By Maria Gallagher
The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a spotlight on locations like Donegal as a meaningful alternative to the lengthy commutes and high cost of living.
For Cathrine Burke and Niall Campbell, of Breac House, Dunfanaghy, the story is all too familiar. Once Chartered Accountants based in Dublin’s city centre, the couple abandoned the corporate ladder for a major career and lifestyle change in the quiet calm of Donegal’s majestic countryside.
“Standing in Hornhead on a May bank holiday getaway, it was one of those eureka moments. This is the place and the time is now,” says Cathrine.
“While working in Dublin, we realised that the corporate, urban way of living had major limitations and the experience really inspired us to think about how we could relocate and set up a business to combine our love for travel and hospitality with a more sustainable, enriched quality of life.”
The couple met at university in Dublin and their love of travel meant that they took every opportunity to get away from the city on weekends, which is how they came to fall for Donegal.
“Niall’s relatives had a holiday home in the Rosses in Donegal and so he spent a lot of time here as a child, so it’s always been very close to his heart. We are both very passionate about travel so as the years went on we found ourselves spending more and more time in Donegal. It’s not just the landscape but also the people, the strong creative and food offering and the amenities.”
“We found ourselves going to Donegal so often that we bought a cottage in Annagry as a weekend retreat and from there, decided that the time was right to consider setting up a business in the county and making a permanent move.”
“We began to look at properties where we could create a truly authentic tourist experience that encompassed everything that Donegal had to offer. Once we arrived here in Hornhead, we knew straight away that this was the perfect spot for Breac House with not only the beautiful landscape but also the caliber of nearby businesses. We knew that we could create something really special here.”
The couple wanted the project to strongly reflect the dramatic beauty of Donegal, one that would be seamlessly intertwined with the natural landscape to create an experience that would showcase Donegal at every turn.
“Our vision was always that everything about the house would be as true to Donegal as possible with granite from Fanad, quartz flagstones from Ardara, hand-woven fabric from Eddie Doherty, local pottery from Muck ‘n’ Muffins, bespoke Donegal Natural Soap, mulberry tree beakers from Ciaran McGill and letterpress card from The Pear in Paper. Our breakfast tray is a showcase of Donegal artisan produce with locally sourced breads, pastries, jams, butter, eggs, honey and smoked salmon. The caliber of local businesses around Donegal and the strong tourism product was one of the primary factors in positioning our business here.”
“From the bedrooms or the lounge, guests can look out at Muckish mountain and we themed the house around that landscape, choosing palettes that bring the surroundings to life.”
Since opening in 2017, Breac House has become an internationally renowned retreat, winning multiple prestigious awards and attracting tourists from all over the world.
“Up until this year, we’ve welcomed a lot of visitors from the international tourism market with much of our business coming from Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries, who are known for their love of niche travel experiences. This year with the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw a record number of domestic tourists coming to Breac House. One of the real positives to come from this challenging time is the sheer volume of Irish tourists who looked to Donegal as their destination of choice this summer.
“Donegal is famous for many things but most of all its people, sense of community and the welcome you get here. We have incorporated that world renowned welcome into our offering at Breac House, with a real home from home experience.”
Looking out at the luminous waves of Sheephaven Bay, Cathrine says they have never looked back since uprooting to Donegal.
“Donegal is incredibly captivating and the quality of life here is incomparable. To live and run our own business here has been an experience beyond what we ever imagined. This is our home now and it’s a dream come true for us.”