Received the following from me ma & da this morning, who are still travelling. Bear in mind they are retired farmers & Dad works at the local vet clinic, so all you country folk should understand most of what Dad's written. If any of you city slickers need further explanation, I'll do my best! Irish Daughter - I hope nothing Dad has written is offensive - I'm interested in hearing your take on his observations of your home land - & please excuse any "local" spelling mistakes!.
Now. Grab yourself a cuppa & enjoy a little Irish countryside & hospitality!
Rasharkin, Northern Ireland
We are nearing the end of our time in Ireland. It has been an interesting time to be here. The Queen's visit has meant a lot more to the Irish than it might appear from the papers back home. Much more important than President Obama's visit. The people live up to their stereotype. Most are very friendly & quick with a witty phrase to cover every situation and some are shy and economical with words. A vet we met said that it was particularly difficult to extract symptoms from some Irish farmers and each county had different names for different conditions. A universal term of founder is applied to a multitude of conditions and a sick cow was said to be "lonesome" in Donegal. A mother was heard to call her shy son as "wild" quiet.
The country is much like all the photos & pictures we have all seen. The mountains are taller than we expected. Some parts are just like England with hedgerows, stone walls, stately homes with manicured gardens and castles. Derelict churches are left standing because of the cemeteries in the grounds. There is lots of evidence of previous civilisations. Iron age ring forts & burial tombs, Norman signal towers, earthen lookout mounds and old churches. The stone & render ages quickly & you are never sure how old the buildings are. You can buy a new thatched roof at a price. Even the smallest holding seems to have a stone entrance.
We rented a house in Killorglin for a week. It was very relaxing to slow down to the Irish pace of life & explore Kerry at leisure. It is as beautiful as they say. In Clare we stayed 2 nights on The Burren which is a protected wilderness area & sparsely populated. The ridge lines look a little like Broken Hill and parts like the Stoney Rises but it is mostly limestone. The valley floors are "turloughs" or dried lakes which fill after rain. We thought they were filling after rain but it was sheets of limestone shining in the sun. Sure enough after heavy rain there was water the next day. Farming is allowed under controlled conditions. They must winter the stock outdoors to control invasive weeds. The main problem for a farmer then was heavy snow when a cow might be blinded & lose her footing. The hostel owner used a Belgian Blue bull with no calving problems.
His brother owned the pub -one of the few other buildings in the village. It was full of Michael Cusack memorabilia. He was a local & the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association which controls football & hurling & provides a social centre for every Irish community. At one time it was quite political & it's involvement in the Queen's visit was almost like Sorry Day for the Irish. There were music lessons before the session in this pub. The small bar was full & served surprisingly good meals. There are a lot of pubs per capita & alcohol consumption is alarmingly high by published statistics. They seem very relaxed about drink driving & speed limits however we were assured driving in Ireland isn't nearly as exciting as it used to be. We visited the cliffs of Moher from here. We saw them but the wind & rain too fierce to take photograph.
In Galway we start to see Loughs large & small. Lough Corrib made Oughterard a prosperous fishing town until the 70's. The hostel owner then made a living as an eel fisherman until EU regulations protected eels. It was a garrison town and the locals experienced discrimination because they became English speakers. The "paddock" behind the hostel was the famine burial ground. The west of Galway has lots of exposed limestone and there are lots of peat bogs still being worked everywhere. It is sad to see empty houses, abandoned housing developments & pessimistic newspaper reports but all the people we have met are very philosophical. One bright note is the optimism for farming. Lamb & beef prices are at record levels. Milk prices are only around 27 euro cents a litre but they are optimistic & looking to expand. Many of the farm lads working in trades have come home so there is a push for efficiency & modernisation to accommodate them and an increased interest in agricultural education. There are minimum education standards required to be eligible for the EU farm support programs & avoid inheritance tax. Most of these are now directed toward environmental considerations rather than production. Farm advisers spend a lot of time interpreting EU policy & filling out grant applications.
Along the way we visit the Museum of Irish Life - part of the National Museum. Tourism is very important to the country & they do it very well. Every tourist site we visit we find out something new about the tragedy of the famine & the exodus of emigrants. About the Troubles and their relationship with the English. About the plantations (of people). There are a surprising number of protestant churches in the south and English people (for centuries) as well as EU people now. The further west & north we go, the more Irish is spoken & fewer English road signs. Part of the in car entertainment is listening to the satnav lady trying to pronounce the names of the towns.
Donegal is a the liveliest town we have seen. The larger cities might have been lively but we have tried to avoid them. We only had time to see the south of the county and we saw less exposed stone , more signs of forestry & again spectacular coastal scenery. It is only now that we experience any sign of sectarianism - photos of Bobby Sands on a pub wall & more political music. When we arrived in Rasharkin in Northern Ireland there were black flags flying on some of the lamp posts. They are commemorating hunger strike martyrs. The fountain in the garden at the agricultural college was dedicated to a student victim of the Omagh bombing. The new deputy mayor of Belfast refuses to speak to the new Sinn Fein Lord Mayor (25 year's old). AND there were 13 bomb alerts with at least one "viable" device on Friday. It is quite surreal as we have received the most wonderful hospitality from our cousins and everyone we have met. Everyone seems to know everyone. It is important in both the north & the south to know where you are from & that is the first question asked of both local & visitor. Although the weather has not been good we have been ferried back & forth between showers to see most of the scenic north coast. The Atlantic has been very rough but we see the occasional intrepid surfer.
We were able to visit an Agricultural college. The chap who showed us around spent most of his time educating farm advisers on this task especially on controlling nitrate runoff. Regulations were tightened this year & many farmers had to increase effluent storage to avoid applications over winter. The students staffed the 2 dairies & made nearly all the management decisions. Apart from November to March housing much the same as home. A new tool for declining fertility was 3 different bulls in 1 straw for problem cows. We visited a turkey farm yesterday. It was a breeding unit run by a young couple. There were a dozen rubber boots lined up against the wall. Enquiry revealed they belonged to the AI technicians. The breeding company milked the stags on farm & immediately inseminated the 3400 hens in a cage in the middle of the shed. We were too polite to ask for further details of the procedure. The laying is controlled by light. There are nesting boxes each side of the shed - 1 to 5 hens. About 5 times a day arms move and gently sweep the hens off the nest and push the eggs onto a conveyor belt. They are graded A or B on shape & shell quality & picked up 3 times a week to be sent to the incubating farms. The farmer relied on his farm consultant to deal with the company. The company is responsible for all the inputs & management decisions. The farmer is responsible for egg collection, shed management & daily husbandry. He said it beats milking cows. The birds are very placid & quiet but wary of strangers; therefore the same team of technicians do all the bird handling always in blue overalls. The silage season is in full swing everywhere we have been & some are on their second cut. We stopped in a reasonable sized town yesterday & watched a constant stream of tractors towing silage wagons & muck tankers passing through the square. It is common to see tractors towing large machinery on the motorways & they ignore other traffic on country roads.
You will have to wait for (Mum) to tell you about all the gardens & stately homes we have seen. Rhododendrons are everywhere & have become an environmental problem. We are almost castled out!
Next, Scotland & France.
Now I really really really want to visit Ireland!!!!!!!!!!!