Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 8 December 2016

'I remember my father working on the walls and telling my mother it was only the hunger brought him home'

Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30

Tomás Ó Fátharta, who runs a bed and breakfast on Inis Mór
Tomás Ó Fátharta, who runs a bed and breakfast on Inis Mór

Prince Charles' visit to the Burren last May attracted worldwide attention and put north Clare in the shop window as a destination for those tourists who have an appreciation of the natural environment.

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The BurrenLIFE project was justifiably lauded in the aftermath of that visit for the integrated environmental and farming programme that is being run in the region.

Patrick McGurn says AranLIFE can play a similar role for the islands, explaining to the 250,000 visitors that come each year how the natural environment in the area was created and maintained by local farming practices.

At the heart of the programme is maintaining the unique farmland habitats of the islands such as the limestone pavement and orchid rich grasslands, as well as the built landscape such as the stone walled fields for which the Aran Islands are famous.

"Agriculture does produce more than food," he argues.

This wider remit for AranLIFE is appreciated by Tomás Ó Fátharta, who runs a bed and breakfast on Inis Mór, as well as doing horse and carriage tours of the island.

Tomás spent many years in the US, including time working in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico as a fisherman, before returning to Aran to raise his family.

He remembers before he left how his father's generation kept the land and boreens clear of bushes and briars and maintained the old stone walls.

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"I remember my father working on the walls and telling my mother that it was only the hunger brought him home."

Sadly, over the last 20 years some parts of the island have become overgrown.

However, Tomás maintains now that the work undertaken as part of AranLIFE is beginning to bear fruit on the islands off the Western coastline.

"The stone walls can be seen again and the quality of the stone work that went into building them," he says.

"You can see the difference even in a year. AranLIFE is all a plus for the islands.

"That's my opinion and the vast majority of people think the same," he concluded.

Indo Farming