Farm Ireland

Friday 17 November 2017

Opinion: Every farm has landmarks with a story to tell

Every stretch of farmland is unique
Every stretch of farmland is unique
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Thanks to everyone who turned out for our Farmland Walk and to all who helped make it a success.

We have had few raw days this winter and this was surely one of them. On waking, I looked out the window and saw it was raining. 'Great,' I thought, 'that will have taken the edge off the cold.' Eh, no. The Arctic wind lingered. But the rain did let up.

We had decided to offer a cuppa during the walk. A shared cup of tea is a social glue, a comforting ritual.

So I spent the morning racing around, filling flasks, baking, buttering scones, then dropping them off near the Old Killermogh churchyard, where we set up stall.

It's on the boundary of the townlands of Killermogh and Coolderry, near the River Gully, a tributary of the Nore.

The area is now isolated but was once heavily populated. Colmcille founded an abbey here in 558 and there is a Norman moated site nearby. Today, the ruins of a church from around the 12th century sits in a walled graveyard.

An account from the Famine era tells that many of those who died in the poor houses in Donaghmore and Abbeyleix and the fever hospital in Abbeyleix were "buried in Coolderry and Killamuck graveyards".

The last burial there was in the late 1960s and the overgrown graveyard is now under the care of the County Council. Surrounded by intense farmland, its an oasis of calm and a haven for wildlife.

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As I opened the gate for the visitors, it felt nice. It was like we were going to be dropping by to say hello, as if these souls were being remembered, however briefly, and having the tea alongside seemed fitting.

Cars starting arriving half an hour before the scheduled departure. By the time we got under way, the crowd had swelled to 129 women, men and children - mainly locals and from the rest of the county, with a few from further afield, Monaghan, Cork and Dublin.

Setting off, I overheard one man say to another, "Isn't this a fine way to spend a day?" and my heart swelled a little.

There's a good bit of grass about and this, plus the slight give in the ground, smoothed a surface pock-marked from last season's grazing.

Our commercial farm is not picture-postcard pretty but every stretch of farmland is unique and characterful.

Hedges may be full, gappy or gone, trees majestic, stunted or windblown, slopes on hills and hollows steep or gently curved. Every farm has some pile of stones with a story.

In any walk, the leaders are the long-legged able-bodied, with the short-legged and the stiff towards the rear. There were lots of young children out and several parents said it was great to get them away from their screens.

Every gateway was a bottleneck and you'd fall into stride with someone else. Stopping at those, and what could be termed information points, I was reminded of the Stations of the Cross. Not that I'm religious, but they do make you pause and think.

One such stop was at a patch of woodland which surrounds a pond, where our friend Des Finnamore spoke about its birdlife. There was a good show of ducks, with a flock of lapwing fluttering overhead. Elsewhere, my husband Robin told stories about the 1941 foot and mouth disease outbreak.

I had done some research on Old Killermogh and, when we got there, spoke about it while some of our friends handed out the refreshments.

The rain resumed softly as the crowd ambled off towards their cars and home. I was tired but content. It was a good day, simple and leisurely but rich in the spirit of a nourishing earth and solid community.

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