The Extension

For someone who lives for light and cooking I had managed to buy a house with the darkest most depressing kitchen on the planet. I did overlook this fact at the time because the rest of the house was perfect. I had finally re-done my kitchen in my old house after years and although it was “only” an Ikea kitchen, it was perfect and I loved it. The kitchen come dining area was south facing and was filled with sunlight. Now I was faced with walking into a cave every morning. The sense of gloom that enveloped me was unreal. I found myself spending less time in it and was disinclined to cook which was really unusual for me.

There was no light entering at all on the west facing wall. The back door was solid. I decided one of the first things I absolutely had to do was replace the entire door with a glass panel. I ordered it and waited and waited. Finally they rang to tell me they would be out to fit it.

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Not only was I happy to be able to see out, the duck liked seeing in

The difference that made was unreal. Then I got a bee in my bonnet about the oh-so-shiny kitchen that did not suit the house at all and decided I had to change it. However, sense took over and I put that further down the list.

I debated extending the kitchen out to make a kitchen dining area but I had a small cosy dining room anyway and a small sitting room. I got a great tip from my builder friend who had come house hunting with me. He told me lay out wood on the ground in the shape and size you think you will need and mark windows and doors to get a feel for the size of the area. I did this but then I was out walking one day where I do a lot of my thinking,  I remembered friends who live in Tipperary and how I had always envied their covered deck which they call the stoop. That was it. I was going to do something similar with a partial roof. The reason not to roof the whole area was it would have meant losing a window in my bedroom (which is a floor window). The windows in this house are in short supply and for the most part are small sash windows so that was not an option. Plus there was little point putting a window in the dining room then sticking a roof over it.

I have to say that I am the kind of person that wants to do everything yesterday. There were the usual delays but the longest was the 8 week lead in time to get the new double doors and window from Rationel. The builder had costed them from Munster Joinery but they were horrible. So because he had to wait for the doors and window before he could lay the patio, the work stopped. Eventually it got finished a full two months after it should have been.

All the time it was being built I was getting comments to the effect that I was mad; I would never be able to sit out here, that the wind would skin you, there will never be sun ever again, you’ll freeze, it’s a waste of money. But come the end of April when the sun finally did appear I was justified and so glad I stuck to my guns. Because I have lived on it ever since. I haven’t sat in my dining room or sitting room since because they are dark and cold so the television hasn’t been switched on either. The kitchen is now filled with warm evening sun and even on a dull day is immeasurably brighter.

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Now that this job is finished every other job to do with the house has been shoved very far down the list and I am itching to get working on the old out buildings. So far I’ve got doors put on the little sheds in the field the weaner pigs are in. I also pulled all the ivy off the roof.

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All the trees have been cut down. Sacrilege I hear you cry but it really isn’t. They were for the most part self-seeded sycamore and ash growing in the most difficult locations and a danger to all the buildings. How they stayed upright during Hurricane Ophelia I will never know. The boys cutting them down couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been removed before the house was renovated. They had a point because if the one a couple of meters from the kitchen window had fallen, the entire house would have been flattened.

I am so grateful though that the old farm buildings weren’t demolished. If I had a penny for everyone who said to me “it’s an awful pity the whole place wasn’t razed to the ground and started again.” We have no respect for our architectural heritage here. All around are beautiful old farm houses and outbuildings standing derelict beside a horrible new house that doesn’t suit the terrain, the area or the landscape. Houses built from non-indigenous material like red brick or non-local stone. Why there aren’t grants to encourage people to restore old buildings is a crying shame. When you drive around our nearest neighbour Wales – particularly in the Snowdonia National Park, they have kept all their old farm buildings and houses and you never see a big tasteless red brick house stuck up on a hill side.

Next on the never-ending list is restore the hay shed (repair, clean and paint), clear out the junk out of the old sheds and paint them and the doors and finally clear an area to make a garden. I think this is going to be a very long project.

 

The Winter

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The pigs pushed their way out of the shed on day 2

All the dire warnings and predictions came true. It was relatively benign up to Christmas apart from epic rain which obviously managed to seep into my old well and the water turned brown. It took me a few days to notice and when I did it was in the toilet. The worrying thing was I’d been drinking it and hadn’t noticed.

There had been horrendous rain a few days before. I was out checking the pigs one evening and could hear all this water. I walked down to the gate and the water was pouring out of the field opposite and running down the road. My big shed looked like it was floating.

When I realised my water was affected I rang Wexford County Council. To this day I remain impressed at how speedily they reacted. It was coming up to Christmas and one day there was a knock at the door. It was the guy in charge of this area. He told me I lived on the Low Road (who knew?). He also said they’d be out in the next couple of days to put in a drain at my gate. They were and it worked.

The run off from the field opposite is because a lot of the land around is leased to agricultural contractors who farm intensively. They removed all the stones in the soil for growing carrots and between that and compaction from heavy machinery and the fact they couldn’t care less about the land means the drainage is minimal. It still pours out but at least not into mine. I later found out that my yard and house had flooded from it in the past.

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So grim and grey in this picture

The builder who had renovated my house came out to talk to me about a possible extension and opening up the west facing wall to some light. He promised he would be here after Christmas when he was quiet, to make a start. He arrived in February. I’ll never forget one of his workers telling me the warnings about the predicted snow were right. He said if they say it’s coming from the east we always get it here. Storm Emma was coming up from the Azores and they were predicting Armageddon if she met the cold east winds now named The Beast from the East, but at this stage I was still sceptical.

However, I stocked up on animal feed just in case. I remember the poor man in my local Agri was really flustered because the place was mayhem. Tractors with trailers, jeeps with trailers and cars all waited patiently as they were loaded up with feed. He told me he hadn’t stopped since 8am to even get a cup of tea and it was now 2pm. I got double what I would normally then went into Wellingtonbridge to the SuperValu. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the entire wall where the sliced pans are normally stacked was empty. The milk section was as well. I was okay because I make my own bread and I had plenty of milk in the freezer.

But back to the buliding. I had decided I didn’t want to do a room but instead a partially covered patio/deck area. They were going to knock an old alcove out in the dining room and put in a window and knock out the kitchen wall for double patio doors. But first they had started on the roof. The roofers had got the felt on and were heading off for the weekend. I asked if we get snow will it hold up and they said of course. I really hoped they were right.

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It did hold up, impressively. And there was a mountain of snow on it. I was terrified if it slid off on top of me walking out from under it, I’d be buried in an avalanche. The roof was a godsend though because I was finally able to leave wellies, wet gear, buckets, gloves etc outside rather than dragging them into the house.

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We had some of the worst snow in the country. The worst in 72 years. My neighbours said it was all my fault for moving to the “sunny southeast”. But they were great. They called in to see if I was okay or if I needed anything. We took turns to go to the shop (“walking” actually crawling through snowdrifts in places) and luckily I was able to bail out two of them with milk when the local shop was cleared out and couldn’t get deliveries. Everyone I met on the road informed me the shop had no milk. All I was worried about was if they still had wine. I did get some strange looks when I said this.  Walking to the shop was lovely because everyone you passed had time for a chat. I thought to myself this must have been like what it was like in the old days when people had time for each other.

By now farmers and my neighbour who has a JCB were out clearing the roads. It was the same story all over the county. It was farmers who cleared roads probably because the council just didn’t have the manpower.

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There’s an old saying apparently that if snow is lying on the ground in March, you’ll have more before the year is out. It was hard to believe that we could ever get more but we did. Thankfully not a lot. But the cold and the grey and the rain was never ending. It seemed like it would never get warm again. My builder friend said he had heard it was going to be like this until June. Thankfully he was wrong and it began to improve at the end of April.

I was by now 6 months in my new house and I was itching to get out and make a start on the outside.

The Area

I accidentally picked one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland to move to. Initially I had been looking closer to Dublin where most of my family are but the closer you are to Dublin the more expensive the houses are plus affordable land is virtually non-existent. My sister helpfully pointed out that I was now a good two hour drive from my mother. I don’t think my mother was too impressed when she heard that I had replied “well she’s not going to be around for another 20 years whereas I may well be!”

I am right at the top of the Hook peninsula. If you drew a line south from my place you would hit Hook. It makes for a lot of wind and sea fog. However, within easy reach is the fabulous Tintern Abbey, the baby sister of the one in Wales. There is a beautifully restored walled garden here and if you take out membership for a small fee you can visit anytime with 5 guests. They leave the surplus fruit, veg and plants on a table here for you to take but just ask you leave a small donation. The little cafe has the most delicious homemade cakes in it – so good I go and buy them when I don’t feel like baking. And an added bonus when I went to buy some recently I had no cash. The cafe owner shrugged and said we’ve no wifi here (big thick walls) so the card machine doesn’t work. “Pay me next time you’re in.” He told me he has to say this at least 5 times a day and in three years has only been “done” half a dozen times………..

I am 5 minutes from the Ballyhack ferry to Passage East and then a 10 minute drive to Waterford city. Waterford is a fabulous city with loads of lovely restaurants, cafes and quirky little bars. It’s also the home of Waterford Glass and the tour is really fascinating.

 

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The Waterford coast from Duncannon beach

 

If you are into John F Kennedy as lots of Americans are I’m close to New Ross and the JFK Memorial Park.  There is also a replica famine ship in New Ross that you can tour.

 

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Dunbrody Famine ship

 

On the road to Hook Lighthouse, Loftus Hall has the dubious honour of being the most haunted in Ireland but I really feel they are missing a trick by not offering historic tours rather than the scary nonsense. The staircase in it is one of only three ever made. One was in The Titanic, the other is in The Vatican and the third is here. It has an amazing tiled floor in the entrance hall, which when the two Italian craftsmen who designed it went to the owner looking for payment after two years hard work, had their hands cut off so that they would never be able to replicate it for anyone else. The history of the house ties in with both Tintern Abbey and Hook Lighthouse.

When I first moved in and the days were short I did a lot of driving around finding beaches and interesting walks. Now the days are long and the weather is good I have less time for exploring because there is so much to do outside.

 

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Grange near Fethard on Sea
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Baginbun Head

I’m looking forward to exploring and finding more hidden gems when the days once again begin to shorten and by then I have everything done that I want to outside, but this is wishful thinking.

 

The Neighbours

Wexford people are some of the friendliest in Ireland. When we were kids we spent our summers in north Wexford, my mother always said this. She was a Mayo woman and I think she missed the easygoing friendly ways in her native county. When I moved in I couldn’t believe how lovely and welcoming my neighbours were.
Firstly I think they thought that I had bought the place as a holiday house and seemed to be genuinely pleased that I was going to be living here. There are a lot of houses closed up which I presume are holiday homes.

Neighbours dropped in cards, little gifts, called in for a chat and a cup of tea. People driving by stopped to say hello, one man warning me that he had seen my dogs squeezing out under the gate, “there are a lot of young lads tearing down this road you know.” You’d find it hard to imagine anyone tearing down my road apart from tearing out the ditch trying to pass a wider vehicle.

I was given their mobile numbers and told call them if I needed anything or wanted to know anything. One older lady called in with a warm apple tart and the parish newsletter.It was through her that I met one of the daughters of the old lady who had lived in this house. She also arrived with a gift and a card and we had a lovely chat about her parents and grandparents who had lived here. She was thrilled to see animals back in the place and particularly pigs and poultry. Her mother had reared poultry and her father pigs. He was a great gardener growing all their vegetables even courgettes which back in those days no one had seen before or knew how to cook. Her father owned the bakery in Campile but he still managed to feed a family of 4 daughters on 4 acres.

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Before Christmas I decided to ask them in for a glass of mulled wine and mince pies and they all piled into my tiny sitting room and had a lovely evening. Even though where I’m living now is even more remote than where I lived before, I have much closer neighbours. In the beginning I thought this would drive me crazy but it really doesn’t and it’s nice to know there is nearly always someone around during the day. It makes it feel very safe. It also means if I’m away the house is safe. I have almost never turned on the house alarm. My last house didn’t have one so anytime I have turned it on I’ve forgotten and set the damn thing off coming back in.

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But as I was getting acquainted with my neighbours so too were the pigs but their new neighbours were less than impressed. I’m surrounded by horses here. The lane beside me leads up to 10 acres which borders my fields and there is a thoroughbred yard across the road. Beside me they have sport horses and ponies. The pigs on realising that they had neigbours and being very friendly inquisitive animals immediately poked their snouts through the by now diminishing hedge and grunted.

What followed was chaos – snorting, galloping, tails up and thundering hooves. The pigs were perplexed which made them even more inquisitive. I looked out one Sunday morning to see my neighbour beside me holding one of his horses lathered in sweat. The animal had got itself in a state just hearing the sounds of the pigs beside him.

Horses are scared of pigs because back when wild boar roamed freely they were big and powerful enough to take down a weak horse or a foal. It’s an ancestral fear. But with a lot of patience and work I now have horses in my field closest to the house with two weaner pigs cavorting around and they are all quite happy together.

Even in the animal kingdom proper introductions are everything.

The First Day(s)

To me the first day was the day with all my animals around me and to me my animals are family (even the ones for eating). You can’t say, “ah the poor cratur has no one else”,  because I have felt like this all my life. I consider animals as part of my family and always have done. I grew up with animals and I cannot envisage a life without them.

Waking up and going out to feed the pigs and let the hens and ducks out on a lovely sunny autumn day in my new place was magical.

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Honky sunning herself

 

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Lady L loving all the grass and dry ground

Watching them stroll off to explore their new place with tails up is my abiding memory of that day. The ground was firm and dry. They had left a quagmire in Meath. The soil here is so much dryer and sandier.

I kept the poultry in the old shed for a day or two. It had been used as a pigsty in the past. There was the sleeping area and the feed trough that was fed from the outside (now blocked up with a sheet of corrugated iron) and presumably the “toilet” area. It is hard to imagine two fully grown sows in here but there was. Even back then pigs were treated abominably. I wouldn’t even put Parker the KuneKune in here to sleep and he’s a small pig.

Initially I had some fun with wandering hens but the funniest had to be the young duck who decided to fly into the neighbours late one evening around Halloween. I went looking for her and the kids all piled out to help in full Halloween costume. Picture me, the parents and three kids dressed up as ghosts and ghouls chasing a poor duck. The kids got a lesson that evening on how to catch an animal. We herded her into their porch and as she flew up I grabbed her. Various hens got out into the lane way between me and these neighbours but were relatively easy to shoo back. It doesn’t take long for them to realise where home is.

It took the cats a full month to explore outside. The fat cat hid in a hole in the lining in the bottom of one of the couches when anyone called in. He shot out the door one night after about three weeks as I was calling the dogs in. I was sure I’d never see him again and was distraught. But next morning he appeared and shot back in when I went out to feed the pigs. He didn’t go out again for about three weeks. Now I can’t get him in.  On the plus side when I first moved here I couldn’t keep up replacing poison. The place was overrun with mice. Once the cats went out, no more poison taken.

The dogs loved it from the beginning particularly the beach. I’m only five minutes from Duncannon and in the winter it’s MY beach, Now it’s full of day trippers and I hate it.

 

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I will never forget the first time I realised I was so close to the beach. The estate agent had muttered something about beaches when he first showed me the house. But it wasn’t until the second viewing when we drove down to Roche’s in Duncannon for lunch. When you come around the bend at the top of the hill,  the whole bay is there in front of you glistening seductively. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. The sea, the estuary, the Waterford coast, Duncannon Fort and the old lighthouse, now a private house. That view is good for the soul.

Every time I walked on the beach I felt the urge to pinch myself to wake up from a lovely dream. I also kept thinking about dad. Was he up there somewhere watching me and quietly pleased he had engineered the whole thing? I like to think he was. I don’t think I’ve ever been on the beach since where he hasn’t come into my head in some shape or form.

It was promising to be a lovely autumn and although there had been mutterings and forecasts about a dire winter I put them out of my head. There had been so many before and they’d always been wrong………

The Arrival

The journey took 4 hours. 4 hours with your heart in your mouth is a long time. I was following behind watching a wonky wheel and praying (to dad) it wouldn’t come off. The sun came out and at one stage beyond Bray I smelled burning. I rang my son. “Pull over, I smell burning.” The reply, “what are you on about you crazy woman? Now hang up I’m trying to listen to the rugby” or whatever. He also killed me for making him answer the phone while he was driving. A few miles down the road he indicates and pulls in. I come screeching in after him. “What’s wrong?”. “Nothing, I need a pee”…………

But at least I got a look at the pigs and they were fine, Honky was lying down and the other two were looking out wondering what the hell was going on.

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My view for 4 hours………

This photo was taken on the M3 on a bank holiday weekend. As Conor Faughnan of AA Roadwatch once said “you can play hockey on it.” Further on the traffic was horrendous with long tailbacks into Ferns and Enniscorthy. As we rolled through Ferns a woman came out of her house walking a spaniel. Honky had her snout stuck out the side and grunted at her. The poor woman almost had a heart attack. I was watching behind laughing.

We inched along all the way to Wexford and at the Duncannon roundabout there was an accident. Of course there was, it was the bank holiday and we had already been stuck in what seemed like hours of traffic. Luckily it was only slowing down the Rosslare traffic and we were able to turn out THE most hateful road on the planet – The New Line road. It took me a few weeks to learn that this was what it was called, but I hated it long before I knew. It’s a narrow straight two lane road with an 80km limit and those sneaky bastard speed vans parked intermittently along it. If you get stuck behind some plonker that decides he will drive well below the 80km speed limit, you are that word that rhymes with ducked.

Towards the end of the road my son obviously got fed up and put the boot down. I could see the trailer hurtling along behind and was convinced that a wheel would spin off. Eventually we got to my place and he backed into the field. We opened the ramp and the pigs staggered down. One or more had been sick (who knew pigs got travel sick?) probably towards the end when he speeded up.

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Checking out their new accommodation

I immediately got their food and put straw in the small sheds in the picture above. They were quite happy to be out of the trailer and were exploring. Later I went out to check them and they had completely ignored my efforts to make them comfortable and had moved themselves into the big hay shed around the corner. So I had to drag all the straw out and move it into them.

We unloaded the poultry and fed and watered them. Let the cats into the house and he announced he was going to drive back. I couldn’t believe it. It was almost 6pm and was getting dark and we had had nothing to eat. I persuaded him to come up to The Hollow and get something to eat first. He did and then drove back up to Meath.

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A very welcome plate of food and a glass of wine after a long day

I crawled into bed that night and passed out.

The Animals

Saturday morning of the October Bank Holiday was to be the day. I had organised the trailer from my farmer friend neighbour for the previous week but luckily he could still manage without it the following. It was a big cattle trailer and I figured I would need it for the three pigs for the long journey. I persuaded my son to go and pick it up the day before and we reversed it into the stable yard in front of the stable. I had really wanted to have had time to do this a few days before but it wasn’t possible. That first evening I put the pig food into it and Honky and Parker (the pets) shot up the ramp like pros. Lady Lavinia was having none of it and went without her tea.

I rounded up the poultry as usual that night and managed to grab them one by one to put into a big cage the previous owner of my house had left behind. I fed and watered them and left them in the garage. The cats were still in the house, still freaked and still fighting. They had hated each other from the beginning. I fed them and went down to my son’s and fell into bed. I spent the night “rehearsing the dance” as my mother and her sisters used say. Pretty apt when you are all worked up about something and you keep doing it over and over in your “half” sleep. I woke up in the morning still exhausted, weak and worried.

My son who rarely stresses about the stuff I do can be a monumental pain and takes forever to get organised when it’s not him that has to be somewhere. So I went up to the house myself and he was to follow. In the meantime and unbeknownst to me another farmer neighbour stopped my ex and warned him that the trailer I was borrowing had only ever been used around the area and up and down lanes and might not be able for the long motorway journey and I should check the bearings etc. The ex rang my son.

When I heard this I almost had a nervous breakdown. It’s all well and good if something happens towing horses as you can take them out and hold onto them. I had visions of smoke coming out of the wheel and burning which had happened to me with the very first battered old used Rice horsebox I bought. But what the hell do you do with pigs on a motorway? The son did the usual shaking the wheels and then went off to get a gun thingy to tighten the nuts. Another farmer friend called over with a goodbye present and he did the same sort of shaking the wheels. If there was anything wrong with the bearings all that shaking couldn’t have helped. Then we had to try and load the pigs.

Now farmers are the best in the world but they are utterly useless when it comes to pigs and they aren’t much better with horses unless they are used to them. So I had all sorts of “helpful” advice. I grabbed the bucket and the pair of brats shot up the ramp. Lady L was starving but she stopped on the ramp. My son shouted “back up, back up.” I backed up and she backed down. I came down the ramp again and this time she put her back feet on it. She stuck her huge head into the bucket and I couldn’t move. My son was growling at me to back up. She was digging into the grub and was in danger of reversing. Then out of the blue she stepped forward and he slammed the gate behind her shoving her up the whole way. And I was trapped inside. “Oh don’t worry,” he says “there’s a jockey door.” Except a bit like the ball bearings it had never been opened or closed and was jammed shut.

I told him to open the gates a smidge and I would squeeze out but don’t on your life let her out. Somehow she was still eating and I escaped.

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Honky, the greedy guts up first
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All loaded up
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Poultry, fencing stuff, feeding troughs, water containers all in

I went into the house to get the cats. The fat cat was so freaked out he had crawled under the kitchen units where the dishwasher had been taken out and I had to dismantle the kick boards to get into him. He and The Thug were put in separate cat boxes in the car along with the dogs. I was following the van towing the pigs and the poultry.

It was to be what felt like the longest journey of my life.