Tibradden Gate Lodge 2015: Nominated for an RIAI Award and Available to Rent!

Voting is open till 17th June for the RIAI People’s Choice Awards and we’re delighted that the gate lodge at Tibradden is up for a gong. Will and Marcus of Donaghy & Dimond deserve full credit for designing such a welcoming and airy space. R&U Builders also deserve special mention for their dedication in seeing the project through, as does our friend and neighbour, Gerry Farrell, who brought great skill to bear on our slow-drying, home-grown, cedar timbers. If you’d like to vote, here’s the RIAI link:  Go to “Gate Lodge”

On the other hand, if you’d like to live here, the 3 bedroomed lodge is currently available to rent (on an annual lease) from July 1st. We are looking for a family who might enjoy being in the countryside and yet so close to the city (Dublin 16), ideally for over a year.

You’ll find full details here: Tibradden Gate Lodge on Daft

Thanks, as ever, to Mr. Evers for the pics.

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Interior of the extension showing the use of Tibradden’s cedars throughout. That’s the master bedroom down beyond the bathroom.
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This is the gate lodge at Tibradden where the Kirwans used to live. It’s a bit of a tardis now that Rostyk has finished building a whole new house behind it, designed by Will Dimond and Marcus Donaghy.
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So here’s the open plan kitchen with the light flowing in. There’s a wood-burning stove just off to the right.
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And this is the longer shot, showing the door to the back garden. Up above that sofa is a large mezzanine space with a view of the Hellfire Club for those who ascend the ladder.
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And this is the cortene steel roof that is rusted by design with the cedar wood cladding at the rear of the extension. Grasses by Mt. Venus Nursery.

When the Grass is Greener

“I never knew an animal like it for dying,” says my neighbour, gazing at the flock of sheep we’ve just herded down from the summer pastures to be ready for the shearer the next day.  I look again. They seem to me to be in fine condition, all eighty-five ewes and their chubby lambs, but now I fear he has spotted something I’ve missed.

Until we started farming at Tibradden seven years ago, I thought grass was just grass.  But conversations such as these, two pairs of gumboots stalled at a fence, have taught me that a sheep will assess a field with the acuity of an addict raiding a drug cabinet. Insufficient lime in the soil and the grass tastes bitter. Insufficient cobalt and the sheep will pine, meaning they don’t eat and won’t thrive.  Insufficient copper and new lambs suffer swayback, teetering unsteadily on their front legs while the hind ones remain weak. And all it takes is a sniff of the air for a sheep to tell if the grass is worth grazing or if there’s better elsewhere.  We’ve been mending fences in a bid to stop them straying, but it doesn’t always work. Recently I found twenty ewes massed in a scrum against a gate, trying to burst the bolt.  So now I’m all on for diplomacy.

The past hard winter had the Dublin Mountains coloured ochre till late April.  When spring finally came, I ordered sixty tonnes of lime from Carlow to keep the grass sweet to persuade them to stay. “I didn’t believe you could still find fields full of sheep in Dublin 16,” the spreader said, hopping down off the tractor he’d driven from Red Cross via all the back roads to avoid the M 50.  He’s right: it’s getting to be a rare sight.

As each farm disappears, so do the contractors and their shared expertise and labour. The nearest agricultural vet lives in Enniskerry. Sean Cooney who scans our pregnant ewes for single, twin or triplet lambs, farms in Glenealy.  Our shearer is a Wexford man. For agricultural supplies, we drive to Naas or Baltinglass. Our sheep are sold at Doyle’s mart in Blessington of a Tuesday. The nearest abbatoir for our freezer lambs is O’Gorman’s of Castledermot. And recently, the Department of Agriculture cast the decisive vote of no-confidence in our area by moving their branch office from Tallaght to Naas.

All this means that loneliness can be a peril for the South Dublin farmer.  Our farms may face the city, but our livelihoods depend on the rural hinterland beyond the mountains. “You can’t graze the view”, they say round here.  Yet this is the fate, I think sometimes, of those left farming on the edge of the Pale. We work part-time jobs or run several enterprises to keep these fields grazed by wandering beasts that turn little profit from nose to tail.  We watch the skinned pasture grow stemmy overnight to wave in the breeze that funnels down the slopes of Kilmashogue.  The sight of a buzzard being pursued off the premises by irate songbirds is our brief reward, or the early morning glimpse of a hare loping through the tall grass like a hound.

But this isn’t what we speak of when we stand talking at a fence, the other pair of gumboots and mine.  Our shearer knows a man with a cure for the orf, a disease that leaves cold sores around a sheep’s mouth and eyes, who lives beyond Manor Kilbride.  You ring him up and he says a prayer and overnight the blisters on the sheep’s mouths dry up and disappear. It always works for him and it’s cheaper than the vaccine.  “Do you think it would work on Protestant sheep?” I ask.  “It would surely,” he replies.

Why, I sometimes think, chasing our resistant ewes round a sodden field some dank January day, why do we continue to do this? “Because,” my husband says, “it’s become who we are, and it’s how we inhabit the place.” And looking at how each of our bodies has changed, I realize this is also physically correct. His shoulders have broadened under the weighty sacks of ewe nuts he hoiks through the fields.  I’ve lost my waist to two sons and two shelves of recipes and the hours I spend at my desk trying to keep our books straight. It may not be a particularly fair match of consequences.

I lift my eldest son up into the lime tree that stands in our front field. He climbs through its nest of branches to a perch high above me, there better to inhale the heady scent of its tiny green blossom.  “Do you think,” he calls down, “anyone else could have got this far before?” Beyond him, the car ferry has just pulled out from the East Wall and is nosing into the expanse of the bay.  “No love,” I reply, “I think that’s about as high as anyone could ever get.” When he was five, he quietly broke my heart by telling me that when he was older he was going to live in New York.  There’s silence from the tree.  “Do you know, Mum,” he says after a few minutes, “where we live is pretty cool really.” And it is, I think, it really is.

Evening Herald, 2/7/2013.

Lambing notes. No puns.

A twitter correspondent has asked me for an update on how our lambing has gone. The implication of finality in this question is deeply to be envied and is regrettably misplaced.  We have been inhabiting the labour ward for an unconscionably long spell. Last Wednesday, the chief obstetrician left his post for 24 hours to deliver a plenary lecture on contemporary Northern Irish photography in Belfast at a cool, urban gathering in the Film Department of Queens University Belfast.  While he talked about the aesthetics of shipyards and concrete . . . 

I was left in charge armed with his diagram of the shed – which with its finely drawn lines demarcating individually numbered pens with notes attached for each patient, was really just a cunning plan to convince me that the care of 30 ewes would be easy-peasy – and that familiar, yet still alarming piece of equipment, the stomach tube and syringe.

And on my first round of the ward everything did seem do-able, straightforward, pitching the silage into the troughs between the larger pens, and cleaning up the afterbirth in the larger pens, and feeding nuts to the larger pens  – that was all fine.  But then I had to do the water on the 8 individual pens and there learn again the age-old truth that mothering is not a given in man or beast. After I found the third ewe dry or nearly dry or reluctant to let her lambs feed, stamping them away, I began to wonder whether some Cow and Gate salesman had been round at birth offering free formula while I’d been inside with the children.  All, of course, lambing for the first time and with twins.  

The old trick is to bring the dog into the shed and tie him up next to the problem ewe – the theory being that the mother will keep her eyes on the dog and let the lamb suckle, thus increasing her supply. Bowie, appropriately enough, howls when he’s tied up.  So, recalling my own half-hour with the lactation consultant in Holles Street, I decided that  instead I’d sit the ewes one at a time on their backsides – this quite a tricky operation in and of itself – and latch each lamb on to a spin as they call the teats around here, some on their own mother, or if dry, on another.  At least they’d get a decent feed of colostrum to see them through the night.

And that’s how I passed a good three hours in the shed on Wednesday night. Got to bed at 3 am and dreamed fitfully of sheep – not as a flock – but as an identity parade of individuals.  

Then on Thursday morning, at 7.30 am, a neighbour rang to say our sheep and lambs were out straying on Mutton Lane.  So, before the boys woke up, I was out searching for shit on the road like Pocahontas trying to trace which way the rustlers had gone while heroic friend and neighbours (thank you Liat, Luky and Chris) drove round in loops to see if they could find them.  But there was neither trace nor sign, so after an hour hunting, I gave up and headed back to the shed, hoping we’d bred homing sheep  . . .  

There to discover a ewe struggling to deliver a dead lamb: head out, one foot forward, the other wedged in behind the pelvic bone.  Luky, thank heavens, had joined me by this stage.  ‘What would Colin do in this situation?’ was her very useful question, before she suggested that in Norway where she’d done a year’s agricultural training, they would saw the head off the dead lamb before pushing back in the torso and turning it.  I found I wasn’t quite ready for this Ted Hughes moment.  Neither did we have a sharp enough knife. So I pushed, and then she pushed, and she got the head back a bit, and that must have loosened something, because the ewe did the rest and out the big lamb came.  

And so, that gave us one ewe to try and foster some lambs onto and that worked for a while, after skinning the dead lamb (Luky you’re a star), and fitting its legs through little holes and tying the little waistcoat round with blue baler twine. And while we were doing that, another set of twins had to be delivered from a ewe scanned for one but with a second tell-tale bag of waters appearing after the first. So I pulled her second twin out, which was a first delivery for me, all alive, yippee!

And then it was time to feed the ewes in the front field which entails loading a 25kg sack of 18% Prime Ewe Nuts into a wheelbarrow and trotting down the drive with it to a deafening chorus of approval.  Assisted by the man who came to install our pump, (yes, we’re switching from our 1920s gravity fed stream supply to a well – there’s modernity for you), the sheep were fed . . . 

And just as I was closing the field gate behind me, I spotted a car at the front gate with a man in a suit watching me.  He gestured for me to come down and talk to him.  It turned out to be a man whom I’d met once before when he’d visited the house in a professional capacity.  “Please can you sell me some lambs?” he asked. ‘What for?’ I asked, struggling for a minute to imagine that my dream had come true – our pet lambs on the bottle in some private zoo.  ‘Eating,’ he said.  ‘They won’t be ready to eat until October’ I told him.

No, he wanted them small, 14 kilos or so, and he would like to return with his friend. And then, I twigged rather late, that this was a Halal request.  And although I don’t think that slitting a lamb’s throat can be all that much more cruel than shooting a bolt through a lamb’s brain in an abattoir, having spent much of the night delivering the creatures and nursing back to health the skinny shivering ones, and much of the morning hunting sheep on the roads, and delivering steaming slimy lambs, it was all I could do to protest: ‘But they are only just being born! And they wouldn’t even be weaned  . . and . . and. . . and. . .!’ Yes, rules and regulations about slaughtering too, but at that particular moment, they were the least of it.  

So, those are my lambing notes.  We have 14 ewes left to deliver on the labour ward. Colin is home. And heroically returns to the shed every couple of hours in between correcting his proofs on his new book while laboring with an ear infection. And from here on out,  all our prayers are for warm weather, fertilizer, and a sudden greening of the fields.  Then our work will be done for a while.