Ecowarriors come in all shapes and sizes. Yet castles and country house owners are not always the ones we expect to be pushing the ethical message.
Ireland‘s Blue Book (irelands-blue-book.ie), with its collection of exclusive country getaways is, however, a good reminder that we shouldn’t judge a book by its colour. A year ago it agreed with its members that they would work towards achieving the EU Flower Ecolabel, a prestigious, international green accreditation which is awarded to tourism accomodation with exemplary green practices. The EU FLower is one of Failte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s recognised green awards and, with their ever-growing commitment to sustainable tourism, they will no doubt be giving special attention to the two Blue Book members, which have just been presented with this coveted award – Belle Isle Estate in County Fermanagh and Coopershill Country House Hotel in County Sligo.
Coopershill, a magnificent 18th Century manor house tucked away in the Sligo hills, is managed by Simon O’Hara, the seventh generation of his family to live here (coopershill.com). Being green is not a modern concept, says O’Hara, “Like so many buildings of its era, Coopershill was designed with sustainability at its core. It still houses the vast wood-burning stove which heats the whole house from one source. We use an original rainwater harvesting system and water has always been sourced from our natural spring”. O’Hara has also maintained the farming tradition here, and converted the land into pasture for fallow deer. And during my recent visit, I can assure you that the venison stew is a good enough reason alone to treat yourself to a break in this sumptuous green spot.
At Belle Isle Estate, which boasts a castle, cottages, courtyard apartments and a cookery school at its stunning location on the shores of Lough Erne, Charles Plunket started his green journey by replacing the ancient oil burning boiler with a wood pellet one a couple of years ago and has now gone the whole green hog (belleisle-estate.com). The biggest obstacle was, surprisingly, changing lightbulbs, “I discovered, to my horror, that there were 553 light bulbs, of which only seven were low energy.” Both these businesses recycle as much as they can, use environmentally-friendly cleaning products, scrupulously monitor energy usage, and inform all guests of environmental and economically sustaining activities in their area such as walking trails, cycling, public transport and slow food options.
Coopershill and Belle Isle have set a tough green precedent for other Blue Bookers to follow, but watch this space, as they are on a mission to show that green is the new blue. Hilary Finlay, Blue Book’s Managing Director is quite rightly delighted, not only with Belle Isle and Coopershill, but with all her members striving to put Ireland on the rapidly growing worldwide map of green tourism. Finlay says that ” When the opportunity arose for the Blue Book to assist our members with the EU Flower process, we did so without hesitation. The commitment shown by our members is quite staggering. We hope to be the vanguard for Irish hotels and are confident of having a bouquet of Blue Book members with EU Flower accreditation before the end of 2009″. With people such as Plunket and O’Hara leading the way, showing that noone is too posh to push for what is right, let’s hope the others are inspired to keep going.
(An edited version of this article was first published in The Irish Times, 17 October 2009)