Tag Archives: farmhouse


I started an overdue post yesterday as follows;

The tax man is licking his lips and wringing his wrinkly old hands. Whatsmore, this October storm is tapping a ‘remember me’ tune on the windows and though it was slow to reach us, there’s no denying that Winter is here. Yes, Winter offers us a respite from much of the hard work that comes with the farm. In the farmhouse, however, there is much to keep the farmer’s wife busy.

If you’re still with me, read on…

On thinking on survival, I remember my early country mentor, my Grandmother, Cait. She was the quintessential country woman. In the reverse of my situation, this fine country woman found herself living in the city. And throughout her life, she offered me glimpses of what being a countrywoman meant. She cared for herself just enough so that she could look after her children and her home. Loved those same children enough to make sure they grew up strong and fed them healthily to chase illness from their threshold.

Today’s much needed amendment;

I caught my Nana once drinking a scalding hot Lemsip down to the gulps of us, her awestruck city grandchildren.  She made sure there was a homemade creamy sponge cake in the fridge every Saturday night when she babysat us. And she loved Dallas. She knew more about hurling than any man I know. But she was deaf and rarely spoke. So how do I know? Despite a very difficult life, the sparkle in her beautiful eyes, said listen girl, ‘just face the music and dance’.

I’m lucky to look just like her, her height, cheek bones and stature (sometimes not so lucky) and so increasingly, I catch her looking at me in the mirror and she’s smiling. Let’s face it, farming in Ireland as a one income family with three small boys requires basic survival strategies. Most days, I’m chanelling my inner country woman just to get through the day. And then comes the point when you stop just surviving and you’re smiling and dancing with little boys (God help them) to Frank Sinatra in a kitchen and you’re living again. Winter is here and only the fittest will survive (!), so put on your dancing shoes, grab your inner Grandmother and dance.



Dear Minister

I’m writing to you to request an extra allowance for farmer’s wives who happen to be the mothers of young sons. You see Minister, you must allow in your estimate of how much water a family can possibly use for the unimaginable quantities of water that some families can go through. Allow me to illustrate using the example of one such family on a dairy farm in North Kerry, namingly mine.

This morning Minister, my second son (three years old) decided he needed to wash the dogs. This began at circa 8am and may have continued until I realised he wasn’t making noise in my immediate vicinity circa post coffee 8:15am. The dogs are clean but the son was not. Bath number one. Later that morning, several buckets of water may have been used to clean up the ‘accidents’ of a certain toilet training toddler. The baby (four months old) who is being weened, Minister, ate solids for the first time today followed by a healthy evacuation of the bowels. Bath number two.

The washing machine is not shy when it comes to consuming water. Why, just today, the same machine washed one load of farmer’s milking clothes, one load of sheets and one load of baby clothes. It’s bedfellow, the dishwasher, is contemplating an all out strike and the negotiations are ongoing. The milk pasteuriser requires a large volume of water to cool the gallon of milk that is brought in from the parlour every second day. Three boys, Minister, three boys.

In the evening, in order to give the farmer’s wife a break from the general washing, cooking, mopping up, bathing et al, the farmer (heeding the warning signs) takes the two older boys to bring in the cows. This as you can imagine Minister on a damp enough day is not a clean job. At approximately, 5.30pm of an evening, two walking mucky boys reappear before me. Clothes in the washing machine and boys in bath number three.

So you see, Minister, in your calculation of the average water usage of Irish famililes, you need to be cogniscent of the fact that there is a farmer’s wife out there who is a slave to water consumption. We are not ordinary mortals when it comes to water Minister, and the allowance could be up to your own discretion. Let’s say, I wouldn’t be adverse to a shopping trip to the capital or indeed, a medal. With that Minister,  I’m off for a hot bath myself and a stiff drink of something, preferably not water.

Chocolate Icecream

I caught you. Just had to mention homemade chocolate icecream. Works every time. Although, this is not a foodie blog, the writer loves food and I should hope the reader does too. By the by, why do I write it? I write it because a). I’ve always loved writing and b). I love talking. And you keep listening. A one way conversation. That said, you’re always welcome to talk back (ah go on).

So our lovely Adelaide is making her way back to France next week and there will be tears. A lot. There may be tantrums, pleading and wailing in Cork airport. She will be missed, not only for her kindness and love but also for her crêpes. So to thank her for putting up with us for the eight heaven sent weeks in which she gently accompanied us through the first two months of Anthony’s life, we’re having a party, funnily enough a crêpe party. Honestly, she keeps putting the crêpe pan down but somehow it manages to hop back into her hand. Magic.

As it’s her leaving do, we, the Hearthill crew, are going to help out. All heart, literally. Our contribution; Hearthill chocolate icecream. The cows are grazing outside the window (see image attached) this morning and we are using their delicious milk and cream. Thank you girls. The mix is ready and about to go into the freezer and later in celebration of the lovely French girl who got the farmer’s wife back on her feet, it will melt onto authentic Briton crêpes alongside strawberries. Adelaide will forever have a place at our table and in our chocolate and crêpe loving hearts. Toujours.

Hear that…

Shhh, the season is telling you something. It’s sending you a North East wind to remind you to start thinking about ‘back to school’. The cooler evenings are telling the farmer to start cleaning out the stalls for the cows this winter. The darkening evenings whisper to him to fix that light bulb for visitors leaving this October. This fine summer’s day is inviting us to the beach to make the most of the fine weather that is left to us this August. The corn bursting with yellow is sending our neighbour to his shed to oil and check on the combine harvester.

Here, the season is changing and helping a mother with little sleep who is surrounded by young children. The new season is a gentle hand on her shoulder, asking her to be conscience of what needs to be done for the month’s ahead. On it’s arrival, Summer had her imagining contractions on a warm evening, on it’s departure, the same mother is tearful at the hotpress putting aside newborn babygrows. Listen, the season is telling you that this passes quickly, so enjoy it.

Dairy Wars

Ah now France. You have the wine, ah French wine. You have the boulangeries filled with croissants, pains aux raisins, baguettes. France, we bow to your pains aux chocolat. France (look away my Italian friends), I’ll give you the oil. En plus, vous avez des crêpes. But France, France, France, listen now, we’ve got the milk.

We have a French dairy farmer’s daughter staying with us for the summer so as you can imagine the subject of milk often arises. Milk might come up when say, subtle hints in the vein of ‘oh-wouldn’t-it-be-lovely-to-have-an-authentic-Breton-crêpe-now’ are dropped. As I say, subtle. And when you have a lovely Breton girl standing eagarly by with a crêpe pan and a litre of Irish milk, some eggs and flour, who are we to refuse!

And this, my friends, is where I begin to betray my city origins. I’m boastful about our milk.  No right thinking and modest North Kerry dairy farmer would be so confident about his dairy product. It could always have more protein and fat content. But you’re not pulling the wool over my eyes North Kerry; as a result of this year’s wonderful summer, the year’s milk yield is delicious. Silky, thick and creamy.

In the face of such betrayal of milky modesty, Adelaide and her family insist we come to Brittany to try their milk. We spoke to our lovely French compatriots via Skype last week and got on like a house on fire.  Although I must have been absent the day they taught us the French for slurry pit and fertilizer spreader at college. At length, we spoke about our respective farming methods and of course we discussed the farming challenges that face our farmers (plus ça change…) but the question of who has the better milk has yet to be settled. Alas, needs must, a trip to Brittany for the blind milk test it must then be.

Until then, in the interest of Franco-Hiberno relations, it’s probably best not to mention the bainne*.  As it turns out, it’s a bit of a sour subject (!).


*bainne – Irish word for milk





Come on

Why are you coming in the back door? Never mind. Oh yeah, might want to hold your nose, farmyard odours and nappies battling it out for attention in the back kitchen. Oh, and block your eyes to the mountain of dirty washing and opposing basket of clean washing yet to be folded. Any year now. Come on, to the kitchen. Oh mind the bicycle. And that one.

Ah now, this is a bit more social. Keep it down boys. Yeah, that’s Nina Simone. “Ain’t got no, I got life.” Might want to pick the self pitying mother with no sleep up off the floor and tell her to throw on a bit of lipstick and put on the kettle. French toast and strawberries anyone? Turn off the TV lads. Come on, it’s a bit nippy but there’s sunshine and we’re eating brunch alfresco. Hold the baby a second. Perfect.  Sam, stop scratching! Never work with children or animals they say. Sit down for yourself. One lump or two?


Six minutes and thirty five seconds of wakeful peace brought to us by Elbow. Move along people, nothing original here, sleep depravation has me clutching at every straw. Bring it Elbow.

For six minutes and thirty five seconds, all the household members, new, old and feeling old were suspended in a wakeful bliss. There is a mountain of silage, I don’t say that boastfully but I say it with calm. The hay has been turned (what seems incessantly to this volatile post-partum farmer’s wife) and is now in bales in the field.  On opening the curtains, the sight of these mighty bales prompted the man of the house to start humming Elbow’s ‘Beautiful Day‘. As it’s a household anthem, I reached for my iphone and played it…

Cocooned in our just awakened reverie, the song caught us all in rare harmony.  At 7am in a farmhouse in North Kerry, there was a new family caught in 6 minutes and 35 seconds of peace. You, who has grown up in a busy household or are currently running one, know what comes at the end of the track. It ain’t pretty. In fact, it’s noisy. So, I have the genius of one excellent line to think on and in contemplating it will be carried through to the next feed, war on lego, saga and cheerio spill. Thank you Elbow; Sing it…

“Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year will see us right.”

On Father’s Day

All things being equal, I can’t let this beautiful sun set without mentioning the father of the house. I will however, knowing my farmer, save his readily available blushes and won’t gush too much about him. Instead, I’ll tell you that we took our newest son on our camino to Sallies today in the blissful sunshine and he was beaming.

Nothing fazes the man, not hormonal wife nor beast, not impending silage cut or cross toddler. He is our constant when the rest of us are melting down at various stages of the post-partum day.  When we’re crying, roaring for milk, cursing at stitches, fighting over toys; he remains calm. He helps us recover, in his calmness, taking a walk (a first for our youngest) and so led us gently into familiar surroundings, walking out around the farm, our home. He carried our young baby who is not overly fond of his pram, cajoled a toddler to keep going on his bike and soothed a wife who is sore and war weary.  That the day might come when he might get some rest! Yes, he is our constant; We are safe with him, he is home.

For my Dad and yours. And then, for our farmer.





In Praise of the Sponge Cake

You know those Sponge cakes that smell of yellow, they are so full of fresh eggs. Eggs that are beaten into local creamery butter (because you have to support the local creamery) and castor sugar. Eggs that soak up the sifted flour and baking powder and that flirt with anyone who smells them baking in the hot oven.

And you just have to heat the strawberry jam and when just warm, you have to add fresh chopped strawberries. And when sponge and jam are cooled, you just pour jam on your lower sponge and top it off with whipped (not overwhipped) cream on top. Best to have little boys watching this bit for maximum dramatic effect, jaws dropped.  Spongy bedmate placed on top and sprinkled with icing sugar.

This is beaten in minutes, baked in twenty; friends, family, children and husbands will remember you in their wills or at the very least, will remember you for the lovely sponge you made on the day they came to visit, started school, needed a friend, or lost a calf.  According to the Hearthill School of Thought, there is nothing a ‘dirty’ Sponge cake won’t solve. Lastly, throw on the kettle and slice.

A New Story

I watch my boys run along a ditch outside and while the mother in me has her heart in mouth for fear that they might fall, the city come country girl in me is acutely aware that these little boys are creating their own story. The last children to run the ditch, were my husband and his sisters while their own mother held her breath at the thought of their falling and I become aware, yet again, that these indeed are hallowed grounds.

Walking onto ‘the land’, on marrying into the country, you come to know that you are indeed walking into another person’s story. Sometimes as an unwanted tagline in a family’s history as it readjusts, begrudgingly at times, to fit you into it’s storyline. For families are exactly that, once actors but now bearers and collectors of a generation or more of stories; stories of love, happiness, disappointment, hilarity, joy, mourning, tragedy. I too, carry my own stories, mostly cherished but at times difficult to bear.

The truth is being a Cork city girl, I owned the banks, streets and bad paving of my beautiful city. It was all mine. The ground most trodden was mine in the way that we claim ownership over something we know and love. I own the street where I walked home from school with my sister, the pavement where my parents met for their first date, the no.3 bus route, the chimneys of the local brewery, the path to my Nana’s house. At times, now I too begrudge, the friends and family who get to walk in my hallowed home, acting out their lives on my territory.

While not so easy to begin with, it is easier for me to see now how marrying into a farm was difficult for the last generation. How frustrating it must be for the past generation to watch a new story unfold, in it’s own way, over a treasured childhood playground. As a young newly wed, I had no idea, and I wince at the memory of awkward encounters with this family treasure trove of stories and land. But I too, am just passing through Hearthill, granted and please God, for a long life, and I am one of the newest generation of family storytellers. Loving this place, bringing new actors onto it’s stage as my family take on their own roles watching our new drama unfold. With respect, there is room for everyone to be written in, newest generation and old.