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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Life is not for sitting in traffic, wasting hours to get to and from work’

Solas Eco Garden Centre and Food Market

Given the difficulties businesses, especially those in hospitality, are experiencing in respect of recruiting staff, Solas Eco Garden Centre and Food Market in Laois is bucking that trend.

It claimed that it has developed a destination that people “want” to come to and work in.

It says it has no difficulties attracting staff; they employ 50 people and have a turnover of over €8 million in their first twelve months.

Recently, they recruited a “top” chef whose first words to David Maher, who co-owns Solas, were: “I was hoping you would call me.”


David says people are “buying into his vision of a top-class eco-destination in Portarlington, bang in the middle of the Midlands that provides quality jobs and a good work-life balance”.

“People want to work where they live. They realise life is for living, not sitting in cars in traffic, wasting hours to get to and from work.”

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“If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that we do not have to be commuting. It is bad for the environment and people’s pockets, especially now with rocketing fuel prices, and it is not that great either for quality of life.”

He says that Solas provides a “good” work environment, good pay and conditions and an ethos of respect and appreciation that attracting good employees is “very doable”.

He continued: “The majority of our people live a few miles away. They are both relieved and happy to have good jobs in their own localities.”

“It is a win-win for all; they have more time to spend with their families and friends and do not have the associated stress of commuting, which, believe me, takes an awful toll on people.”

“I know, I did it for years, and it [commuting] was that singular hassle that made me develop businesses in my own hometown, to employ me and others.”

“I am very proud of what we have developed here at Solas and love the fact that people actually want to work here. It’s a happy place to work, and they like what we are doing.”

5ac development

SOLAS Eco Garden Centre and Food Market is a “unique” concept; much of the 5-acre development is built from old steel shipping containers, heralding an “innovative and creative” space, mixing garden, retail, and food elements.

It is a “stunning” mix of vibrant, groundbreaking creativity which feeds into the common message of reduce, reuse and recycle.

All steel, plastic, cardboard, and stone at the centre are 100% recycled.  A clever and imaginative 40-foot tower built from reconstructed steel is a novel and clever touch, serving both as ‘a tower of light’ and a focal point.

15 interesting points:
  • Main components: Food, garden and education, all feeding into the sustainability thread that runs through the project
  • All steel, plastic, cardboard, and stone are 100% recycled
  • Recycled steel bolts used in interior tree statement pieces
  • First 100% green car park in Ireland
  • The educational area includes interactive gardening classes, including one for kids, and an area dedicated to charting the story of the area and its rich association with the bogs
  • Furthermore, the shop is glyphosate-free, selling only organic and natural weedkillers
  • SOLAS light tower. Beaming over the town; a focal point for the message that David is passionate about spreading –reduce, reuse and recycle.
  • The community area will include a mapping list of every business in the area
  • Some flooring is recycled plastic
  • 25 stalls with over 400 registered, which are rotated to give all a chance
  • Area for hens and chickens to roam wild – 40 metres and all fed on waste food from the Solas café
  • 22,000 sq feet + four acres
  • Seating for 200 outdoors, 50 indoors
  • Almost €3 million spent on the centre thus far
  • Opening hours 9.30 am to 6 pm Monday to Sunday

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