Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

'I was only 13 when I left school to go working on the farm'

Tom Faulkner's love for donkeys stems from his childhood and he still keeps a few at home
Tom Faulkner's love for donkeys stems from his childhood and he still keeps a few at home
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

As he chatted and laughed with his friends during the Maam Cross Fair, it was easy to see how Tom Faulkner was such a likeable fellow.

Full of wit and humour for his years, the life­long bachelor made light of the fact he was in the spotlight with visiting photographers as he stood proudly beside his diminutive donkey and turf cart.

For a moment it was like a step back in time to the 1940s. And, although Tom has never driven behind the wheel of a car, or even flown in a plane to this day, he has, however, very much moved with the times in other ways.

Now, as he enjoys semi-retirement from farming, he admits to being a late-starter in travelling and such gatherings as horse fairs are now very much part of his social life throughout the year.

"As a child I never really got to go anywhere so now I enjoy my days out like this, life on our farm near Banagher in Offaly was tough and we spent most of our day working on the land. There was no such thing as football, and the highlight of the summer was often when the threshing mill came to the farm."

Now 74, in the past five years, Tom has made up for his many years being tied down, and has taken in trips to the Appleby Fair in England, as well as Scotland and Wales. The latter trips were with the local group, the Kilcormick Ramblers, with whom he got involved when starting local community work 10 years ago. "I was offered a chance to go to Europe too, but as I've never been on a plane I'm not so sure.

"Plus I think I'd prefer an English­speaking country like America!"

Like many other children in the 1950s Tom and his only sister Myrtle both left school at an early age and had a limited education, though it was not a decision made lightly by their mother Hilda. "I was only 13 when I left school but I had little choice as farm labourers were scarce during the war,

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Tom's father Fred always believed in utilising every inch of the land, and with it came long days. Situated between two bogs and unsuitable for tillage, the 80 acres were grazed by cattle, sheep and pigs, along with a large selection of donkeys and mules. It was also home to geese, ducks and some 100 hens. "My father never wasted a thing and we always made our own butter after milking by hand.

"He also had his own bog and we often helped him cut turf for the local towns of Birr and Banagher. He would drive five miles, three times a day and make one pound a load.

"There was no coal back then and so turf was at a premium." While Tom now only cuts turf from the bog for his own use in the house he shares with Myrtle, he still keeps a small herd of 30 cows at the farm in the parish of Eglish. Their home is believed to be the oldest occupied house in the area and dates back to the 1700s.

"Some say we have some of the best breeding stock around, Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn, along with the Charolais bull. We used to buy in sucklers but now we just breed our own." Tom's love for horses and donkeys naturally stems from his childhood and to this day he gets a kick out of keeping a few donkeys at home. "I remember well the days I rode the pony to school too, while also getting days off to attend the Banagher Horse Fair.

"Fifty years ago it was nearly better than Ballinasloe and went on for an entire week. Now sadly that has all changed and some want it gone, but the locals are trying their best to keep it going," he smiled.

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