The Bohan family may have broke ground on their Wildlands Adventure park in January 2018, but it was a four-year process before they opened. Involved in this project is David Bohan, his sister Faye and their father Tim but it is not the family’s first foray into adventure tourism – they also own and operate Delphi resort in Leenane.
The trouble with Delphi, David tells us, is that it is “so far back we have to overnight everybody back there so the day market is really minimal” whereas “this is a great location for this, we saw an opening, there was a grant going so we went after that”.
Change of land use
Looking around the manicured park, it is hard to believe that a few short years ago, this was farmland.
“Dad (Tim) was farming here and we kept cattle and sheep. The park is 40 acres but there is another 50 acres over towards the lake (Ballyquirke) which is still farmland and we have cattle down there. The park was his (Tim’s) idea going way back.”
Faye is a solicitor and works with Paddy Power but she has been gradually getting more involved with Delphi. David credits his sister and father in what is clearly a partnership: “She’s basically double-jobbing as she is very hands-on here as well. She must do about 100 hours a week to keep up with it all.”
Tim was a plasterer and he got into building and “that is how we ended up with a hotel [due to the crash of the Celtic Tiger]”, David recalls.
The Bohans were disappointed to be unsuccessful in securing that grant but after all the work applying for it, they decided to drive on and secured funding personally for the development. “We knew it was a good idea we really believed in it, all three of us, whereas a few others in our family thought we were a bit mad.”
With the decision made, architects were brought in. A change of land use to recreation and amenity was sought when they ran into planning issues with the self-catering accommodation. Like mini ski lodges, these timber cabins are fully self-contained, overlooking the lake. There are four built, with planning now secured for 11 more.
The skillset to succeed
David the engineer, his father the builder, his sister a solicitor – add in family experience in hospitality – and you have the skillset to succeed in what was effectively a self-build.
David explained: “Every paint colour, every finish, every furniture choice was the three of us, arguing it out, but it was a good dynamic.
“So we all kind of brought our own bits to the table. With the activities, Faye and I spent a couple of years going around, on our holidays, checking other places and getting ideas. This was before we had two pennies to rub together to do any of this.
“The first thing we knew we wanted to put in was the zipline course so we set that as our centrepiece and built the other activities around it. Karl, our head of adventure in Delphi, is an expert on highwires and zips.”
An Baile beag
Beside the restaurant is a tiny town, with every imaginable services that small children could need from a garage to a hospital to a hairdresser.
“Imagination town was Faye’s baby. [We] looked at soft plays but aside from the fact that they have kinda been done, the insurance is so high, we decided on An Baile Beag instead. Matty Donoghue, a carpenter that has been with us since day one, has basically done everything that is done in timber including that little town. That’s an area we have not been able to open at all yet. Our imagination town falls into the same category as the nightclubs [for COVID-19].”
All the activities are instructor-led and pay per play, unlike other parks where you pay an entry fee and you go around to what you want to go on. For this reason, as it caused a small bit of confusion at the start, David and Faye listened to the feedback that they were receiving from customers and all the sessions are 1 hour 20 minutes. This, they feel, gives a substantial period for each activity.
After the zipwires, the two young McKeevers tried the climbing walls, which the bigger one in particular loved. There are several walls and between the safety briefing and kitting out the kids in their climbing harnesses, the 1 hour 20 minutes was well used. Aside from the ziplines and the climbing walls, there is also archery, mini jeeps, Frisbee golf (go look that up yourself), a fairy walking trail and playgrounds. Coming soon also are watersports on the lake including stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.
This is the most extensive network of ziplines I have seen in Ireland
Although the kids’ activities are numerous, we will be returning to focus on the adult activities. The adult’s ziplines can be completed in either a short course (1.5 hours) or long course (3 hours).
This is the most extensive network of ziplines I have seen in Ireland and would make for a great team-building day for companies once those kinds of days can be organised again.
While talking about team building, another option that Wildlands is bringing to this market (equally an option for parties, hens and stags or competitive families) are the Challenge Rooms, which will open soon. This is a series of 24 rooms akin to The Crystal Maze. All the rooms are themed from Ireland’s folklore. The Children of Lir, the hound of Culann and, of course, the Bull of Cooley.