Ramblings of: Life on the Farm – Rathbaun Farm

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.

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

http://www.rathbaunfarm.com/index.html

 

Ramblings of: Dublin

Our trip around Dublin was mercifully light.  CIE Tours knew that everyone had a long journey getting to Ireland and used the day to tour around town and make those important adjustments when coming to a different country.

I have to say, when it comes to making adjustments, it’s not that hard to do in a city like Dublin.  It’s like meeting a distant cousin you haven’t seen in decades.  You’re a little hesitant at first, but then you quickly get comfortable and become fast friends again.

Dublin broke the ice first by showing us the wonderful architecture and artistry around it.  There are wonderful ancient, stone cathedrals; classic pubs and storefronts; with modern glass high-rises intermixed for seasoning.

The bridges are one of the more unexpected treasures of Dublin.  Unlike in the United States where most bridges are built for function only, Dublin had made it a point to have their bridges show artistic flair as well.  While it creates a higher start-up cost, I believe it creates both pride for the residents and another reason for tourists to visit and talk about.

The streets, on the other hand are tight!  They are so narrow that when compared to American roads they resemble more of our standard side streets than our boulevards.  

Parking is on par with any major city and so are most of the sidewalks; except for the shopping district near Trinity College.

The area around Trinity College has made shopping easy for the students and tourists with wider sidewalks, brightly painted store fronts, and an atmosphere conductive to walking.

 

While not artsy, the area is art friendly.  In fact, if I had to describe the area in a simple tag-line, it would be:  Culturally diverse.  You have the artists, the historians, the merchants, the pubs, the restaurants, the business, and the government types all mixed together without district segregation.  The best part is that even with 15% unemployment, most of the storefronts were rented out and being used.  Without a Wal-Mart, Costco, or Super Target to compete against, most stores economically equal and only have to compete with each other.  Some might argue that it stifles the free market, but I believe the regulating against such big stores benefits the area by nurturing the small business operator and allows the city to spread part of its economy through multiple players instead of having to deal with a quasi-monopoly.

With all the food, shopping, venues, art, and museums a week spent in Dublin alone would give you a good taste of what Ireland is about.  It’s well worth a visit.

Ramblings of: Ireland

The back of my well broken in chair is reclined as far as it can go and it’s dark outside, but try as I might, I just can’t get myself comfortable enough to sleep.  I’m three hours in on a seven hour flight to Ireland with my wife and I want to sleep so I can actually be alert when we arrive and actually make something of the day.

This trip is our 15th year anniversary gift to each other.  We had hoped to go on a trip like this for our 10th anniversary, but the usual curveballs that like likes to throw at you happened.  In its own way, these unexpected “life moments”  give you a chance to second guess your plans and see if there is a better way of working them.  I have to admit that even with all our planning I am a little leery of this trip.  I’ve never been on a flight this long and I get motion sick fairly easy.  The Sea Bands are working so far.  I had no problem with the flight from Florida to Philly, but would they hold up for this flight?  More importantly will they hold up for the entire week of road tripping?  Yes, my friends, our trip to Ireland is a week long journey by bus.  We’re going to hit all the hot spots:  Dublin, Killarney, Galway with stops in Cashel, Blarney, Bunratty, Cliffs of Moher, Clifden, Leenane, and Connemara to fill out the week.  It’s through CIE Tours and promises to be a winner.  I’m really excited about it and brought with me both versions of Dramamine just to be certain.

Somehow between the tight seats and calls to buy duty free liquor I am able to sneak in a few cat naps on the trip over.  It’s light out now and I can see a little bit of ground peeking from under the clouds.  Hmm.  Fairly heavy cloud cover.  I guess all the movies and stories about Ireland’s and England’s weather is true.  Then a larger break in the clouds reveals the gem of Ireland before me.  It’s just like the pictures show!  Patches and Patches of farmland divvied up by thin rows of trees.  It looks like a rich earthen quilt of emerald green!  Amazing!  I prod my wife, Carol, so she can look out the window as well to make this moment real.

A few moments later and we are in Ireland!

When we get off the plane we immediately start looking for Carol’s sister, Gail.  She and her husband, Tom, visited Ireland ten years earlier and jumped at the chance to join us when they heard we were going.  Being new to the area, I loved the fact that we were going to have two experienced people with us to help pick out the secret little local spots that most people miss.

It didn’t take long for us to find them.  In fact, all we had to do was turn around.  Their plane was delayed and ended up landing just after ours did.  With quick hugs and salutations, we head downstairs to grab our luggage.  After that we went through customs.  A painless process with a very small line.  After that we walk over to the airport café where I have my first true experience with Ireland.  Tea!  The people are having tea with their breakfast.  Now there’s something you don’t see every day in America.

I wonder what else will be different.  Carol want’s a Diet Coke to wake up, so I mosey into the airport store.  It’s called Spar.  Wow is it different.  They sell real food here.  I’m talking boxes of rice and cans of soup.  Why?  There’s no place to cook it.  How many people buy it for their flight home?

The candy is different too.  They have a few things from us:  Kit Kat, Twix, Snickers, and Cadbury, but their wrappers are different.  They look like they belong in a Willy Wonka movie.  It’s not bad, in fact, it’s very cheerful when you think about it.  Just another thing to let me know I am in a new country.

I hand Carol the Coke as we all head over to the gathering spot.  There’s a good sized crowd there and they are every bit as tired and excited as we are.  The age group runs across the board from college freshmen to retirees.  They are a lively bunch and I get the feeling this is going to be better than I expected.

Next:  Onto Dublin!