This day last year repeated over and over in my head. Crippled by grief, by regret, by guilt. Wishing I had an hour, a measly hour to talk to you before that bastard disease took your brain.
This morning walking the fields with the pigs and the dogs. The sun shining in a deep blue sky. You would have loved it here. You loved being outside.
Dad, I woke this morning before 4am, about the time I left you last year, to get some sleep. I didn’t think you were going to go so soon, but you did. You never woke up. You never had that lucid few moments you hear some people have. You took your last breath with your youngest children holding your hands.
I got the call before 7am and we raced back down to the nursing home. If I could now have that hour with you I would tell you…….
There isn’t a day or a part of a day that I don’t think about you.
I see you on the beach every time I see the sun’s long shadows on shells.
I think of you when the wind is onshore or offshore or rippling on the tide racing in on sinking sands.
I saw you in the stars last night through the bathroom velux and then this morning I read the poem on your memorial “I am the soft starlight at night”…….
I think of you on cold frosty nights. “It’s perishing”, you would say as you felt the radiator.
I think of you when I see old men with their backs to me wearing beige coats and flat caps.
I think of you every time I walk the dogs. “Let them off the lead to have a run”…..
I think of you every time I see some “dirty looking eijit” driving on the beach. You’d have gone mad at that.
I ask myself so often – where are you? Can you see us? Do you know what we are all doing?
I decided to get Wwoofers (officially stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). I had heard of the organisation before I moved here but assumed I wasn’t “farm” or “organic” enough. However, turns out as long as you practice a mostly organic ethos you qualify and it doesn’t matter how tiny you are. So one night in the depths of winter I took out membership to be a host.
I had loads of queries. But one thing I learned very quickly is; you tell them – yes, they can come and then you never hear from them again. I accepted three Israeli girls who sent me a long apologetic message that they appreciated most places wouldn’t take the three of them but they really, really wanted to stay together. Close to the time I emailed them did they want directions. They replied “oh sorry, we’re not coming, we thought we had told you…..”.
So then I told them all they could come. Most I never heard from again but I ended up with a crossover of two serious ones. More of that anon but the funniest had to be the message from two German guys driving around Ireland. Hi, we are two German guys who love the look of your farm. We would love to come stay with you for a week but don’t worry you don’t need to pick us up…..!” Read that as we’d like free accommodation at your place because it’s close to the sea….!!
My first Woofer didn’t come through WWOOF. I had worked in the US as a student on my year out. Somehow being deeply persuasive I had convinced the dean of my faculty that a year out in California would really be good for experience in temperate climate plants…….! I told you I was persuasive. He okay’d it despite his better judgement. Anyway to cut a long story short, as my dad used say; I ended up in California in the Los Angeles Arboretum, San Diego Zoo and a National Trust equivalent – Filoli (famed as the location for Dynasty, The Fall Guy and Fantasy Island where I met and had a photo taken with Pierce Brosnan long before he became famous, amongst others.) I met the first woofer’s mother at work there and subsequently his father when they were just boyfriend and girlfriend. I later attended their wedding and then we kept in touch for years only to lose contact but get reacquainted by Facebook – as you do!
She messaged me one night that he wanted to come to Ireland Woofing. I said he could come here and that was it. He began the lengthy process of painting all my outbuildings to match the startling white of my house.
Conor from Seattle turned out to be ace at painting having the patience to dabble pebbledash to within an inch of it’s life. Here he is in blistering heat painting the pebbledash gable end of the shed. I was at the field side scraping off the loose grey paint from years ago. I almost got sunstroke because I never thought to put a hat on. My neck got fried.
He painted most of my outbuildings while he was here. I had been persuaded to leave the goddamn yellow front door so I wanted to paint the shed doors with something that would match. I settled on this lime green that I think has done the job.
Conor left to go on a jolly around Ireland and I had Elio the French student next. Somehow I’d got it into my head he was 19 (He was 25). I had to pick him up at the bus outside SuperValu, New Ross. I arrived and parked in the car park along the quays opposite and sat waiting. I had decided I’d wait and see what he looked like before making myself known. If he looked scary I’d just drive off. Thankfully he looked like someone I’d be happy to have. I did tell him all this later and we had a laugh. I’m so glad I didn’t drive off because he was a pleasure to have. He was a superb worker as well as mannerly and all the animals loved him.
He had asked to stay for a month but I really didn’t want to commit to that length of time in case we didn’t get on or he was useless. I like my own company and independence and the thoughts of having anyone in my space for that length of time horrified me. However, he did stay a month and it flew and I was sad to see him go. He went off at weekends which gave me breathing space which helped too.
The first day he was here I asked him to stack the rest of the wood that had been split and was thrown all over the hayshed floor. I thought it would take him the morning. He had it done in an hour and I had a panic attack that I would never have enough work for him. But needless to say in an old place like this, there is always something to do. He finished off the painting so that everything is now a gleaming white and can probably be seen from space.
I had been making mutterings about the old stone shed and had begun to chip off the grey paint that was flaking off. It had been painted over lime wash years ago and in winter I noticed that when I leaned against the inside wall to pull on or off my wellies, the wall was wet. This was because the paint was preventing the old building from breathing as lime mortar and wash traditionally did. I spoke to several people who all sucked in between their teeth and looked at me like I was somewhat touched. Then they all muttered about “big money”. Read that as they didn’t want to be bothered to do it but if I insisted they would charge me handsomely. How hard can it be to do it myself I wondered. And as always, thought if people with little or no equipment, access to the internet etc could do it years ago, why couldn’t I? I began trawling through Google and just got completely confused by all the technical terms for lime – hydrated lime, slaked lime, lime putty etc.
I went down to the big Homevalue place in Wellingtonbridge to ask. They were totally honest and said they hadn’t a clue but called a man over. He turned out to be the owner. He asked for my phone number, there was someone he knew who had done a job for the OPW and by coincidence he had been in earlier. He would give him a call and then let me know what he said. He also told me ring Byrne’s in Carlow. They turned out to be The Traditional Lime Company. I rang and the man I spoke to told me he’d ring me back, I had disturbed his morning cup of tea………
The long and short of it was I convinced Elio to have a go. He didn’t do that Gallic shrug thing the French are wont to do, so that was encouraging. He didn’t look thrilled though. What had been his downfall was showing me photos of the stone wall he had built in the last place he had been on the Cork/Waterford border. He understood stone and that was nine tenths of the battle as far as I was concerned. I was sitting at the table outside on the patio with him and Michelle, the German Woofer (the crossover) having lunch when I suddenly decided; as I do a lot, to jump in the car and drive to Tullow in Carlow to buy the NHL 3.5 lime, the 0.5ml sand and the lime putty. Michelle on hearing it would probably take me most of the afternoon to drive there and back asked how far it was. She burst out laughing when I told her 60km odd. Twisty turny roads and up over Mount Leinster doesn’t make for much speed. I got it and the next day we set about mixing the mortar. Once more Larry the neighbour came to the rescue. I reckon I’m providing endless entertainment here because a neighbour can rarely pass the gate without having to stop to see what’s going on. He offered his drill and a mixer attachment to mix the mortar.
Elio and myself set to it but it became apparent that he was a natural and I was just annoying him. He told me to go away. He got half the front done in no time and then was itching to lime wash it. We probably should have waited another day or two but I was dying to see what it would look like as well. He put on the first coat and stood scratching his head. Is it supposed to be so watery and all running down the wall? We thickened up the mix and applied a second coat. Then stood back to admire the gleaming white. He headed off to Dublin to run the Half Marathon for the weekend and myself and Michelle stood looking at it in horror the next morning. Drizzley rain overnight had washed most of it off.
However, when he came back on Monday he applied several more coats and this time they stuck. He finished the back and then showed Michelle how to do it. She’s out there now slowly and forensically finishing it off. She does everything slowly and forensically including surgically removing weeds which is a skill that should be on her cv! She was one of the others I said yes to when she requested to come and then promptly forgot all about her. That was why I had a crossover for a couple of weeks.
I said yes to a big hairy Spanish chap who says he’s an electrician and carpenter but although he initially replied, I’ve had no definite confirmation from him. So when Michelle leaves next month I may not get anyone else.
The little shed is looking mighty fine now like the grand old dame she is. A neighbour thinks it may have been the original farmhouse on the property as it’s got a mezzanine. There is also has the remnants of the old milking machine and pressure guage inside plus the little annexe they put the calves into when they were milking the cows. I keep my feed in here and for now my new hens are in it until they get accepted by the existing bullies.
Having Woofers turned out to be a very positive experience and one that I will definitely do again. I think we all gained from it. And once you get over the horror of someone in your house long term, it’s absolutely fine.
Hard to believe looking back at this that Irish fields resembled Tuscan ones. After the worst winter in 72 years, we had the hottest one in 42. Ten weeks of drought where 40 shades of green turned to 40 shades of yellow and burnt umber. The pigs struggled with the heat and spent most of the day in the hayshed or out behind the mound of building rubble in a shady nook created by it and overhanging trees. The poultry were the same hardly venturing out of the hayshed during the hottest part of the day. We got used to waking up to blue skies and intense heat.
What’s rare is wonderful but with everything there has to be a downside and mine was water. The old well was running really low and I was worried. I contacted the council to see was there a grant to connect the deep well sunk in 1990, 200 feet deep and costing £750! How did I know all this? It was written on a piece of cardboard hanging on the back wall of the big shed. We had cleared it of all it’s junk and the sign was there.
The previous owners for some reason had emptied the contents of the house into it during renovation. It was a huge higgeldy piggeldy mess. I had asked an antiques shop owner from New Ross if he wanted to take a look in it. To be honest it was difficult to see anything in it. For all I knew there could be some gem hidden in there that would pay for all the work I had to do. Wishful thinking. It was rubbish and falling assunder from woodworm. The antiques guy valiently climbed over it all and found two wooden boxes he was interested in. He offered me €100. I bit the hand off him wondering was he slightly touched. He dragged them out and I’m still convinced he was. Actually he promised he would let me know when he’d done them up so I could see he wasn’t……… !
But back to the well. I was approved for the grant and I found a company to give me a price. Pump experts I was told. After weeks of pestering he arrived one really hot evening to sink a submersible pump, pump out the water for a few days then get it tested.
He connected the pump, connected the power and sailed off telling me to run the water for 15-20 minutes every day. Unfortunately he had barely cut the cable to reach the socket in the shed and I had to pig proof it outside from a pair of nibbling terrorists. So it had to be extended using an extension lead. It ran for a few minutes then cut out. Great. The excitement at finally having water was short-lived.
Up to this I had been sparingly using my own water for absolute necessities like toilets and showers. I had stopped using the washing machine and dishwasher, trawling up to the washing machines in the village and washing up in a small bowl in the sink. My neighbour had connected me by a series of pipes running from the well in his stable yard, down his fields and under the road in a drain. These pipes were all connected using connection pieces that in the intense heat burst apart so I had no water. I had assumed he had switched me off for some reason. When I finally got desperate I rang him and he said to my utter horror that this must have happened and that the water was running down the hill. We went to investigate and it was. He put something over all the connections to keep them cool and I ran the water at intervals so that the heat didn’t build up. The water coming through the black piping was warm enough to wash up with!
This water was then filled into two barrels which I used for watering the animals, the tunnel and the flowers in the containers I had nurtured before the poultry ate most of them. They were desperate for greens.
Eventually we figured out why the new well was cutting out. The extension lead had a safety cut out as it couldn’t cope with the power required for the pump. However, it soon became apparent that the water was absolutely manky in the well. The tests came back high in manganese and iron (explained the brown colour), and high in coliforms. He connected the UV filter installed previously and said the water wouldn’t kill me. Good to know. Even looking that unappealing the smell of hydrogen sulphide was the deal breaker. I decided it wasn’t even fit for the pigs.
Then I had to go back to the council and ask could the grant cover a filtration system. I was told the grant was just over €2000 so it would cover connection and half the cost of the filtration installation. Better than a kick in the arse anyway. Now I’m waiting for him to come back to finish the job. To date I’m using that well for the house but not for drinking or even cooking with. Thank God for Larry’s well.
The rain finally returned. All around the country people were saying it was raining but there was no sign of any here. I was watching weather charts and it would look as if we would get it but we seemed to keep missing it. It was really disheartening. But then it did eventually. Even now coming up to the end of August the fields are still bone dry. It will take a good few weeks more of heavy rain to improve the situation and traditionally September and October are when the water table is lowest even after a normal summer.
The heatwave is well and truly over and it suddenly began to feel very autumnal a couple of weeks ago. The summer and drought of 2018 will forever be etched in my mind though just as the past winter is.
I know I “may” have waxed lyrical about the food since I moved here. I know also that the food in Ireland has improved immeasurably in recent years but holy cow – the fish in Wexford. Not only the fish, the tomatoes, the strawberries and the spuds. The spuds, namely Wexford Queens bring terroir to a whole new level. Put that in yer pipe Frogs, and smoke it. Wexford Queens grown in sandy soil with sea breezes sweeping over them. There is nothing to compare. Nothing as good. Nothing on the planet.
Did I mention the fish? The fish. Oh my God. I live down the road from Mickey the Winch in Arthurstown. He was the owner of the Pere Charles that sank with the loss of five men. Since then he’s never gone to sea but started a smokehouse, Ballyhack Smokehouse smoking wild and farmed salmon. He also sells fish weekly in my local village but if you miss that, you can pop down to his house.
Moving to Wexford from Meath where the only place to get good fish was in a super little but wholly inaccessible fish shop in Navan. It was a brilliant shop but it was a hike and parking was a nightmare. So much so that I only went a couple of times a month and stocked up. Here, I can get fish daily almost and it’s only a 5 min drive.
I get local, seasonal and mostly chemical-free veg from Ronan’s Farm Shop in New Ross. I also get Wexford free range pork and bacon (sadly not organic) and organic chicken. The chicken is from Regan Organics and is second to none. They do duck eggs as good as my own. That’s always my marker. Do they do it as good as I do? Few do, but they do.
The Nutshell café and health food store in New Ross are terrific for all the other organic dry goods. They order me in 5kg bags of organic strong flour. I make all my own bread because the only decent bakery is in Tramore (Seagull Bakery). I also make my own focaccia and brioche burger buns that I keep in the freezer.
I often take a spin up to Gorey on a Saturday to the market there where they always have a great selection of in season vegetables. Then pop into Partridge’s for a coffee and an almond scone with the mammy. After that a potter around the shops. Gorey has to be one of the best shopping towns in the country.
I buy chips of jam strawberries from Green’s and make pots of strawberry jam. It’s become a summer tradition. I’ve since discovered a local strawberry grower – Danescastle.
But it’s not only great ingredients, the local restaurants and pubs are pretty great too. Such a joy when you don’t feel like cooking or have unexpected visitors.
I’m pretty spoiled by having Roche’s of Duncannon who do the best fish and chips and Yellowbelly beers down the road.
I’ve spoken about The Hollow Bar up the road as well that do great fish and have a gin and tonic menu to die for. Not to mention Aldridge Lodge and Dunbrody (which I’ve yet to sample).
Wexford has pretty great food. It doesn’t have the fame of Cork or even West Cork but that’s because no one is shouting loudly. I aim to change that.
It’s almost mid-summer. I’m now here going on 8 months but I feel like I’m here so much longer. The feeling of unfamiliarity has almost gone. I had to ask initially where everything was. The feed supplier, hardware, recycle centre, health food shop, butcher (non-existent), the baker, the candlestick maker. I’m sure I drove my neighbour daft texting her, asking stuff. The drive home from Dublin, Meath and elsewhere is now familiar and I have reference points to know how much longer it will take. It’s very disconcerting in the beginning when you have no idea.
The animals have all taken to it like ducks to water. Indeed the very first ducks were born here the other day. And hopefully in a week or so there will be chicks to join them. Will I breed pigs again? I’m tempted to but not with the present stock. I think the way to go is breed pure bred rare breeds. I’m waiting for my inspection for my new herd number. I didn’t realise the old one was related to Meath. The vet rang me last week and said they’ve a big backlog and he will be out towards the end of next week.
I have decided I will grow a few sheep next year because I have way too much grass. The end paddock is the biggest one and I didn’t use it in the winter and now the grass is waist height in it. My neighbour is cutting it every day but that day hasn’t actually arrived. Probably for dock and other weed control it would be an idea to stick a few goats on it but the thoughts of them escaping…………. Sheep don’t thrill me either apart from eating them. From listening to other sheep farmers they seem to have one aim only and that is to find ways to kill themselves.
Who knows what the future will bring? Would I do it all again? Definitely. I never loved Meath. When I moved there initially, I said “six weeks and I’m gone”. Not sure where to but I found it really backward and insular. We had moved home from living in England for 6 years with two small children. It drove me crazy how limited the shops were. I used drive to SuperQuinn in Blanchardstown once a week to do my grocery shopping and then later in Blackrock on my way home from visiting my parents and that was before the Clonee bypass never mind the motorway.
I suppose I gradually just got used to it but I do remember when the kids were small driving back after being in Wexford with them, how much I hated going back. There is an invisible line at Clonee where the weather changes. You leave Wexford or Dublin in glorious sunshine, hit that line and the sky darkens, without fail. When I was house hunting last summer it happened every single time. I would leave my house and the wind and rain and drive to Bray or Ashford depending on who was coming with me and the sun would come out. For the 10 houses I viewed (some of them twice) it only rained for two but it was grey and dreary on leaving, every single trip.
The locals laugh here when I tell them the weather is miles better in the sunny southeast. They don’t think it is, but they haven’t lived in Meath.
Tomorrow is Father’s Day and it’s the first without dad. In truth he hadn’t a clue what it was for quite a number of years. Dementia had robbed him of everything. We all wished him dead. Sounds an awful thing to say but to watch someone you love go through that dreadful illness is the worst form of torture for you and for them. If an animal had that poor a quality of life you would be accused of cruelty not to humanely end it. Humanely? We treat animals humanely. We treat people abominably.
I’m so glad I decided to write all this down before I forget, because at the back of my mind is the dread that dementia is genetic and I will go the same way. I hope if they can’t find a cure they at least find a way to put people out of their misery if they make a decision in advance that is what they wish.
For now, that’s the end of this chapter. But I’m sure there will be many more.
Or also known as the horrors, the pests, the terrible two. You get the gist? Two (big) piglets by the time I got them here. I couldn’t find quality pigs on Done Deal, just the usual rubbish from someone who keeps a few pigs and breeds indiscriminately. Buyer beware really applies when buying livestock but particularly pigs. I have bought half-starved, runty piglets in the past because I was desperate and because I felt sorry for them but it’s not advisable. It took me twice as long to fatten them.
I got this pair in a convoluted fashion. I had asked friends if I could buy a couple from them when their sow farrowed however she aborted and they said they were looking for piglets as well. I told them if they found any let me know and I’d take two. They sourced them in Galway and I collected them from their place a week or so later in north Tipperary.
I had actually bought a trailer. Years ago I sold my horse box and I had steadily cursed ever since. Having to borrow a trailer is a pain and although most people don’t mind lending them, I hate being under a compliment to anyone. It was years since I’d pulled one and I was wondering if I’d still be able to reverse it etc. You can laugh but it took me a long time to be able to competently. It had taken a lot of practice, away from the “helpful” comments from men in particular. Actually in the end I was better than a lot of men!
Then there was the question of the driving licence. Somehow in the meantime, it had become law that you have a trailer licence. The thoughts of doing another test….. but one day I looked at my licence and lo and behold I had the trailer category ticked. Phew.
I asked around down here and a neighbour down the road called in one evening to say he had one. I had a look at it and I was in business. I then had to get a hitch on the Ceep (carjeep) or baby toe rag as my builder friend refers to it.
All that organised and the day was set. But I was still nervous about driving it. It was just over a two hour drive but it took me closer to three. You just can’t go whoring around bends pulling a trailer and boy were they bendy roads. It was a sunny bank holiday Monday so I just took my time. Pulling an empty trailer is a pain because it’s fierce bumpy.
Luckily I was staying the night and not making the return journey until the next day. After an evening of great hospitality and far too much wine (me), Alfie decided to catch the pigs rather than herd them in much to the amusement of a couple of Mexican American friends staying there as well. You wouldn’t get that in a 5 star hotel.
I set off in great trepidation. It was a hot sunny day and I had a massive hangover and I was nervous and it was a long drive. Three and a half hours later I was on the road out of New Ross and itching to get home for a cup of tea. There was a massive tailback for roadworks, of course there was. Isn’t there always when you are dying to get home?
I made it and ran into my neighbour to give me a hand to unload them into the stable. I was leaving to go back to Meath the next day so I wanted to keep them in until I got back. He was a great help and we got them unloaded easily.
Today they are free range as in really free range. They are immune to the electric fence and are having a lovely time ducking in and out under it at will to graze with the horses. To be honest I’ve given up trying to keep them in because unless they get out on the road which is unlikely, they can’t do much damage and the neighbours are all pretty relaxed about escapees.
They will have a great short life (albeit twice as long as a commercial pig) and will then head to Christy Byrne’s abattoir in Camolin, probably in October. Another outing for the trailer.
At the end of the day a good life and a good death is all any of us want.
Cecil arrived here in February, a gangly youth with pimples and a breaking voice. He came with friends of mine from Tipperary as well as their two dogs for the weekend. I had got a notion that I missed having a cock strutting his stuff around the place. Remind me why again because I did nothing but swear at my last one for crowing before 5 am even in the middle of winter. If I happened to be awake he drove me crazy because shortly after the cars flying to Dublin started tearing down the road and there was no hope of any more sleep. Somehow I had convinced myself that it would be different here.
He wasn’t here a wet week when he started to try to crow. Ah, I thought how sweet. He sounded like a teenage boy who goes to say something and all that emits is a squeak. But by heck did he find his voice and now he uses it incessantly. He crows every hour on the hour all night long. I couldn’t figure out why I could only distantly hear him in my bedroom which is closest to the hen house but yet when I went into the bathroom I could hear him much louder. It dawned on me that the bathroom Velux is obviously much less air tight that the rest of the windows.
Recently my neighbour told me he was going to stick him in a pot if he didn’t calm down. I made up a load of excuses that he was young and eager and he would settle. I also told him that he could also be hearing the cock across the road and confusing him with Cecil. Well it was only a “white lie”.
I named him Cecil after my neighbour and friend in my last place. Cecil was an elderly gentleman bachelor farmer. He was phenomenally well-read and knowledgeable about the countryside and animals. I learned so much from him about everything to do with animals, particularly horses. Cecil adored horses and he had bred a few good ones in his day. He still had an elderly thoroughbred mare – Polar Princess, who had won a few big races and he adored her. He looked after her like she was his baby making up big buckets of bran mash for her on cold winter evenings when he religiously and at the same time, brought her in from the field across the road from the yard. When my kids started riding they kept their ponies in his yard and we always made them bran mash after a hunt. He used let them help him feed the pet lambs and cut up the chunks of raw meat for his dogs. I still have a vision of coming home from work and going down to collect them and seeing my daughter standing on an upturned bucket with a big blunt knife trying to hack up a lump of meat. During lambing they used come tearing in the door from school, sling their school bags into the house and run down to “help Cecil”.
Cecil also had an old cockerel he loved. He had him so tame he used eat out of his hand. When he died he was devastated so I asked a friend to give me a replacement for him. When I gave it to him he was thrilled but his nephew who had inherited the farm not so much. Sadly the replacement didn’t last long and then poor Cecil was knocked over by the mare which triggered his epilepsy and ultimately his demise.
I suppose for this reason I am fond of Cecil because he makes me remember his namesake. Between him and another old bachelor farmer Hugh, I had so many laughs as a young mother and learned so much from both of them. Plus they were both so good to my children who still have fond memories of them to this day.
I really hope he settles down and the neighbour doesn’t insist he is put in a pot. Cecil au vin? Because you can’t really live in an old farm yard and not have a cock strutting his stuff now can you?