HAVING spent 10 years working on a 22,500 cow farm in Saudi Arabia, Laurence Howard returned to his roots on Claggan Island off Belmullet after transforming the old coastguard station there into a luxury self-catering facility and a home for his family, writes Tom Gillespie.
Belmullet Coastguard Station was built around 1795 and was in operation until the formation of the Irish Free State. Three families lived and worked there, monitoring the coastline for any activity. The station fell into disrepair when the roof was removed in the 1960s.
In 2009 work started on restoring the building to its former glory. While the building has been completely rebuilt, it retains its original features and character and provides luxury self-catering accommodation.
Laurence explained: “We bought the old coastguard station in 2004. We had a few builders look at it but because the roof had been removed because of rates, the walls were perished. The building was just a shell. One option was to knock it but it had to go back on the original footprint. At the planning stage we decided we would make two units - living in one side and letting the other out for self-catering. With the bit of history with it the project has gone from strength to strength.”
He continued: “I decided to return from Saudi Arabia where I had been for 10 years. We had Ódhran, who was nine months at that stage, and Darragh was on the way, so it was time to come home. Thankfully, between farming and tourism and my wife, Myra, working as a nurse at Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, we are surviving so far.
"In Saudi Arabia we were milking 22,500 cows on a farm with 700 staff. We were producing upwards of 930,000 litres of milk a day. We had exceptional results. We worked on a six-week rota, with no days off, and we got home for two-and-a-half weeks.”
Laurence continued: “Last year we really got the self-catering going to see if it would sustain us if I came home. We were hoping for 20 weeks occupancy and we got to 26 and hopefully we will get beyond 30 this year. If we can sustain that we are on a winner. We are lucky in the clients we are getting. We have a lot of families with children. We have our own family life going on next door. They don’t hear us and we don’t hear them.
“We were also looking at different camping facilities as there are none in Erris. We purchased two pods and I am hoping we will get between 70 and 100 days occupancy per year in each of them. The interest in them so far had been beyond all expectations. So if it follows on from that we are on a roll.”