After travelling the world, Aoife O’Sullivan and Julien Bailly saw the darker side of tourism and are developing an eco-hotel in Sri Lanka made from bamboo
A COUPLE with strong ties to West Cork are developing an eco-hotel made from bamboo in Sri Lanka.
And they’re keen to point out the benefits of using this sustainable material that’s as abundant in the likes of Glengarriff, as it is in the tropics.
Aoife O’Sullivan and Julien Bailly travelled for many years and to almost all continents.
‘But over time we began to uncover what we saw as a darker side of the tourism industry, and travel in general; businesses that are not of lasting benefit to local communities, pollution and environmental damage, coastlines destroyed by concrete high-rises, and massive pressure on precious local resources,’ said Aoife.
They sought out alternatives and became really inspired by sustainable businesses they encountered, those with a more holistic approach to tourism.
‘We, too, were motivated to explore such a venture, fuelled by our passion for travel, and our own personal desire to live more consciously,’ said Aoife.
They launched ‘Una Bambu’ in 2019. It comprises six-10 cabins of bamboo in an eco-hotel set on 1.5 acres of lush tropical food gardens, in the up-and-coming south coast village of Ahangama.
Designed in collaboration with award-winning design firm Nomadic Resorts, the lodges will have access to a central pavilion housing a restaurant, bar and lounge, a studio pavilion that will function as an event space and a small yoga/mediation shala nestled into the rice paddy.
It’s more than a hotel, it’s an experiential destination.
‘Our bamboo buildings will sequester carbon, and our hotel facilities will be powered by renewable energy. Guests of Una will have full transparency on the carbon impact of their stay,’ said Aoife.
In developing the eco-hotel concept the couple are testing the boundaries of what comfort and wellness can mean without causing unnecessary harm.
‘From the beginning we felt a sense of duty to explore a new way of living – for the planet, as well as for the community around us. We love this idea of Una existing as a feelgood laboratory – a tourism destination you can feel good about. We aim to deliver an ecologically and socially-minded experience for the insightful traveller,’ explains Aoife.
Over the last two years they have secured a site for construction, been given the green light from the relevant planning and tourism authorities, as well as working to establish the local bamboo supply chain.
‘We are currently seeking funding to take the project forward in its entirety which, as you can imagine, is a challenge in today’s economic climate,’ said Aoife.
Originally from Ballintemple in Cork city, Aoife went on a family holiday to what was at the time the sleepy, seaside village of Schull in the late 80s.
‘My parents fell in love with the area, and bought a house there a few years later, and the rest is history, as they say. We spent six weeks there every summer, as well as Easter and new year, and it lives on today as our family home away from home.
‘Driving over Mount Gabriel and seeing the sea from the peak was the signal for the official start of summer. I have many, many happy memories of swimming on the stoney beaches and rock pools around Schull, or picnics on Barleycove, Irish college on Cape Clear, kayaking on Lough Hyne, sailing around the Fastnet, exploring the small islands and inlets around the coast – Horse island, Heir island, Sherkin – going to Goleen teenage disco! I could go on and on! West Cork was a big part of my childhood, and my family life still today.
‘Then I met my partner Julien in 2012, and he was another surprising connection to West Cork – not to mention his West Cork accent! Originally from the south of France he had moved to Ireland, and then to Clonakilty around 2008. Having already spent a few years exploring the area, I discovered even more of West Cork through Julien’s eyes.’
As well as developing the hotel Aoife, who has studied design for stage and screen, has spent the last three years in Sri Lanka working to develop a sustainable bamboo supply chain with the aim of igniting the bamboo real-estate movement on the island for the first time.
‘While Sri Lanka has the perfect climate to grow bamboo, the material has been largely under-cultivated and under-utilised as a sustainable construction material in the country. The project seeks to showcase the potential for the material in Sri Lanka to grow the industry and scale the concept in an emerging tourism destination,’ she said.
With that in mind the couple are working towards hosting a bamboo building workshop in late September.
Participants will learn how to work with bamboo as a construction material – the outcome of which will be a prototype bamboo structure, the first of its kind on the island.
‘The workshop will also support 10 local carpenters/artisans to participate in the training, laying the groundwork for a new and innovative green building industry on the island of Sri Lanka with a locally available, renewable resource.
‘We welcome participants from anywhere in the world with an interest in working with bamboo to join us for the 11-day workshop. There are more than 1,200 species of bamboo globally, suited to varying climates, so bamboo isn’t just for the tropics. You just have to visit the Bamboo Park in Glengarriff to see how bamboo grows in Ireland. The workshop will cover all the ways to build with bamboo, from interiors to temporary and permanent structures,’ explained Aoife.
• For more see unabambu.com/bamboo-workshop/