Farm: Interview October 2021

We built the house ourselves on a site on the family farm.

Work started on 19 May 2000 and we moved in 19 December the same year. 

We were married in ’92 and moved in with my wife’s father for a few months. Then we lived  in rented accommodation through the Housing Executive.

Later we rented a  private house, an old workman’s cottage, and lived in there until we moved into the new home. 

They say you move three times before you stay. 

beige curtained door into hallway . covered radiator with family photos
Top of the hall

My wife’s uncle designed her father’s place  so we drew out on a page an idea of what we  wanted.

The architect then sent it back: ‘this is what it is… this is what you are going to get. Does that suit you?’ 

Basically it’s a 1500 sq. feet bungalow.  We designed it ourselves and we are more than happy with it. 

I was working for a contractor at the time and asked him to build the house for me.  But he said: you know what has to be done and at the end of the day with the VAT and all that you will save yourself about £20,000.

So he put me through the steps, and I was able to manage it all myself.

There was no contractor involved whatsoever. 

I built parts of it myself, helping out the joiner, helping out the builder –  who was actually a cousin.

Whatever I needed I thought right: I know this guy he can do it… that guy  can do that. So everybody helped out and whatever he needed I got it for him. 

It’s a single storey bungalow.

There is a kitchen/diner, living room, 3 bedrooms and a bedroom/study and en-suite and bathroom.  It’s 18m long, 9m wide.

hallway seating area with antique hall stand and 2 chairs
Hall – by the phone

When we moved into the new house I felt very proud.

It felt like a great achievement. 

We have four children (three girls and a boy).

The house  wasn’t quite finished and the beds hadn’t come yet so for 3 weeks we all had to sleep on two mattresses. But we were paying rent, paying the mortgage, so needs must.

Money was  scarce and you had to just work with it. 

It was brilliant to get into your own corner.  

We are well out into the country and you can sit and look round you with pretty  panoramic views.

Everybody enjoys it. 

kitchen and wood burning stove with painting above stove

I put in a new kitchen just last week!  

About ten years ago I  tarmacked right round the house….. put up a fence.. did the lawn.

Things are ready for changing again.

Decorating?  I let my wife get on with that. That’s her decision not mine.

Whatever she wants to do …carry on… I’ll agree.  If it looks good  –  or it doesn’t – I have  an opinion that way, but thank God, nine times out of ten things work out perfectly.  I’m content.

1500 sq foot – that’s a small house nowadays up here. 

People are building houses 2-3000 sq. feet. It’s beyond me why you would need that size of a house.  

There were six of us in it, and  now there’s just the two of us.

The children have all gone.

Yes they come back, and there’s four grandchildren, but the family all have their own houses now. Thank God. 

4 children on farm with daffodils
All the grandchildren

My grandfather came out of America, 1928. 

He bought a farm from an uncle of his first wife.  

When her other uncles passed my father bought their farms too – and that’s  how we ended up where we are today.  

My father still lives in the family homestead where I was born and reared. 

I live at one end of the long lane and  the farm is at the other end.

It’s a hill farm… a mountain farm, at the foot of Slieve Gallion in the middle of the Sperrins.

There’s not very much arable land… maybe 30 acres…where we cut our silage to feed the sheep.  The rest is all mountain and the  sheep run over it. 

It’s fairly rugged, but it’s one of the better farms. 

The sun rises and sets on it so that keeps warm and everyone seems to be content on it.

It’s basically a sheep farm.

We have some small calves that we buy in February/March – maybe half a dozen or eight.  

We keep them until about the second week in October and then we sell them on. 

3 lambs on farm in open field
Baby lambs born on the farm

I work ‘out’ as well, I drive a lorry for an engineering company in Draperstown.

I like travelling….Dublin… Wexford… I don’t mind getting up early in the morning to beat the traffic.

By the time you get back up you’ve beaten the traffic again. 

When I get up in the morning I have a collie dog that  has to be looked after… and a wee cocker spaniel. These things are done before I go.  

Unfortunately, these mornings it’s dark.

In the evening when I get home there are sheep to be fed. At this time of year we feed them up a bit  because they are ready to come into season. 

Through the week you check them as often as you can to see how things are.   

You have to work with the weather and daylight at this time of year. 

I like the long bright nights.

But now you only have the weekend or if you finish early on a Friday  to get things done and check the bits you haven’t done during the week.

I really enjoy the long evenings of the summer time. Half five…  six o’ clock in the morning you can get round and see to everything before you go to work. 

At lambing time I would kick off around at quarter to five in the morning to try to get as much done.

My father is not a very good sleeper so he checks during the night. If some have lambed during the night  they go into their own maternity pens and I do the feeding.

If everything is going all right we can get them into the house ( fold) where he can watch them. 

2 famers Screening sheep on farm

The only time the sheep go inside the house is to lamb.

The house is not big enough to hold them all – it holds maybe 100 sheep – so you have to sort them out.

You go by the markings of the rams. 

The orange mark goes in first .. the blue mark goes in second.. you  have to work them that way.

Plus we scan them as well, and that gives us a bit of an idea about their times (due date). You are feeding them out in the dark with bales of silage to try and feed them up. 

Lambing starts about 15th/17th March and finishes maybe mid-April.  

We keep  about 230 breeding ewes. And then the follow on ( about  50 of them) so there’s over  300 stock at  any time. When the lambs come along that multiplies. 

We breed our own stock.

All the animals that are reared on the farm will stay on the farm until they go away to be sold.

If you bring new animals  it’s all new to them and they break out and run all over the place.

The sheep that are reared on the farm will stay on the farm.  

sheep in garden
Sheep after lambing season

I enjoy it. I’d rather be farming all the time but … needs must. 

It’s seasonal work with lamb.  You fatten them and move them on. You sell the lambs at this time of year and it’s a long time  round till this time next year.

From May onwards my son and I do all the shearing ourselves.  We  take a couple of days and get all that cleared up. It’s all part of farming.

When we were living in the town  I always knew I was going to get out of it.

They are brilliant people and  I was content enough, but you still wanted to get back. 

With working on the farm you would  have to travel up and down 3 or 4 miles at a time.  Now you just walk out through the door. 

sheep at sunrise
Sunrise in lambing season

It’s very quiet here. I was out just now and you can see the moon. 

You don’t see the moon and the stars a lot in the city. 

When you are out there it’s quieter and come the summer time there is the  cuckoo.

There are  people who come up here just to hear the  cuckoo. They never heard it in their lives. There  must be at least five or six come up to this area to hear it every year. 

You see the swallows arriving… wee things like that.. You wouldn’t want to move away and leave those things  that you wouldn’t see. I’ve grown up with them. 

 It’s always a big talking point: “Did you see the first swallow?” 

Before lockdown there would be a lot of people coming and going from this house.

People coming in to  see you… neighbours.. brothers and sisters…they all would have called and stopped if they were in the lane.

That has all stopped now for a long time.

My father is 80 years of age and  with Covid you have to be careful.

Funerals and wakes are a big thing in this  part of the country. People like to meet  others and talk,  it’s a country thing I suppose. 

It has all moved away from that – which is very sad I think. It’s breaking up good friendships –  that’s my opinion.   

Friends have died… neighbours.. and you couldn’t go to the wake. It’s very sad.  

The market was a big problem too. 

What you did was you let the animals out and some guy took  them away into a pen. That was the last you saw of them.

The sheep were sold and they phoned you: ‘do you want to take the price?   

Nine times out of ten you take the price anyway.

The market was a good social place you would have gone in and met the guys and talked –  you like to meet the people.  Covid has done  away with a lot of that.

Even now when go in you must  wear a mask – especially by the ringside and right round the open market itself. It takes a while to get used to it.

Changed times for everybody

We’ve lost the craic and the banter

There are a couple of pubs in the town, farming pubs: those pubs have gone.

They closed up.

The markets were closed so the guys weren’t coming and they had a lot of overheads.

There were at least two market pubs closed up in Draperstown.  They were the  sort of places a guy could go in with his wellies on him and his cap on and sit down and enjoy a Guinness or a bit of craic. The other fancier lounges – he was never going to go in there.

So it spoiled all that in a way.

I had a daughter got married on 9 December and there was only 25 allowed at the wedding.

We put up a marquee and a restaurant in town made up all the food and served it in the house.

Initially there were 65 going to the wedding in Cyprus for the week, but then that all fell through. That was disappointing for them.

She had it booked a couple of times and then decided: No, I’m going to get married at home. 

Like ourselves  she and her husband built their own house and  it all has to be paid for.

Rather than spending £3-4000 on a big party night she can put it into the house instead.

My other daughter was the same. She had different  places booked but  with Covid they kept moving the goalposts.

three men with sheep on farm
Three generations on the farm

I have eight sisters and three brothers.

I have a brother lives just one field length away from me.

They are all pretty close by. The furthest one lives about twenty miles away.  Everybody stayed local. 

My dad was in a pilgrimage society that takes people to Lourdes and for 23 years we held a hog roast barbecue to raise funds for anyone who needed it – for the helpers.

It would start at  Saturday morning about 9 o’ clock and went on until Sunday till nearly 3 or 4 am. 

My dad is into Irish traditional music and he has a lot of friends who sing and play music,  so  he gets all those guys in.

The first few nights we got up to £15-16,000.  Through time, obviously the novelty has worn off, so the last time there was something like £7,000 lifted. 

Then Covid came in and my dad said: that’s it, we are not going to bother any more. 

My son works on the farm with us.

He did courses at Greenmount College so he sees what  we should/shouldn’t be doing. He works ‘out’ as well so it’s usually Saturday…Sunday Friday afternoon we try to get the work done on the farm.

That keeps everybody involved. 

2014 was the first holiday me and my wife got from we were married. 

We went to The Holylands.  

Then three years ago we went to Washington DC: Arlington’s cemetery… Kennedy’s grave… the White House all those things. A cousin lives over there and she took us round all those places.

It was brilliant to see it in real life.  

There’s always somebody to help out, something always falls into place. So you have to take the holidays. Long weekends – they are just as good as going away.

I wouldn’t thank you for a fortnight of lying on a beach in Spain. I have no interest whatsoever!

We grow our own vegetables every year: peas, carrots…lettuce..cabbage.

And we have our own chickens as well, so we have our own eggs.

We get a butcher to do a lamb for us every year.

When you set it up on the plate you know we raised that ourselves.

We cut our own turf.

Everybody helps each other. There’s as much turf there to keep  us going until next year. We buy very, very little oil. 

The turf will be cut probably… beginning of April once the frost goes.  It used to be cut by spade but now there’s a guy comes with the machine and he cuts it and it’s all done in two hours –  what would have taken two days.

cut turf on hillside
Turf cut on the mountain

We talk about ‘going to the moss’. We have a picnic and the children are all there.

It takes all day by the time you get all the partying done. 

Machines like every other job have  shortened the time.

When you count it all up  it’s probably even not that efficient given the time that it  takes to cut, but we still like the open fire.  

We have a wee stove as well which heats the house.  We light the fire in the living room and everyone seems to gather round it. 

When you go to Donegal you can smell the turf there smells totally different  from here. 

Local Folk lore?

You would always go out  the same door you came in.

There are fairy trees about here  and no-one would touch a fairy tree. Those wee things are still out there….  

A full moon is a harvest moon. ..

The mountains are very close today – the light magnifies things so it seems closer to you. In the summertime you will see the sheep jumping about and sporting and that’s always a sign of bad weather that it’s going to rain.

Or when they move  to the lower ground, it’s a sign rain is coming.  

You see those things.

It feels very strange at home now that there’s only the two of us. 

There were always comings and goings and….  where are you going… and what are you going to do… and that sort of thing.  

It does feel strange there’s not as much noise about the house…a radio going on in the room…can I watch this…why are you watching that on the TV.

interior living space with ornate wooden fireplace and mirror and fluffy rug and tv on wooden stand
Living room

When I’m in the house I  probably spend most of my time in the living room. 

 I love watching cooking programmes; I enjoy cooking  and watch for different ideas. If there was a good film, songs…music you have to sit down and unwind. 

The drawback to living in the country?

Paying rates – for all that we get, and all that we have to pay! 

When you live in the country you do a big weekly shop and so it would be strange if you ran out of something. We get what we need, go and buy it and have it there.  

When we were in the town you see people going to the shop all the time. 

This time last year  my sheepdog had an accident and the vet amputated his leg. He is still working OK. I trained him up  myself. He’s a one-man dog.

When  I’m at home I let him out and he lies at the back door. He’s a very loyal dog.

If I went out the front door and away in the car he would  still lie at the back door until I came back.  

farmer and dog on hillside farm
Home on the farm

Why would you want to live somewhere else? I’m not leaving.

All photos by Respondent’s family.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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