A Shepherd In Ireland
"May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live."
- Irish Blessing
I met Ronan one late afternoon when I stepped outside our cabin to take some photographs. He was in the fields with one of his children and the dogs. I was very curious about the lifestyle of working this land, tending the sheep, the farm duties, and the thrill of beholding this beautiful land each and every day. It was freezing outside, but he graciously talked with me for a while and I learned a lot from this kind man.
This land has been in the family for generations. He and his brothers live in his grandfather's farmhouse and share the duties of working the farm. His mother's house is also on the land (his father passed away a few years ago), along with a couple of cabins his family rents out, one of which we stayed in.
When I commented on how beautiful it is here and what an amazing life it must be to get to see this every single day, he agreed and said that sometimes they go on vacation to see beautiful scenery and come home and realize they have the best there is right here.
I asked him, with so many sheep, does the wool cover the farm expenses? He informed me that the wool brings in almost nothing if anything at all. There have been times when they've had to pay to have the wool picked up and taken away. I told him that I thought it was terrible that the farmer who is doing most of the work does not receive fair compensation. In my travels, I have seen retailers selling wool sweaters in Ireland and elsewhere for $80, or more. It is heartbreaking that farmers do not receive fair financial compensation for the year-round, time-consuming hard work involved in caring for so many sheep and the overhead expenses they have for machinery needed in running a farm. Unfortunately, I believe this is a common problem in many countries on all types of farms.
While they receive some income for meat, they work full-time jobs in addition to working the farm to keep things going. I asked him how they do it, day after day, rising early to tend to farm duties plus working full-time jobs on top of that, sometimes getting home late at night. He said you had to love it; you have to love all of it, or you couldn't do it. He said there had been times when he has spent four hours getting one sheep down off the mountain, so it's not for everyone, but he loves it. He went on to say there's nothing like it, being out here, no one bothers you, and it's so quiet. They don't get tourists up here, only the occasional hiker, and in the summers it is even more beautiful than it is now. I could see and hear that he genuinely loves his life. It certainly seems an idyllic existence to me, waking up to this place every morning.
I learned an interesting thing about sheep from him, also. He shared with me that sheep will stay where they are birthed. If they are birthed on the mountain, they will stay there; if birthed in the meadow, they will stay in the meadow. I asked him about the sheep we frequently see right along the edge of the highways; I had assumed they escaped their pastures. He said those sheep will always be along the highway because they were birthed along the highway. If he buys a sheep from a farmer next door, that sheep will return to that farmer's pasture and stay over there. They paint their wool to identify which farmer owns them.
Even as a visitor here for three short weeks, I have to say that it would a magical place to live. The mountains, the air, the peacefulness. It is a very healing environment and we did not want to leave when the time came. This place has taken up residence in our souls.
Thank you, Ronan, for taking the time to chat with me, for answering my questions very honestly, and for your graciousness. All the best to you and your loved ones, always.