EVERY summer Colin Doherty swaps some of the best land in the country in Adare for land with some of the best views in Ireland.
The 31-year-old heads off to Cape Clear, Ireland’s southernmost inhabited Gaeltacht island, every summer to bale silage. It is three miles long by one mile wide and lies eight miles off the coast of West Cork. There was no issue with Covid-19 restrictions as he had been quarantining at home anyway.
The connection to the island comes from his mum Ruth (nee Levis) who hails from Skibbereen. Colin’s uncle Trevor and cousin Adrian do contracting in the area and go over to Cape Clear.
“When I was 17 or 18 I'd go down to them for a couple of weeks or a month, just wrapping for them. They used to go out to the island so I went out with them. Then for years I didn’t do any of it but the last few years I have had a bit more time at this time of year so I go down for the few days,” said Colin, who runs a dairy farm with dad Brian.
It takes about 45 minutes to do the crossing.
“We take the tractors from Skibbereen to Baltimore. There's a people ferry that goes out a few times a day but they actually organise a drive on ferry for the machinery.
“Where we land, about 300 metres up the road is the first farm and we work across the island from farm to farm. The farming out there is different, they are all small fields, you might make 20 bales for one farmer and 30 for another. Compared to the kind of land we'd have here and the kind of farming we'd have here, it’s a totally different world," said Colin, who returned home last week.
Narrow roads and small fields aren't conducive to modern contracting equipment which is getting bigger and bigger.
“You wouldn’t take a big baler out there. The roads are only eight foot or nine foot wide - it would be scratching along the sides of the road. The mower that they have out on the island is eight foot wide and they put it into rows with the haybob. It's really old fashioned. My cousin then makes the bales. I go after him and wrap them.”
One thing you need is a head for heights as they work perilously close to cliff edges. Problems arise that don’t on his flat land in Adare!
“There's times you are very close to the ocean. I hadn't been down there for a good few years and then about three or four years ago I was down there. It’s very hilly. It’s just second nature to my cousin Adrian. I wrapped a bale and then I left it off, thinking that where it was going to fall was pretty level. The bale starting rolling and rolling and rolling, going for the ocean.
“There was a dip and there was a hedge and a bit of a fence that maybe would have stopped it. My cousin saw it happening anyway and he was able to put the front wheel of the tractor in the way and stopped the bale.”
When Colin was a teenager a bale did get loose.
“Adrian had gone on to the next field baling and I was wrapping so I was there on my own and the same thing happened. I let the bale off, it headed off down the field, hopped out over a hedge across the road and over another hedge into another field. The farmer came along in his tractor, I said to myself, 'He's going to kill me!' He went into the field, picked up the bale, brought it back up to me and just laughed at me,” smiled Colin.
The islanders epitomise the Irish word “meitheal” as the farmers all work together at harvest time.
Colin isn’t sure how many acres they bale and wrap but one year Adrian counted that they went into 65 fields and made 650 bales. When he is behind the wheel there isn’t much time for Colin to enjoy the views but they are spectacular.
He remembers standing in a field one night talking to an islander, looking back at the mainland where the lights were twinkling.
“I was just mesmerised. I asked him does he even notice the view anymore and he said, ‘No, I don’t see it any more after 50 years of living on the island’, which is understandable I suppose. The locals are lovely and so hospitable. There is kind of a magic about the island,” he said.
Apart from social distancing the only difference Colin noticed this year due to Covid was that the island was much quieter compared to other years.
“It is a very special place. I'd love more people to go visit it,” he said. If you do go it is best to leave the bale wrapping to Colin though.
For more farming news from Limerick click here