Sunday 25 August 2019

It's animal-loving Sheila from Cork's Kanturk

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Stock image

Fiona O'Connell

Last weekend may have been the final bank holiday of the season, but many of us are still taking breaks. Perhaps the biggest one you can give yourself is to forget flying abroad, with all the hassle that entails, instead cramming a suitcase and the kitchen sink into the car so you can set off to enjoy a piece of this paradise called home.

As I discovered when I drove cross-country to self-cater in a cosy cottage. This reminded me that if a picture paints a thousand words, and each one tells a story, then the close to 100 paintings hanging on every inch of wall in its sitting room and kitchen, hall and bedroom, all told the same sweet one of a love for animals.

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Especially horses, though there were no shortage of donkeys and dogs, hens and hares, foxes, fish, pigs and peacocks, and copious chickens and cows.

"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life," opined Oscar Wilde. So what would he have made of the living forms of those framed masterpieces that were roaming more or less freely outside my front door?

For across the yard was 'The Vatican', home to diverse breeds of hens and geese that included rescues bought from animal charities, all clucking and squawking merrily. As well as a suitably showy off peacock called Bertie, surely not named after a former Taoiseach who was famed for wearing less-than-fashionable anoraks.

Bertie was fond of strutting about every evening, emitting the odd peacock scream and hopping up on the gate with surprising agility.

Naturally, he could not resist a boastful display, gamely struggling to keep his balance as his feathers acted like sails in the West Clare wind.

It was no surprise to find four horses in a nearby paddock.

But it was Delia, Maureen and Frieda, three hefty Herefords in the lower field, who stole the show, their coats silky soft and all sporting those endearing cow fringes, tufts of curly hair atop their big heads.

As with all creatures that are not intensively farmed, they greeted you as a fellow citizen, turning their heads to make eye contact from beneath white lashes. The fabulously horned Frieda even heaved herself to her hooves when I approached, her manners impeccable.

"Frieda practically talks to you," says Sheila, the can-do and kind woman originally from Kanturk in Co Cork (should that be Kork?) who is responsible for this Noah's Ark. This formidable vegetarian could give Bertie the peacock a run for his money with all the fine feathers in her cap, what with raising a family, nursing and farming, on top of managing her holiday lettings.

I ask if the three madam moos will eventually be sent to slaughter. "Don't even say that." Sheila is appalled. "They will die here."

The geese and hens also get to retire. For shouldn't a life of hard work be rewarded by a well-earned holiday?

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