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‘If you have the passion, just take the risk’ — Ireland’s growing love for alternative accommodation

Plenty of buses make their way through West Cork in the summertime, but there have been three that have proved especially popular in the past two years. What’s unusual about the Ballinadee Buses, however, is that they don’t move.

They are amongst a growing list of alternative accommodation choices offered to visitors and tourists across the country. 

“Our brother, Thomas, initially came up with the idea. He had a friend down in Dingle who had converted a bus and we decided to do it too, but with a double-decker,” says Anna McCarthy, one of the siblings running the family business.

“We started ringing local companies and, luckily, Ovens Coaches was selling one of his buses. We bought it for about €2,500 and just started gutting it and went from there. And now we’re flying it.” 

The McCarthys set about renovating the first Ballinadee Bus following the passing of their beloved father, Paddy, in May 2020. A keen farmer, Paddy passed on his love of nature to Anna, Thomas, their sister Rachel, and their brother Niall. That December, the siblings decided to band together and transform their idyllic site into something special.

Hot tubs and a bar

Two years in and the business now features two repurposed double-decker buses that are used as Airbnb rentals, complete with hot tubs, outdoor showers, barbecues, and a bar. There’s a coffee truck too, alongside a third double-decker that is used as a café and viewing point.

 Thomas and Rachel McCarthy, on the upper deck of an upcoming bus project at Ballinadee, Co. Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Thomas and Rachel McCarthy, on the upper deck of an upcoming bus project at Ballinadee, Co. Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan

A campsite has also been recently opened in the space, with room for six tents, a campervan, and on-site toilets and showers. Visitors can also roam the family’s teeming polytunnel, visit Anna’s animal sanctuary, and purchase organic vegetables from a stall.

The project has been no small feat for three people in their twenties with little business experience. Thomas studied commerce in college, Rachel’s heart lay in horticulture, and while Anna is a former manager, she says that a lot of the business planning is done off the cuff.

“We’re very impulsive. A thought comes into our heads and we run with it. We all have our talents and skills though and we just bounce off each other. Of course, you’ll bicker in a family business, but we actually rarely do,” Anna says.

We never could have imagined working together two years ago, or creating all of this. We don’t really sit back and appreciate what we’ve done I suppose. It’s always just go, go, go

However, others were taken aback by the ambitious project. “Dermot Bannon got onto us last year and asked us if we wanted to feature on his show. We had two weeks to finish everything but it ended up being beautiful because the whole village came up and asked how they could help. It was such a community effort,” says Rachel.

 Rachel McCarthy: praise for local community effort. 
Rachel McCarthy: praise for local community effort. 

Featuring on Super Small Spaces was just the marketing the Ballinadee Bus needed. Bookings soon started to fill up and they haven’t slowed since. The siblings decided to expand further and haven’t looked back.

“We sat down a few months after the show and said we’d get another bus,” says Anna. “My partner, Aidan, found the second one in Northern Ireland, we put our own spin on it, and now both buses are fully booked through October.” The location is also growing more popular for staff and hen parties. The buses have even seen a proposal this year.

Reinvestment

While the siblings can take a wage from the coffee truck’s sales, they’ve decided to continue putting any profits back into the business. “We have a really good, constant, flow of money but we always reinvest,” says Anna. “The funds are healthy, we’ve never been in a deficit, so we’re hoping to start taking more home in the next year or two.” 

An indoor games area will be built for campers before wintertime comes, as well as a covered seating area. There is also a plan to grow the space as an event venue and host more live music and comedy acts. The Christmas period is expected to be especially busy, with a lot of international tourists now booking in.

“We’ve had a lot of English people and Americans. They love being in the countryside and we’re so close to Kinsale and the beach is on the doorstep. It’s great because we really want to put Ballinadee on the map and for us, this doesn’t feel work,” says Rachel.

“Anyone can do something like this. If you have the passion and the drive, just take the risk. We get so many negative comments about what we do but who cares? We’ve created a unique experience, and it’s so peaceful out here.”

 Sitting with the siblings in the courtyard, overlooking the Ballinadee countryside on a sunny day, it’s hard to disagree.


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