Cheryl Hughes: Right At Home
Our first few nights in Ireland, we stayed at an Air B&B that joined a large dairy farm. The pasture was behind the house, and the milk house was across the road facing the house. It was dusk when we arrived, and the day’s milking activities had already happened. At 5 AM the next morning, I awoke to what sounded like fifty cows in the bed next to mine. I wonder if it’s going to be like this every morning, I thought.
At breakfast, our daughter Nikki said the cows probably wouldn’t be that loud every morning, and she was right. I didn’t hear a thing the next morning or the next. Hmm, I wonder what Nikki knows that I don’t, I thought. A couple of days later, our son-in-law, Thomas, fessed up.
There are two things you need to know about Thomas: He isn’t a rule-follower, and he takes chances. On the morning of the cow ruckus, Thomas had been outside watching the cows following one after the other in singlefile to the milk house across the road, when he decided he would whistle at them. Now you know and I know that if you whistle at a cow, it means come over here, and usually food is involved. Thomas grew up as a fisherman, not a farmer, and he did not know this. When he whistled, he thought the cows would just look his way, which they did, then several left the queue and started running toward him, mooing all the way.
Nikki came out of the house to see what all the commotion was about. Thomas turned to her and said, “We need to get in the house right now!”
I’m sure the dairy farmer said, “Eejit tourists!” or worse, under his breath.
My favorite things about visiting Ireland were the animals and the landscape. There is a reason it is called the Emerald Isle. There is grass everywhere. On a tour bus, our driver told us that neither potatoes nor corn were the most important crops in Ireland. It was grass, because their main export was sheep, with cattle not far behind. He listed the main breeds raised there. They are the same breeds raised in Kentucky, spelled the same, but pronounced differently.
Garey and I enjoyed the differences.
Holstein is pronounced Hol-stine (long “I” sound). Limousin is pronounced Lime-o-zeen. Hereford is pronounced Hear-ferd. In the US, we leave out the “o” in Charolais when we say it. In Ireland, they keep the “o”. Angus is pronounced the same in both countries.
The bus driver also told us that the Irish use the cows to predict the weather. “If the cows are lying down, it’s going to rain,” he said. “If they are standing up, it is raining.” (It rains nearly every day in Ireland.)
One of the most beautiful sights you will ever see are the rock fences surrounding fields of sheep—hundreds of them. The whole time I was in Ireland, I saw only two barbed wire fences and one tinsel wire fence. The rest were either rock or hedge rows. Hawthorn is the most common shrub found in hedge row fences, because it grows fast, and it is thorny.
When we were near the Dingle Peninsula, Garey and I got to watch 3 sheep farmers with 3 Border Collies move sheep from one pasture to the next. It was fascinating. At one point, all 3 dogs left the herd and moved to a ditch at the bottom of the hill, where they all 3 laid down. The farmers turned to look, then two farmers started walking toward the dogs, the third got the tractor. We watched as the two farmers pulled a sheep from the ditch. The third farmer helped the other two load the sheep into a cage-like box on the front of the tractor, then he drove the little guy back to the top of the hill, where he was unloaded and joined his mates. All three dogs returned to herding duties, and successfully moved the sheep into the new pasture. I could have watched all day.
There is a rhythm between farmers and the animals they tend. I saw it in Ireland. I’ve seen it here in Kentucky. I read once that when the immigrants started moving West in this country, many of the Irish stopped in Kentucky, because it looked so much like Ireland. It does. You can see many of the same flowers and trees, even weeds in the fields. Ireland is a world away, but I felt right at home when I was there.