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Published: October 17th 2012
After being delayed an hour, having seen my bus from Galway drive off whilst still sitting on the bus from Limerick, I arrived at Sunny Meadow farm around 6pm, thanks to Dermot, my new host, picking me up from Loughrea. I met the German and the Italian – both very nice girls around my age. The German, Ester, is in her final year of a nutrition degree in Germany. The Italian, Mara, has just finished college. Dermot is a friendly, smiley Irish guy who has two little girls, who are very sweet. Sunny Meadow farm is commercial, with 3 polytunnels, around 50 chickens, Lil Texas the horse, Scooby Doo the dog and two outdoor cats. Dermot does a veg box scheme and sells his produce at Mountshannon market every Saturday.
So I met the other WWOOFers but felt too tired for a tour, instead choosing to sleep until dinner – I was told that Wednesday was going-out-night, so we would be staying out ‘til 1 the next morning, then would have to start work at 9am! We went to a local pub in Mountshannon where some older guys were playing a session, starting with a guitar, a mandolin and a
banjo. Gradually more and more people joined in, bringing spoons, a cello and several voices to the mix. Occasionally people would play solos to a silent pub – it was magical! A lot of other WWOOFers were also there – a really good community exists around here.
Mara and I had an easy Thursday morning – we let out the chickens, spent a couple of hours cleaning onions for the market and then helped Ester in the polytunnel until lunch at 1, before which we went back to collect the eggs from the hens. The afternoon here starts at 2pm and we finishes around 5.30pm. We spent Thursday afternoon digging out the basil from the polytunnel and moving the electric chicken fence that surrounds the flock of 40 hens. On Friday we worked hard – digging up potatoes, laying a new plastic mat in one of the polytunnels, planting garlic and picking and weeding the spinach. In the evening we made scones to take with us for the weekend and had pizza for dinner. A French guy, Benjamin, who we had met on Wednesday, has a car here in Ireland and had offered to take us three girls away
to Kilarney for the weekend. We set off bright and early at 7 on Saturday morning, along with Amelia, an American girl working with Benjamin and reached Kilarney, which is down South about half an hour from Bantry. After looking around the town and admiring the Wool Store, we headed to Kilarney National Park. We walked to the old abbey and climbed up to the top floor, then went on to the House, outside which were 6 or 7 horse and carts for the tourists to ride in. Farther on we went up to the waterfall.
We stayed in Neptune hostel in Kilarney which was nice enough and full mainly of young travelling Europeans. We cooked soup for dinner, using veg from Dermot’s garden and bread we’d bought from a local baker’s. We went out to a tourists’ pub called O’Connells, where two guys with guitars played some Irish tunes and I tried Murphy’s beer which was tasty!
Benjamin drove us further West the next morning, to the base of Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland which stands a grand 1,039 metres tall. We were feeling fine about the climb, until we spoke to a guy who’d been
up the mountain 57 times. He warned us about getting lost and insisted we bought a map, then showed us the way up the “Devil’s Ladder” – we had to walk in a straight line to the top of the ladder, then turn right and walk to the top of the mountain, so perhaps it was a little extreme to have a map! As we were walking, we discovered the path was like a human motorway, full of tourists like us wanting to say they’d climbed the highest mountain in Ireland! The walk towards the mountain was spectacular – the mountain range lay in front of us and lakes sat on either side. None of us reached the bottom of Devil’s Ladder completely dry, having crossed several small streams on the way! The Devil’s Ladder is a steep, rocky path up the side of the mountain, which goes up several hundred metres and requires quite a bit of scrambling to get up. We reached the top tired and aching, but were greeted with an amazing view of the mountains beyond. However, stretching out to the right of us was even more uphill – granted, less steep than what we’d just
climbed. By that time, there was quite a gathering of walkers and when we reached the freezing, windy, misty top of the mountain, there was almost a queue for group photos in front of the huge metal cross that stands there! After getting our photos taken, we sat behind a stone wall, sheltering from the wind, eating bread and cheese. We met a group of Irish men training to climb Kilimanjaro and latched onto them, vowing not to go back down The Ladder – the guys were going down another way called Heaven’s gate. The walk was further but the views were incredible, plus we got to have a look inside the rescue hut, which contained two bunk beds, a table and chairs, some first aid equipment and a couple of bottles of whiskey for good measure. On reaching the end of our expedition, almost six hours after it had started, we had a much appreciated tea and toastie in the café, before hopping back in the car and heading back up north.
Monday wasn’t too taxing after our hard weekend and mainly involved a lot of weeding, as well as a bit of tomato picking and other small
jobs. On Tuesday we were joined by three more people – Audrey, who also hosts WWOOFers and her two workers, Suzanne from France and Rachel from New Zealand. Audrey also grows fruit and veg, but she works by trading services, so for helping Dermot once a week she gets a veg box from Dermot. She also helps other people by making things for them like jams, pickles and bread, getting some of what she makes as payment. However, before they arrived, Dermot came running to us, telling us to come and help him because two calves had invaded his cow’s field. We needed to chase them to the other end of the field but stop the cows from following them, so Mara, Ester and I lined up between the cows and calves with our arms out, the cows standing a couple of metres away and staring at us! We managed to get the calves back through the fence and tried to block the hole with fallen branches to stop them returning.
When the others arrived we worked on the rhubarb, clearing dead leaves, taking up the plastic and manuring the plants ready for winter, before re-covering them and “stitching”
the plastic back in place using a spade. It was great having so many people around at lunch time, plus we got an extra-long break! In the early afternoon we planted some half-barrels with herbs and when the others left, the remaining three of us worked on cleaning the onions again. We had a great evening; Benjamin picked us up at 7 and took us to his and Amelia’s place, a beautiful wooden house full of memorabilia from their host’s travelling adventures. We were served pizza and wine and afterwards everybody played some music – Amelia and I tried some songs on the tin whistle, Ester played piano, Mara, Amelia and Benjamin played guitar and I played the spoons to accompany them! We stayed over in their WWOOFers room and Benjamin served us breakfast in the morning which was wonderful! We came back to Sunny Meadow and as Dermot wasn’t around, let the chickens out and carried on cleaning onions – which we ended up doing for almost three hours, until Dermot offered to take us to the goat’s cheese farm nearby. The place, called Killeen, officially makes the best goat’s cheese in all of Ireland and the UK, having
won the award two years in a row! We were lucky enough to get to meet the prize-winning goats, which proceeded to try and chew our hands and clothing but were very lovely and enjoyed a good head scratching. Ester and I started our afternoon by brushing the inside edges of one of the big polytunnels, a big job, but we weren’t deterred and took it in turns to brush or hold the hose. We then had to weed the outside edge of the polytunnel, where winter carrots are going to be planted, as carrots can’t cope with weeds. Afterwards I harvested a few things before the day finished.
Tonight, we’re all heading to the pub – it’s somebody’s birthday, so there’s a big celebration planned!
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