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Sunday 18 November 2018

How this stay-at-home mum turned into an unlikely farmer

Caroline Rigney, at her farmhouse home in Curraghchase, Kilcornan, Co Limerick.
Caroline Rigney, at her farmhouse home in Curraghchase, Kilcornan, Co Limerick.

Ken Whelan

Caroline Rigney is an unlikely farmer. She comes from a non-agricultural background in Westmeath and was a stay-at-home mother until she and her husband Joe — a paving contractor who resurfaced many of Dublin’s streets — decided to move halfway across the country to buy a small farm in Kilcornan outside Adare, Co Limerick 20 years ago.

“It was a beautiful 16-acre stretch of land on high, dry ground and we decided to buy it. The idea back then was just to build a house but things developed,” she recalls of the property at Curraghchase.

‘Developed’ is something of an understatement.

They started off with a large garage on the land in which they lived in while the main house was being built. Then they turned the house into a guesthouse and used the land as a sort of rural playground for their guests, populating it with geese, lambs, ducks, hens and poly-tunnels.

And then they turned the “big garage” into a pig processing plant, to provide the bacon, puddings and sausages for their guests’ breakfasts.

“I knew nothing about pigs when we started out but eventually learned enough to know that the Tamworth breed gives the best flavoured bacon and pork, and our guests love it,” says Caroline, who ever since has been winning artisan food awards both here and in Britain.

The small farm with some additional rented nearby land today has some 60 pigs — whose meat is sold at local farmer markets — and has a few ewes and lambs frolicking around for the guests to admire, along with a big scatter of hens for the fresh eggs for breakfasts; the geese and ducks are just there for diversion.

Caroline’s latest foodie hit is her granola, which won a star at a recent artisan food fair in London. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, but they have decided to downsize.

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“Myself and Joe are both 52 now and we are looking for an easier direction,” she explains.

“If we don’t do it now we will be still flat out when we are in out 60s and we don’t want that. We want to move back a gear.

“We think now is the time and we are looking out for a smaller cottage-type place to continue working in the artisan food sector.”

The couple has no intention of leaving Kilcornan, where they are part of the local rural community. They have been looking at some local cottages to replace the big house and big garage, which are on the market for €850,000.

“I’ll definitely stick with the granola when we buy our new place,” vows Caroline.

“The artisan food sector here in Limerick is thriving and there is a huge amount of artisan producers here now when compared to when we came here 20 years ago.”

Joe has been heavily involved in the enterprise; he has devoted more time to the farm than the paving work since the downturn in the economy.

They have two daughters – Rebecca (28), a paramedic and Rachel (27), a midwife — and grandchildren Eliza (4) and Danial (18 months).

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