I am standing on the edge of the bog hole at the Bogathon obstacle course in Lisduff, Co Laois. I am dressed for this. I am mentally prepared. But am I physically able?
As I consider my options, a group from the local army barracks in Kilkenny jog past. Working together, the 20-odd soldiers are carrying two heavy-looking wooden beams as they run. One by one, they jump into the bog hole. There is a rope just underneath the surface of the saturated peat, and they do their best to grab hold and slide – stomach down – along the surface. And they struggle.
“This is their third time around, in fairness to them,” Rosaleen Dwyer, who owns and operates the course, remarks nonchalantly.
After what seems like an eternity of working to pull each other out of what is basically a black hole of quicksand, each person stands – covered head to toe in freezing muck – on the other side.
“Now, onto the pond!” smiles Stephen O’Keefe, their Bogathon coach (a little too cheerfully) as the shivering victims make their way to the course’s large water feature.
I think about how difficult it was for seasoned athletes to get through the bog hole… and how cold they looked coming out the other side.
“I think I’ll let the professionals handle it today,” I confidentially state.
We have all seen Ireland’s Fittest Family, and many of us have heard of Hell and Back in Co Wicklow. This Co Laois course, which spans over a 10ac field on Rosaleen’s land, is considered just as – if not more – difficult.
“The course is ideal for team building and conditioning,” she says. “We’ve been getting GAA teams, school groups and groups like these from the army barracks – and business has been going really well.”
Located just outside the village of Errill, Lisduff has been home to Bogathon for the past year, but the idea has been around since 2014. It is located beside one of Rosaleen’s other businesses: Lisduff Adventure Farm – a crèche, preschool and after-school care facility combined with an indoor children’s activity centre.
They once had a similar obstacle course which ran throughout the farm, but circumstances put a stop to it; leading to the new-and-improved set-up in the field.
Family and farm
Rosaleen married into Lisduff and says she has lived there longer than she has lived anywhere else – it is, and always will be, home.
“I married at a young age – at just seventeen years of age – and have lived here ever since; I am originally from Kilcormac,” she explains. “At one stage, this was a 150ac organic suckler farm, but my marriage ended and the land was divided.
“I have four children; three are from my first marriage – and they’re reared,” she smiles. “Megan works here in Lisduff and manages our crèche in Rathdowney – she’s the youngest of my first family. My eldest son, Dilon, is getting married to Emma Jane O’Sullivan who manages my other crèche [in Templemore, Co Tipperary]. Dilon is a mechanic in Borrisoleigh [Co Tipperary], and he loves that. My middle son, then, is my farmer – I am very proud to have a farmer!”
Rosaleen married again and has a five-year-old daughter. When her first marriage ended, she received 35ac of the farmland in the settlement. She has been operating the crèche and Lisduff Adventure Farm since 2013, but has been minding children since 2006.
“I had my first three kids by the time I was 20 – obviously I didn’t finish school – but I was able to mind kids, and that’s how I got into childminding,” she says. “Initially, it just paid for the week’s groceries. It’s busy now and it’s a nice feeling to be able to give Megan a crèche [to manage].”
Rosaleen also decided to give the 35ac she received in the divorce settlement to her “farmer”, son Christopher. They had been left the main farming infrastructure, the machinery and their herd, so this made sense. However, he eventually decided to purchase a different farm in Killenaule, Co Tipperary.
While part of Rosaleen grieved; knowing her son would not be working the land his family had farmed for generations, she supported his decision and decided she would do all she could to help.
“The fields were sold at the back of the house,” she says. “Christopher used this money to buy his new farm and is going to get into calves this year but wants to get into dairy - like every young farmer!”
“That facilitated his farm in Killenaule - and it’s a beautiful farm!”
Rosaleen also let her son move their machinery and livestock to his new farm. Once the move was complete, she had to think about what she wanted to do with her remaining 10ac – the field so conveniently located next to Lisduff Adventure Farm. Then, the idea for Bogathon came to her.
They had developed their previous obstacle course along the entire farm. After her divorce, the courts had granted Rosaleen special use of the land for this purpose, as long as no major changes occurred regarding her situation.
“The ‘something that changed’ was the selling of the land, which helped my son purchase his farm,” she explains. So, they could no longer operate the obstacle course as it was first designed – but, perhaps, they could set something up in the field.
Her neighbour, Ian Martin, works in the Irish army as a physical training instructor. With his experience in drills and routines, he had helped set up the first obstacle course. Once again, Roseleen approached him to help with Bogathon. They needed to make the course as challenging as possible, but also accessible and straightforward.
They decided to design the course in an “up and down” fashion; incorporating slides; a large, man-made pond, rope climbs, tunnels, hay bale obstacles, tyre obstacles and – of course – two sizeable pits filled to the brim with thick, sludgy peat from the nearby bog. The course officially opened in 2022.
“I just thought the Bogathon would be fun for people,” Rosaleen explains. “When we were young we used to spend our days running through fields and bogs; it was that sense of adventure, wasn’t it? I wanted to bring that feeling back while providing a fun way to team build and get outdoor exercise.”
When Rosaleen first moved to Lisduff, she had left school early and didn’t complete a leaving cert. As policy around childcare started to change in the early 2010s, she knew she had to go back to school to obtain a degree in childcare.
“I went back to college in 2015-16 to do my degree and I remember being in the class feeling insecure; I looked at [my peers] as very educated - that they had a right to be there. I was looking at myself going, ‘They are going to figure out that I’m not supposed to be here, and they’re going to ask me to leave.’”
Rosaleen struggled through college as she juggled her children and her business, but also struggled with things like learning to type. She says an offhand comment from a professor, who said “Good luck passing,” [regarding her computer abilities] actually drove her to succeed.
“I went home and thought, ‘What do I need to give up to pass?’ I said, ‘I need to give up two nights’ sleep and I need to give up soaps.’ Now, my degree is on the wall and that’s that done. I am very proud of that cert.”
Rosaleen received a business grant from LEADER for €150,000, which she used to update the premises at Lisduff Adventure Farm. The indoor play area had basic equipment for several years, then during the COVID-19 pandemic, she purchased a full indoor playground from a business in Sligo. She hired someone to deconstruct, transport and reconstruct the playground set in Lisduff.
She has three different types of insurance to cover her crèche businesses, the play centre and Bogathon. She largely credits her success to being flexible and changing with the times.
“Something I have learned over my career is: if you don’t go with the flow; with the changes, you’re not sustainable.”