“The first night, it was raining so hard that I had to pull in on the Featherbed and wait for it to ease off, even though I was already late and not at all sure how I would find Glenasmole Community Centre in the warren of roads that lay below me in the dark. Yet as I crawled down the flooded boreen, grateful for the burnt-out cars that marked out verge from bog, I felt full of the joyful conviction that I would succeed in my mission: to pass the REPS course that would make me a farmer, if only on paper. The most important thing I had found out since becoming caretaker of my late uncle’s flock of 57 ewes and herd of 14 cattle was that the state agricultural agency Teagasc, for a modest annual fee, would suffer to answer the enquiries of a Big House ingénue. It was Teagasc who advised me that twenty hours’ instruction on the maintenance of hedgerows, farm safety, fertilizer usage and drainage schemes was all that stood between me, my certificate, and the monthly paycheque, issued in Brussels, for entering the Rural Environment Protection Scheme. But while I was confident that I could pass the course, I had to acknowledge that much of a sheep was still a mystery to me, and quite what suckler cows were for, or, more to the point, how they generated any income in their steady mooch from mart to abattoir with only the occasional calf squeezed out every other year, remained an unsolvable riddle.”

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