Their 140-acre farm, located at the toes of the Knockmealdown Mountains, was locked up for six years due to an outbreak of Bovine TB. It was a traumatic experience for the couple, who were also operating a farm guest house since 1991.
Deciding to plant 73 acres with trees and rent out the remainder for farming was equally challenging.
“Everyone thought we were barmy. But we knew what we wanted. We didn’t want to go back into cows,” said Breeda, a former bank official.
With advice from Forestry Services Ltd, Teagasc, and others, the couple, who have a son James and a daughter, Anne Marie, went about developing the new enterprise. Central to it all was their Georgian farmhouse, Ballyboy House, which dates back to the late 1600s and has been in the family for five generations.
It has been completely renovated and elegantly furnished with period pieces. It has open log fires while home cooking, using local produce, is a priority.
Ballyboy House is surrounded by woodland featuring 26 different species including sycamore, ash, birch, beech, oak, holly, chestnut, and walnut. Forest walks were developed and gardens were planted with shrubs, roses and other flowers.
All of these features are complemented by a lake and water features that encourage wildlife. There is also a productive kitchen garden.
This haven of peace and tranquillity off the Clogheen to Ardfinnan road has magnificent views of the Galtee, Comeragh, and Slievenamon mountains.
The Vee, a scenic mountain pass that connects counties Tipperary and Waterford, can be seen from the gardens. And the River Tar, famous for its brown trout, runs through the farm on its way to join the river Suir about 11km to the west.
A three-bedroom garden cottage is located in a secluded corner for those interested in self-catering. Tea rooms have also been provided.
The old farmyard has been converted to a courtyard with ample seating. Stone features, including archways, are over 400 years old. Farm machinery from the past is also on display here.
John and Breeda’s decision to diversify from dairy farming into agri tourism was daunting but it has proved a success.
Today, visitors from Europe, the US, Canada and other countries including Russia and Israel have enjoyed staying at Ballyboy House and meandering at ease in the outdoors.
There is also a lot of repeat business from people anxious to escape to the countryside.
Breeda said the journey since they set up the farm guesthouse in 1991 has been fantastic.
“Getting involved with the forestry plantation when we retired from cows 10 years ago has worked very well for us. It has been a labour of love,” she said.
Paddy Bruton of Forestry Services Ltd, recalled how the couple went about the diversification from dairy farming to agri tourism.
He said John and Breeda showed great care and attention to detail in the layout of the plantation with walkways, ponds and amenity species, which has resulted in both commercial woodland and a very attractive amenity for visitors.
What has been achieved by the Morans has led to inquiries from people in Sligo, Donegal, and Wexford who obviously liked what they saw at Ballyboy House. The project has already been repeated elsewhere.
Now, John and Breeda are talking about thinning the plantation. They have installed a wood boiler and will be using wood from their own forest to heat the house.
“It just proves that forestry is part of the farming family. I believe that a portion of every farm is probably more suitable to forestry than any other farming activity,” he said.
Mr Bruton was speaking at Ballyboy House when Minister of State Tom Hayes presented a hand-crafted wood wall clock on behalf of Forestry Services to John and Breeda in recognition of their outstanding contribution to forestry and agri tourism.
The forestry and the timber industry, Fáilte Ireland, Teagasc, B&B Ireland, the Irish Farmers’ Association, the Irish Countrywomens’ Association, Tipperary County Council and the GAA were among those represented.
Mr Hayes said the development by the Morans to maximise their agri-tourism offering highlights the potential of forestry to complement other enterprises. “This should serve as a prime example of what is achievable in the sector. The use of woodlands for recreation is a key non-timber benefit.”
He said about 75% of the 38 contributors to the recent Dáil debate on the new Forestry Bill linked forestry with the potential for tourism. “There is a broad range of ideas coming from across the country to say we should link both,” he said, adding that what John and Breeda have achieved is a fitting example of that approach.