Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

The buzz of a whole new world on my door-step

A straw version of one of the world's most iconic photographs (Photo: Durrow Scarecrow Festival)
A straw version of one of the world's most iconic photographs (Photo: Durrow Scarecrow Festival)
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

We all have people or places that we casually encounter every day which we scarcely afford a glance; if the time comes that you do actually connect, it may feel like the opening up of a whole new vista.

Durrow, our nearest village, three miles away, is a place I know well.

It's where I go to the butcher - Tommy Kenna at The Stores. Even down through the tough years when so many people were going to the supermarket for their meat, Tommy did a solid local trade during the week and this was boosted on a Saturday evening by lorry drivers picking up the Sunday roast. And Tommy's is not even the only butchers; Pius Hennessy also has a strong and loyal following.

There are three grocery outlets, a hardware shop and undertakers, a fire station, and a Post Office that's housed in a quaint building that's as welcoming as its staff. There's also a flower shop, a number of pubs, hairdressers, health centre, crèche, a filling station and garage, flower shop and pharmacy.

There are several eating houses, including the Castle Arms hotel, which is busy on Sundays with tea dances and for the rest of the week doing MTV (Meat and Two Veg) dinners for farmers from miles around while the duck egg-blue painted Bowe's café is a chic daytime eatery for yummy mummies and suited types.

Built as a coaching inn, the Ashbrook Arms is now an elegant restaurant and townhouse while Durrow Castle, voted last year by TripAdvisor members as one of the world's top ten castles, is a popular wedding destination and fine dining establishment. Their proximity to each other keeps them both on their toes.

Many bigger towns have nowhere near as much going on and it's all due to the enterprise and hard work of locals. They host several annual events including the quirky Scarecrow Festival. A couple of months back, Harps GAA and Durrow Development Forum ran a Strictly Come Dancing which raised €40,000 while, a few years ago, the DDF planted thousands of daffodils along the approach roads.

The village dates back to 546AD, as the site of a monastery founded by St. Columb. Today, there are two churches and the Protestant version accommodates a pipe organ by the famed Samuel Green.

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The physical form is that of a planned estate village, designed in the 18th century by the local landlord William Flower and many fine Georgian and Victorian houses remain, especially around the large, grassy, Square. Trees abound, right down to the banks of the winding Erkina River which even has its own (endangered) mussel, margaritifera durrovensis.

But right there in the middle of all this, hidden in my plain sight, is Sheppards auction house.

For some time, a number of my more cultured friends have spoken about visiting Sheppards and been almost dismayed that I had never crossed its threshold.

Set up in 1948 by Christy Sheppard to sell second-hand furniture, the focus has been on auctions for the past decade and they hit the big time in 2008 when a Chinese vase sold for €110,000. Other, bigger, sales followed and its now one of country's best known auction houses.

One of the ladies in my circle, lets just call her F, recently said she was going to an attic auction at Sheppards and invited us along. For some reason, I decided to join her.

I have to admit to buying various bits of cheap mass-produced furniture over the years. But this stuff is totally out of character with our house which is over 100 years old. Why did I never think of going to auctions where I could get better and more appropriate pieces?

On the sale morning we arrived early and took our seats. Like mass, everyone tries to sit at the back, so you can see who you are bidding against. Its easy to spot the other first-timer besides myself who takes up a prominent position and, when they bid, its like someone who suddenly sees themselves captured on a big TV screen.

F was interested in the Persian runners and duly did her business. I soon caught the fever and found myself bidding on a couple of lots before landing a watercolour of a thoroughbred, for €220.

Too soon, I had to leave because there was something on at home but I spent the afternoon watching the sale online. How was I not aware of this world? Maybe I just needed an "in". I haven't been as buzzed in ages. Robin fears I'm hooked. But I only mentioned the next sale by way of conversation. Really.

Indo Farming