Down on the farm in Ireland

So many young Irish are leaving Ireland that when Jackson Martin turned up to work on farms in Kerry and Galway, many locals were puzzled why a Kiwi from the land of plenty would want to work there. He writes…

I had been living in Edinburgh for just under two years and my UK work visa was fast running out so I decided to volunteer to work on farms in Ireland for a few months for the craic. Through the WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) programme I found a farm in County Kerry and another in County Galway that were willing to host a vagrant Kiwi with Irish heritage and try and teach him a thing or two about farming.

Jackson Martin

Jackson Martin in Scotland before departing for sunny Ireland

I really wasn’t too sure what to expect – would I be hosted by hippies singing ‘Kumbaya’ around a camp fire? Or would they be slave drivers looking for a free pair of hands?

Though I did hear a few horror stories from other WWOOFers, I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to host me. I spent my first six weeks in a little town in Kerry called Kenmare with a sheep farmer called Mike. Mike was an aviation engineer but, after losing his job in the turmoil in Ireland that followed the global financial crisis, moved back out to the farm that his father ran when Mike was a youngster.

Lambs popping out

I arrived in spring and things were in full swing with lambs popping out left, right, and centre. It was not for the faint-hearted and the sheep seemed to need almost constant medical attention. By the time I left I had helped deliver a breach birth lamb, butcher a hogget, dissect a ewe to determine the cause of death, perform surgery on a ewe with a uterine prolapse (one of the more disturbing things I’ve seen), castrate numerous lambs and vaccinate them against all manner of diseases. I sometimes wondered how they ever survived before human intervention; not that they all did however. But as Mike so aptly put it: ‘where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock’.

As Mike was fairly new to sheep farming his mate Dermot often came over to help out. Dermot had left school at 13 to work on his father’s farm and knew everything there was to know about sheep. I only understood about half of what he said but he was a jolly fella and would laugh at the end of every sentence, so I just laughed too and we got along grand.

In return Mike gave Dermot veges from his abundant gardens. In fact, this ‘bartering’ system involved a few more who helped each other including Ritchie the butcher, John the electrician, and Martina who seemed to have a veterinarian background by the way she helped with the sheep. Mike said they had been doing this more to reduce costs as times were getting harder and harder in Ireland. It made me wonder why more people don’t do the same back home.

Cattle farming

In Galway I stayed with Melissa and Brendan on what can only be loosely described as a cattle farm. Brendan, a builder who had inherited it, was in the process of handing it over to his second daughter Melissa, a returned traveller with a two-year-old and a one-year-old in tow. To be honest, I couldn’t really understand how they made any money off their farm as very little work went on. They were all lovely people and made me feel very welcome but it seemed they didn’t really know what they were doing themselves so it was difficult for them to tell me what to do.

Jackson Martin

This photo was taken in Scotland, but does have a cow…

They had all sorts of interesting animals though – pot-bellied pigs, pygmy goats that climbed all over the barn roof, a donkey and pony that never left each other’s sides, three psychotic geese that attacked anything that moved, and a duck that thought it was D’Artagnan to the three musketeer geese. After five weeks living the easy life only working a few hours a day, I began to miss the more physical but interesting work in Kenmare so returned down to Mike’s farm for my final week in Ireland.

With the large numbers of young Irish leaving their shores, basically everyone I met asked me why I had left NZ to come to Ireland. They seemed to think I was mad and that NZ was the land of plenty with great weather and great job opportunities. Replying with a shrug and ‘the grass is always greener’ was always well received.

‘Do you know Jimmy’?

It also amused me how many people would say, ‘My cousin Jimmy’s out in NZ, Auckland I think. Do you know him?’ I would politely explain that it’s a rather large city and no, unfortunately I didn’t. ‘I’ll give ya his email address and you can get in touch with him if you’re ever up there’ they would generously offer, leaving me to wonder how many people poor Jimmy had had to entertain on account of his cousins back home.

I’ve had a fantastic time in Ireland and have really been overwhelmed by the people’s generosity and friendliness. It seems like a token thing to say but it really is true. Once people hear your accent (and the younger ones have got over taking the piss out of it), they appear to be genuinely interested in who you are, where you’ve been, and why you’re here. It’s so strange to be considered exotic. I really don’t feel exotic. The main things I’ll take from Ireland are my newly developed taste for Guinness (after years of forcing down my token annual one on St Patrick’s Day), using ‘the craic’ and ‘grand’ in every sentence, and funnily enough, gaining a real appreciation for New Zealand and how good we have it (it’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon!).

So I’ll raise my glass to the grand old Irish and cheers for the great craic.


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