Getting Your Hands Dirty – Adventures on the Emerald Isle

jessCheaper Than Rubies is honoured to have former Sky News journalist, and now globe trotter, Jess as our guest contributor. Jess is a CSU Communications graduate and has worked in the media in Tamworth and Sydney. This year, Jess ditched the workforce and ventured overseas. Here she shares her latest adventure with us.

Ireland had always been at the top of my list of countries to visit, so I feel very fortunate to actually be in the land of Irish luck, leprechauns and Guinness. After a whirlwind three day tour of Southern Ireland, I found myself volunteering on an organic farm just north of Dublin in the hope it would help me experience the real Ireland.

I’ve been away from home a while now and one thing I have come to appreciate is the fact that almost anywhere you go in the world, there are people willing to welcome perfect strangers into their home. After a matter of minutes the owner of the farm where I was staying, Paddy had already brushed aside my apologies for being late, told me a condensed version of his life story and urged me to ‘make myself at home’.

skerries

The town of Skerries as seen from the window of the kitchen at Paddy’s farm PHOTO: JESS FAGAN

As we turned into the driveway he told me ‘you’re in for a treat in a minute’. His words proved true: the view as we drove up to the house made the whole trip worthwhile on its own. The ocean stretched out directly below the farm, with the town of Skerries off to the right. The farm runs right down to the water and you’d think this would be enough, but to top off the beautiful location, the farm’s neighbour is a national park, complete with its very own castle.

Before I arrived in Skerries, I had visions of eating baskets full of fresh produce I had picked myself (especially strawberries!), but of course, it was my luck to arrive in Spring: planting season, not picking season.

Brushing aside those glorious visions of eating strawberries, I planted rows and rows of broad beans, peas and turnips. I felt a strange sense of satisfaction once they were all in the ground, and also a curiosity that made me want to come back in a few weeks and see how the crops had grown. We had to cover them with cloth straight away so the hens, who are let out as soon as it gets dark every night, didn’t pick at the seeds. The white sheet seemed to do the trick, but it was less effective in stopping Sammy the Labrador bounding over them!

The farm came complete with its very own shop front, from which its home-made produce: eggs, jams, chutneys and baked goods were sold. A lot of the time it is run on an honesty system: regulars leave cash on the counter and take what they need, and nobody seems too bothered if it’s a couple of euro over or under; they know they can just fix it up next time they come in.

On my first weekend on the farm, I decided to explore Skerries, home to a Paddy population of ‘maybe as many as 10,000, I don’t really know’ and an actual population of 8,333 (according to the 2011 census).

castle skerries

The picturesque Ardgillan Castle PHOTO: JESS FAGAN

The town was only a couple of kilometres from the farm, so I gave the bus a miss and walked in. The stroll took me down through the park, which at the right time of day is packed full of families having picnics, people exercising and walking their dogs. I followed the  trail past Ardgillan Castle and its beautiful grounds and gardens, down to the ocean, which you can follow all the way around to Skerries. The beaches are not as classically picturesque as our own in Australia: rocks replace our glittering golden sand, but the coastline still provides some stunning views.

The town seemed relatively quiet as I walked through at 11am on Saturday morning, but the old mill was hosting the weekly farmers markets. I had been told it only consisted of a few farmers – I think I counted about four stalls in total – but all of the stallholders clearly placed a very high importance on providing access to fresh produce. The mill also operates as a visitor centre and café, and a general meeting point for locals and tourists alike.

Paddy wasn’t my only company on the farm – a Swiss volunteer gave me someone to talk to as we planted rows of broad beans, and offered company during the evenings. I never tire of swapping stories with someone from a different culture; especially one that I know next to nothing about.

While it’s quiet at the farm now, we were told in the busier summer months there can be as many as eight or nine helpers needed to pick all the crops.

This experience has certainly thrown up its fair share of unexpected delights – walking down to the beach with a picnic lunch and falling asleep on the warm rocks was definitely not on my list of things I thought I’d get to do in Ireland. In fact, since I arrived there has been such perfect weather that a lot of people thanked me for bringing it with me from Australia.

After doing work that largely consisted of staring at a computer screen for the last few years, it’s nice to be working outside and getting my hands dirty. Paddy is an excellent host, ever willing and ready to share his knowledge with the volunteers. Among other things I’ve learnt about producing organic fruit and vegtables, I now know the basic process for making Crabapple Jelly. While I have a lot of travelling still ahead of me, I have the feeling that helping out on the farm will remain one of my fondest memories.

Share with us your favourite travel experiences in the comment section below, via Twitter or on Facebook.

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Filed under Itchy Feet, Mind, Body and Soul, Ruby Reviews

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