Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 November 2018

Ancient skills preserved at Forest Show

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Sometimes an invitation can be hard to refuse, especially when it involves spending a few days in a friend's house in sunny Spain.

In normal circumstances I would much rather visit some coastal destination in Ireland for a relaxing holiday but the lure of a spot of sunshine after all the cold and rain we have endured was just too enticing.

I flew to Girona, hired a car and found myself sitting in the shade outside a small cafe in the square of an old Spanish town receiving text messages from the IFA regarding suitable times for collecting grass from Dublin Airport for fodder. How bizarre is that?

Despite their wonderful weather, the Spanish people have many problems of their own, with a minimum wage of €640 per month and over 50pc youth unemployment. The average working wage there is €1,000 a month and families are now supporting each other by feeding and housing unemployed relatives.

One bonus is that agriculture is making a comeback and previously abandoned terraces are being cultivated for food production, presumably by those who cannot find jobs and need to eat cheaply. Good weather does somehow alter one's attitude to life and, around midday, everyone takes a three-hour nap or siesta, a splendid custom and one we could well use in Ireland if only we had the heat to justify it.

On my return home, I was brought quickly back to reality. It was cold and wet as I donned my rain gear and wellies before heading for Stradbally for the second day of the Forestry Show that was held in the beautiful Co Laois.

The Forestry Show was a major improvement on the previous event held two years ago in Birr. The layout of the stands was better, as was the quality and interest of much of the goods on offer.

The first tent I entered had only eight stands but it took me almost an hour to get around it for I became engrossed in discussing with Pat Lee the possibilities of fuelling a kiln using waste wood.

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I then found Seamus Whelan's stand. Seamus was one of the contractors who carried out my original planting and he is now providing smallscale harvesting and extraction services, a system using low ground pressure machinery that is becoming increasingly popular.

Sean Lenehan from Kestrel Forestry had a wide range of really useful tools on show including a great little gadget for measuring the height of trees. Okay, I know you can also do it with some mathematical calculations and a stick but this device makes the exercise simpler and more precise.

Sadly, our Forest Service did not think it worth its while to have a stand but perhaps it is trying to keep a low profile given the widespread dissatisfaction with many of their current rules and regulations.

Much of the general conversation among the people I met was focused on that very topic and especially on the Government's failure to appoint a new minister with responsibility for forestry.

The late Shane McEntee is sorely missed and it is hard to understand why such an important position has been left vacant.

Now is not the time to be playing politics with this vital element of Irish agriculture.

The crafts section was, as ever, a delight to visit.

I always marvel at the passion and commitment of people like Joe Gowran, Mark Wilson and others who ensure our traditional crafts are kept alive and who help preserve the ancient skills of coppicing and mixed woodland management for the next generation.

There is something unique about handmade tools and artefacts and I couldn't resist purchasing a garden line with two pegs made from coppiced Spanish chestnut. It was ridiculous really to buy something that I could easily make myself, but that is the lure of woodland crafts, especially when attractively presented.

Woven willow and hazel hurdles and hand-turned wooden tools are infinitely nicer to use than something mass produced and made of non-natural materials.

Irish Independent