Published: August 7th 2010July 12th 2010
The O'Connor Family Plus Phoebe and I
L - R: Gerard, Lan, Claire, me, Phoebe, Frances, Anna
We had always thought that during our long, extended time away it might be good if we remind ourselves what hard work was like. A bit of work might be a welcome break from the relentless moving around and mean that we can settle down for a period. After lot's of investigation it started to look like work visas were going to evade us. There was an easy solution though, and that was volunteer work. Before long we had decided to sign up for WWOOF in Ireland. No, not a dog walking co-op, but organic gardening volunteer work, WWOOF is an acronym for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. The first place we had organised to stay at was a dairy farm in County Kerry, in the far West of Ireland. The farm had many cows (of course), and also a rather large selection of vegies which were all organic. The farm was owned by Gerard and Claire, and they had three girls, all adopted from Vietnam, called Anna, Frances and Lan. Anna was 8, Frances was 6 and little Lan was just 16 months old.
Every morning at the O'Connor's we would get up at around 7.30am. Gerard would already
In the Polytunnel
Nick working away at clearing the weeds
be off milking and Claire would be out watering the vegie garden, but the house was already alive, as there would be a pot of porridge bubbling away on the stove and a hot pot of tea would be sitting on the table; usually a load of washing would be going. The milk for our porridge was fresh from the farm and pasteurised in the house by Claire. It still had all the cream in it and we felt incredibly decadent pouring this creamy delicious milk onto our porridge and tea. By the time Nick and I were sitting at the table (enjoying creamy porridge of course), the two eldest girls would be up and just before we were about to head out at 8.30 sleepy head Phoebe would appear. But the biggest sleepy head award goes to baby Lan, who was a champion sleeper and could often sleep to 10 or even 11 if allowed!
As the vegie garden was organic this means so sprays or pesticides. No sprays or pesticides means lot's and lot's of weeds! We soon got a good education in Irish weeds, which unlike Australian weeds, are green and lush. Nearly all the vegies
Phoebe, Anna and Frances
Having collected a few beans for dinner from the garden
were in what's called 'polytunnels', which is a big long tunnel just high enough to walk in and out of, covered in plastic. This is so the plants don't freeze to death, as even the Summer can get a bit nippy.
As we worked away in the tunnels pulling up all the weeds we became acquainted with Ireland in a non-sightseeing kind of way....the radio. We listened to Newstalk and our favourite presenter quickly became Mr. Tom Dunne who had a very sharp sense of humour and a quirky and interesting taste in music. Back in the day, Tom was a rock star in his own right, although perhaps most famous in Ireland, as the singer/songwriter of Irish rock band 'Something Happens'. A lesser known fact is that he did an engineering degree once upon a time which got bonus points with us. Also relatively unknown to us was Irish politics, and the favourite topic of conversation was how much the leading party 'Fianna Fail' (putting “fail” in your name is probably not a good omen) was making a mess of things. Fianna Fail has the rather mysterious celtic meaning 'Soldiers of destiny', and has been leading Ireland 53
Cleaning the Tools
As promised to all my friends who have never seen such a sight.....me in gumboots
years of the 84 it's been in existence, and has ruled almost continually since 1987.
Phoebe quickly made friends with the two eldest girls although there was a bit of “two's company, three's a crowd” happening. The younger, Frances often got the raw end of the deal but coped quite well. During the day the girls played and played and played. In fact, we barely saw Phoebe at all, and the last thing she wanted to do was hang out with us. They were too busy on the trampoline, up in the girls rooms reading books or playing the piano together and learning new songs. I think we heard 'Pop Goes the Weasel' MORE than enough times!
Every day at 11am all three girls headed next door to Gerard's parents house and were served up “dinner” of meat and vegies. Afterwards they were given a sweet and they would exit out the back door heading towards the trampoline looking very happy with themselves. At 12.30 we would call them in and they would then have another 'dinner' with us. I should mention that in the country it is customary, so I'm told, to have dinner at lunch and
The pav that Nick and I made for dessert
supper at dinner. Basically this means that lunch is a hot meal of meat and vegies and supper is a lighter meal, served later in the evening. Confusing...but it worked just fine for us, as by 12.30 we had already worked up quite a big appetite and were looking forward to some boiled potatoes! Which brings me to my next point which is that after various samplings, I am quite sure that the potatoes in this part of the world are far superior to the mush we get in Australian supermarkets. The reason everyone must like potatoes so much in the UK and Ireland is simply because they taste better.
After 10 days with O'Connors it was sadly time to leave. On our last day we all had a brunch of fresh scrambled eggs and bacon and sausages, and then Nick, Phoebe, myself and Claire and the two eldest girls all went to see Shrek 4 at the cinemas. Phoebe even got a little gift from the girls which so sweet. As for us, well we now now more about Irish weeds than we ever thought possible, and remember the nettles I was dead afraid of in Wales? Ha, I just brush them aside if they get in the way and the most a sting might get out of me is a grimace. Yes, I think we are slowly becoming fully fledged Irish gardeners, but who knows how useful that skill will be.