Dublin is beautiful, Galway is grand, but for my money, our visit to Rathbaun Farms is hands down the most underrated/unexpected part of the trip. True, the name kinda gives it away, but not for me.
When I hear the word “farm” in Ireland, I expect to see potatoes, wheat, apple orchards, corn, or even a mix of crops. Maybe there’ll be animals instead; a ranch instead of a farm. Cows would be intermixed with horses, chickens, and sheep. All free range, of course. I wasn’t sure of their farming practices either. Something told me it would not be the big corporate style of the large acreage farms back home use. I expect a more hands on approach.
The road was narrow as we went along. Very narrow. In fact, it was on this trip that we witnessed our first and only accident. A lone sedan was driving in the other lane coming towards us. The driver must’ve been intimidated by the size of our tour bus lumbering towards him, because he thought it would be better hug the hedges along the road. He must’ve been a tourist, for those aren’t hedges along the roadways; those are solid stacked stone walls that have large vines and weeds growing over them. A solid bump and scrape answered the question I had since landing in Ireland; “Why do some cars look like they were clawed at by some giant panther on their rear fenders?”
Soon after that, we turn onto a driveway and really learn the difference between narrow and Narrow.
Dave stops the bus and we are immediately greeted by Frances. She is everything you hope to meet in Ireland. Bright, beaming, happy, and full of blarney. She opens up by picking on Dave before instructing us to the main hall. We step off the bus and are instantly hit by our surroundings.
Rathbaun Farm is the living embodiment of every Irish vision and daydream you’ve ever had! Thick thatch roofs cover beautiful plastered walls of charming buildings. Pots of colorful flowers bring brightness and excitement to the warm color of the plaster.
I go inside and am greeted with historic furniture and chinaware. It has a feel of openness and honesty to it that you just can’t get in modern buildings. I steal some pictures before getting tramples as we all heard into the main hall.
Finding a seat at one of the tables, I look around and spot a coffee-book on Maryland. Bemused by this, I snap off a picture.
It doesn’t take long for everyone to find a seat and then a lady helps Frances pour tea or coffee and hand out scones.
Scones are the baked delicacy here in Ireland, and Frances makes the best scone in the country! They are so light and fluffy it is unreal! When you first see and feel the scone, you expect them to be rather heavy, like a cake you need to wash down with milk. Uh-uh. Not these. Think of a mix between a sponge cake and angle cake. That’s the best way I can think to describe them. Soft and moist, light and delicious; the scones are worth the visit on their own. (Luckily, Frances put the recipe on her website. I post a link at the bottom. Promise.)
As we are munching on our fine scones, Frances gives us the history of the farm. Owned originally by the Connolly Family, the farms sits on 80 acres and those lovely thatched roof buildings are 200 years old! The same goes for the front of the house that we passed through to get to the hall. The family built the hall specifically for visitors.
Rathbaun Farm is a working farm with sheep being the mainstay. Fintan takes care of the sheep. All 150 of them. Frances helps when she can, but most of the time Fintan gets help from Buff, their faithful Border-Collie.
Buff is good at his job. To prove it, Fintan has Buff give us a demonstration of his abilities. With just a few quick words, Buff is on the move and herding those sheep like cowboys to a drove of cattle.
Darting, and weaving, Buff circles the herd towards the gate where Fintan allows five to enter. With a pat on the head, Buff exits the limelight to seek a quiet place away from the crowd.
Buff’s work might be done, but Fintan is about to show us some of his skills. Opening up another gate, Fintan leads one of the sheep over to the platform. He explains to us how the sheep here are raise for food and not for their wool. He goes on to tell us that surprisingly, most of the sheep raised in Ireland are raised for food. The wool that is sheared is of medium texture and is not what is used in the handmade Irish sweaters that every tourist yearns to buy. (Keep buying them though. Just because the wool is imported, that doesn’t mean the artistry and the hard work of the hand weaving them is.) It costs roughly two euros to pay someone to shear the sheep, which must be done once a year, and the price for the wool is roughly one euro per sheep. So basically they sheering of the sheep is an overhead cost and not a profit for the framers. That was something I did not expect. It doesn’t take long for Fintan to shear the sheep though. In less than five minutes, the job is done. The sheep is happy and Fintan smiles behind a small pile of wool.
More on the farm next post, but until then, here’s the recipe for those fine scones.
8 oz self-raising flour 2 oz butter 1 oz sugar Fruit e.g. raisins
Rub flour and butter together, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add in sugar and mix with 1 egg and 5 tablespoons of buttermilk.
Bake in a very hot oven, top shelf, for about 15 – 20 mins at 180°C/355°F
My Thanks to Rathbaun Farm