan Linehan

Perhaps this is what gives their accommodation such a home-y feel. There are no drab white walls paired with plain white blankets and generic hotel art. These buses are McCarthy through and through.

It was their late father Patrick who inspired the rescue farm as he took great care of his own animals.

Beginning this business gave the siblings a sort of lifeline when they needed it and now, they are giving these animals a lifeline and a second chance in return.

“We like to think he’s still around us in all of this madness we’ve been creating on the farm over the last couple of years,” they said of their father.

The madness and joy at the Ballinadee Bus are infectious and ensure that a stay here will be one to remember.

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