'Farming life is solitary, but we get French TV crews and Michelin chefs visiting on occasion'


Bernard King with his sheepdogs. Picture: FoKiss Photography.
Bernard King with his sheepdogs. Picture: FoKiss Photography.

Ken Whelan

Bernard King has just completed the shearing of his 800-plus flock of sheep on the Maamturk Mountains in Galway and, as usual, it was no easy task.

It took four days for eight men to round up the flock and give them their short, back and sides. However, they did manage to trim 500 in one sitting.

Bernard's role in the operation was strictly supervisory as the 54-year-old says he doesn't have a "good back for that work".

He leaves the close shaving to his trusted shearer and local man Pat Heanue and his team.

But with the current wool price at 20c/kg, he is hardly going to become a millionaire for his endeavours but it is a job which has to be done.

"Cosmetic companies are interested in the wool for its oils which they can manufacture into all sorts of valuable perfumes and products but it's a loss-making exercise for me. It costs me around €2 a head to shear a sheep and all I get is 20ckg for the wool," he says.

Life is solitary on a large farm. Picture: FoKiss Photography.
Life is solitary on a large farm. Picture: FoKiss Photography.

The King farm, which contains no commonage, comprises 1,300 acres high above Leenane and has been in the family for five generations.

Bernard is married to Alison, a secondary school teacher in nearby Clifden, and he has no intention of quitting the business anytime soon.

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He says the sheep prices are "not great" at the moment, even with the premium he receives for his organic accreditation.

He sells some of his lamb to restaurants in Galway city and throughout Connemara, with the rest being sold privately, but he stresses that the weight of mountain lamb is always lighter than those reared on lowland enterprises.

Bernard describes his farming life as "solitary" but not so lonesome that he doesn't have any visitors.

Recently he had a television crew from Channel 5 in France flying TV drones over his land for a documentary on hill farming.

Given his Bord Bia accreditation, his farm is a stop off point for the promotional chef tours. "We had a Michelin chef, Nathan Outlaw, on the farm earlier this year," he recalls.

The next big job is taking the sheep down from the hills at the end of September.

"We will have a team of about four sweeping them up but you can be sure we won't get them all down. Every year a handful of them will stay up on the hills. They just won't leave the hills and dodge all our best efforts to get them home."

Bernard's major pastime is fishing and much to his delight there has been a great rush of salmon in the local rivers this year. "It was like we were back in the 1980s," says.

"Fellas were catching anywhere from two to nine salmon in a session this summer. And that was in local rivers which were being considered for closure last year."

His other big interest is the GAA and he's reluctant to make speculations about what might happen on the first Sunday in September in Croke Park. His heart says Galway but his head says anything could happen in the All-Ireland hurling final against Waterford.

"It's great to see two teams which have waited so long to win an All-Ireland in the final instead of Kilkenny. Kilkenny were a great team but there were two or three All-Ireland titles they should not have won during their good days," he muses.

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