Monthly Archives: June 2016

Piazza della Signoria

After driving onto the famed Piazza della Signoria in Florence shouting at each other and by the way listening to Italian Nonnas adding to the chorus crying ‘non si puo’, ‘non si puo’ (you can’t drive here they were shouting, naturally protective of their prized piazza), we were glad to abandon our punto and sit ourselves down on a step outside this tiny little cave like cafe where two Italian brothers sold the best panino and vino in dare I say it, Italy.

Could I tell you the name of the street of my favourite eatery? No. But I could take you there by the hand. And so I did. Still in shock from driving onto Signoria, my law abiding Irish farmer welcomed his glass of Chianti like it were a hot cup of tea after silage. A second panino and glass of vino were taken in his free hand to watch the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio as the jewellers on the old bridge switched off their lights for the evening. It was our real honeymoon, we were in Italy and coming to realize that our marriage already was a mixture of drama, Corkonian temper, Kerry compromise, oh and love. A good enough start.

For the next leg of our journey we took our life in our hands (see drama) and drove into the hills of the Mugello. Wanting to impress my new husband with the Italian countryside, we  stayed in agriturismi (Italian farmhouses offering lodgings, breakfasts and sometimes dinner to guests for a fee) along the way. It was on one such stopover that we met the lovely Silvia and Marco. While checking in with Silvia on arrival, Marco passing by spotted Dan’s hands and came over and asked if we were farmers. I was new to the farming game so I might have given a nonchalent shrug more intent on using my Tuscan accent to impress our hosts. Little did I know I was to become translator on our trip for the two farmers. Marco held up Dan’s hands like they were prizes, congratulating him on getting away from the farm.

Remember at this point, I was not yet living on the farm and was only playing at farmer’s wife, stuff of make believe. I certainly did not know what lay ahead or indeed how difficult it would be to leave the farm. Silvia knew. And in her veteran farmer’s wife eyes I saw something that I didn’t quite yet understand.

And my oh my, was I sorry that I wasn’t there the day they taught the words for tractor hitch or Aberdine Angus in college but I managed my translation work by adding the odd ‘o’ or ‘a’ at the end of agricultural vocabulary I was unfamiliar with. As farmers, Marco and Dan were natural comrades, we visited his local farming friends, drank their wine, praised their olive oil. We discussed their difficulties, their problems, their solutions. We learned a lot. At dinner, in front of the other diners in this agriturismo turned pizzeria (Marco made pizza between milking, now, that’s a farmer!), in-laws were paraded in to see the Irish farmer and his rookie wife, God help us. To his utter mortification, my shy Irish farmer, was presented each evening with Beef Florentine which came on a platter half the size of the table. You had to, you see, make sure that when a farmer wasn’t working, when he was on holidays, he was well looked after.

So you see, the fun started in an agriturismo in the hills of the Mugello on a farm in Italy. I learned in the years to come that time off is very precious and difficult to come by in farming.  Over time, he won me over, our house is less Cork temper and more Kerry compromise and calm. Or at least that’s the aim. Those precious escapes are planned with fun and good living in mind. Ten years in, settled on my farm in North Kerry, I think on that time (or escape) with a knowing smile, raising my morning coffee to Silvia and her understanding eyes. And once again, apologies to the Nonnas at the Piazza Della Signoria. Non si puo, non si puo, Signore, avete ragione!



A Man’s World?


Jumping out of bed at 6am, I got the kids lunches’ ready, ran around a la crazy lady, blew kisses in their general direction and drove out the drive. Packed lunch and serious wellies in the boot, I was ready for a day at farming college. Or so I thought, for the only thing that wasn’t in the boot was the spare tyre that I had taken out at the weekend to make room for a very glamourous hatbox and a particularly classy umbrella for a cousin’s wedding (and a few other bits beside). So to my dismay when I heard the clang, clank, wop of the tyre bursting thirty minutes into my journey, I wasn’t feeling particularly clever or ready to become a farmer. No, my friends, I was feeling like a bit of a girl. A big girl foolish to be precise.

At this point, I must apologise to my fellow women, my sisters as it were for the following retelling of yesterday’s day at farming college. It was not my intention at the outset to let down the female population by being such a girl when faced with the mechanic and farming tasks that were put before me. But there was a wedding, a day’s teaching and three small boys to knock the masculine out of me before. And while I didn’t quite mention the lovely post wedding nails that for the first time in my life I hadn’t managed to chip, I put in an SOS or SON (save my nails)  phonecall into my farmer to come and a).bring the tyre and b). change said tyre. I know, girls, you’re rolling those eyes. For it was just as well, my hero came for not one person stopped to help out this damsel in distress as she was stood in a lonely country road staring confusedly at a wheel jack.

So now sweaty, tired and late, how I hate to be late, I arrived at farming college with dirty hands (I did try!) trying to catch up as the tutor explained the differences between the different breeds of bulls before us. Bull. Oh dear. They didn’t quite look the same but at this point, I don’t know if I quite cared enough. ‘Enough of this theory business, now to the heifers’ he said. ‘You’ll have to separate this giddy heifer,’ he said to me. To me! ‘No Sir, you don’t quite understand, normally himself does the separating (takes one animal out of the herd), I just stand back and stop them.’ I, the lady on the farm, normally stands in the gap as do a lot of farmer’s wife in the country, it’s a part of the job description. At this point may I also point out that there are a great number of very successful real farmers that are women but I am most certainly not one of them. Yet. No excuses taken, into the ring of heifers with me.

I didn’t quite ask the giddy heifer if she would like to leave the shed but I wasn’t far off. I could see from the corner of my eye that the tutor and fellow students were quite amused but was determined not to let myself down (I hear ya sista!). Eventually with some coaxing and polite tapping, I managed to get the unhappy girl out of the shed with two of her companions. The object of the task was to place them in an adjoining pen and I just about succeeded. A mucky job. But it didn’t stop there. For before I even got a whiff of a cup of coffee, I had to dose and inject a cow, take her temperature (I’ll leave that to your own imaginations) among other similarly unfamiliar tasks that would not generally take this farmer’s wife from her kitchen.

Having quickly eaten a lunch afterwards, we were back in the sheds estimating a cows weight, weighing her, separating calves for mart, assessing their price and for the piece de resistance dehorning some calves. The tagging (tagging calves’ ears with their number, think ear piercing) I just about managed. I thought that would be useful to help the farmer out next spring but the dehorning just about brought me down.  I must add by this stage in the day, the men in the group who had grown up dosing and dehorning animals were very encouraging and helped us girls (for luckily I wasn’t alone) all the way. Fit to drop later that afternoon our tutor informed us there was just one more task as he put us fixing up a temporary fence. Enough already. Was there no end to this day?

Look, most importantly, there are now a great many more tasks that I can help my farmer with. In fact my day led to a very animated conversation over dinner about cattle conditions and the price of poly heifers. Who knew?  I think, you know, that this industry could just about do with some female intuition and know-how just about now and why, there is always a bit of room for a touch more glamour.  N’est ce pas?




So I cleared the breakfast ware earlier than usual this Saturday morning to make room for my bouquet of grasses. I was standing on the road herding the cows into the parlour yard for the farmer, I have my uses, when I saw along the hedgerow a meadow of grasses. It’s that time of year, we’ve had heat, sun and now moisture and the hedges are bursting with colour. I was a woman with a one track mind, not the cuckoo flower or daisy for me today, no, I was collecting grasses.

My farmer tells me that the field the cows had just come out of was at one time, perhaps fifty years ago, similar to my beautiful meadow. With reseeding, advances in agricultural knowledge, the grasses for grazing are made up of ryegrasses and clover. Now for the science bit. Such grasses are hardier, better for grazing, have more mid season regrowth (don’t ask me questions), are higher in sugar, have a good PH and are ideal for preserving
IMG_0625 winter food for the cows. Why, the clover is even fixates nitrogen, essential for growth of the sward. I know, I don’t recognize myself. Who is this knowledgable lady? Ta-dah.

So where does that leave our lovely meadow. Well outside the grazing paddock, out to pasture. In the farm’s memory, you could nearly see another farmer spreading a seed-drill of cocksfoot, annual meadow grass or scutch to name but a few. And here we are grazing our cows on ryegrass,  perhaps whispering a hello to great grand children. Wouldn’t that be grand?

So this amateur botanist is away now to clear away the table for the next meal that may or may not include men cutting our grass for silage. It depends I suppose on whether or not this passing shower will turn into rain all day. Such a precarious business this grass growing.

A bouquet of grass for you Madame/Monsieur.