If you do something, do it properly. That’s the guiding principle of Kia Ora Mini Farm founder Maura O’Donohoe! And, no one could argue with the success of Kia Ora Mini Farm, now almost an institution and an integral part of many people’s current and past childhood holidays to North Wexford.
Located off the Courtown Road, Kia Ora has everything you’ll need to keep the kids occupied for a day – an open farm with deer, llamas, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, hens, swans, peacocks. And that’s before you show the children attractions like the fire engine, the diggers, the maze, the playground, the milking cow, go karts, the crazy football – and the museum of model tractors and fire engines!
There’s no doubt Maura was ahead of her time – and not afraid of hard work. “Paddy, my husband, and I bought the land 51 years ago – we had no running water, no indoor toilets, nothing really. We got into cows in 1982, then a few years later, we got toilets and wash handbasins in and I started a B&B. We extended the B&B later and had en suite rooms years before the hotels did.
“So, I milked the cows and did breakfast and dinner for the guests. That got out of hand then! A man asked me to do a meal for after a funeral and I ended up doing four-course meals for guests for about four years. I made everything from scratch, because there were no delis or bakeries then. I worked from about six in the morning straight through til about three the next morning.”
As busy as she was, when a man asked to bring his children out to see her milking calves, the seed for Kia Ora Mini Farm was born. “I got the idea then and went to Wales to see an open farm there. Then, in 1990, I borrowed the money on my own for five years – I paid everything back in August after the summer season, whether it was the wash handbasins or the tarmac or the loan. But I always paid when I said I’d pay!”
The farm opened in 1991 and she picked up animals and birds wherever she could. “Every year, I added something on to the business, whether it was the car park, the cement paths, Santa’s workshop … I started Santa (with Paddy’s help!) with square hay bales in the shed. Then the milk levy came in, we hadn’t enough cows, so we sold them and Padraig converted the milking parlour into Santa’s workshop. Everyone thought I was mad – but Santa took off and I paid off the loan in the five years.” That was an incredible achievement, bearing in mind that interest rates were 18-22 per cent at the time.
In 2000, Maura survived a brain aneurysm – “I was out calving a cow and went bang! Paddy was in hospital and I drove to Dublin to see him. Five minutes after getting there, I was in a bed myself – and stayed in hospital for two weeks.”
Now she takes it easy – as easy as a business dynamo can! Six years ago, at the tender age of 70, Maura and Paddy handed over the reins to son Padraig and he and his brother, Peter, now make sure that this generation of children get to enjoy Kia Ora. “Our other son, Seamus, also lives nearby – I was determined to try to keep them at home, so they didn’t have to emigrate.”
And the name ‘Kia Ora’? “A cousin of mine from New Zealand gave me the name – ‘Kia Ora’ means ‘welcome’ in Maori. So we always get visitors from New Zealand because of the name!”
And still, Kia Ora grows – there are plans for a pink digger (!), a forest trail – and maybe Apple Pay one day, even if Maura thought it was a fruit the first time she was asked about it!
Interview and photos: Deirdre O’Flynn