Our autumn issue is out now. We chat Matt and Melanie, the pair behind Goleen Harbour Ltd. Dive on in to find out more…
Meet Matt and Melanie
by Kate Stuart
“Goleen Harbour has the protection of the environment and its biodiversity at its core.”
For many years, Matt Mills has been heavily involved in spreading awareness of the impending energy crisis – ‘peak oil’, climate change, biodiversity and soil loss – to the rural communities of West Cork. Over the years Matt has built up an extensive knowledge bank on Green Building, Renewable Energy, Organic Farming and Native Woodlands.
Matt’s partner Melanie Furniss is a body worker and massage therapist, who also uses techniques to alleviate trauma in the body. In the autumn of 2014, Matt chanced upon a site at the edge of Goleen – a ‘38-acre coastal farm with ruin’. A perfect location for an eco-campsite alongside a learning, wellbeing and activity centre! This would give himself and Melanie the possibility of using their complimentary skill sets and make a living from them, while doing something positive for the local community, environment and biodiversity.
The concept was to place guests in ‘4-star’, yet sustainable, accommodation set in this Natura 2000 (SAC) Special Area of Conservation. Then, to subtly send messages about the importance of biodiversity and the oceans to guests, and provide them with organically grown, farm-to-fork food. This approach would be more likely to bring about behavioural change than ‘preaching’ in village halls.
Building the Dream
Soon, Matt was writing a business plan for Goleen Harbour Ltd. The business plan’s design focus was contemporary-eco with timber cabins / tiny houses and Geodesic domes. Planning permission was gained in 2016. That year, the farm was converted to organics, producing vegetables, Connemara ponies and traditional Irish sport horses, while in the winter an eight-acre native woodland was established. At least 10,000 native trees have been planted to date.
The following years saw Matt design and build the prototype Eco-cabin in Melanie’s stunning Harbour Garden, and the first phases of their accommodation offerings. However, they found themselves waiting endlessly on grant schemes to open in order to develop their vision. Then, by chance, Dara Connolly – now CEO of Common Purpose Ireland – came to stay with his family. Dara was hugely impressed with the site and the vision. He and his partner Karen Walshe (Artistic Director of the Saint Patrick’s Festival) offered to help find new investors as well as investing themselves.
Dara put Matt in touch with serial Eco Entrepreneur Marc Rafferty who came on board as an investor and to help raise finance. Matt was aware of the Employment Investment Incentive Scheme (EIIS) and once they had obtained approval from Fáilte Ireland, Marc and Matt raised almost €500k through their contacts. EIIS worked well for them as a form of crowdfunding, with over 35 investors including a core group who purchased a small equity stake and want to be part of the project and its vision. Development commenced in January 2022.
The development was paused in July as two new Eco-Cabins, the first Geodome and the campsite could open with temporary facilities. It will recommence at the end of August to enable the construction of the facilities building and the beautiful Barrel Top that will be the social and workshop space. Much of their Barrel Top has been built through one of Goleen Harbour’s Gather & Learn courses which offer participants the chance to learn Green Skills, a full programme being developed for the autumn.
The Essence of the Dream
Goleen Harbour has the protection of the environment and its biodiversity at its core. Matt and Melanie purchase from local and sustainable sources as much as possible; from the Native Irish Douglas Fir used in the Barrel Top post and beam, to the Irish-made, very comfortable Respa mattresses used throughout their accommodation units.
Matt and Melanie have invested heavily in a Zero Carbon district heating system and will soon be offering Zero Carbon holidays, events and weddings! They are also developing a Social Enterprise that aims to support neuro-diverse young adults transitioning from home to the workplace. Making a dream come true can be a long and winding road. Matt and Melanie are an inspiration and an example of what’s possible against all and any odds.
Find out more about their work at: goleenharbour.ie