As I write this I’m finally back in Oxford. Due to the fact that I seemed to arrive at Rock Farm at a relatively hectic time, I wasn’t sure of my impressions of anything until near the end. So, I’ve decided to wait until now to write a post about my experience there.
Firstly, I should just say that the setting of the farm was incredible. I lived with the other WWOOFers in a centuries-old gatehouse, which was right next to the castle along with crumbling stables and old servants’ quarters that stretched back to the epic gate near the road. There were views of the castle, the Boyne River and rolling green hills from every window in the apartment – it was seriously beautiful. The apartment itself was nice, too – there were decorations, a slight homey clutter and brightly coloured walls. Not to mention the fact that everything was really old, which, of course, will always win me over instantly.
Secondly – the host family. I had a whole week to wonder what they might be like, since they went on a five-day vacation the day I got there. It turns out that they are aristocrats, which I didn’t know when I signed up for the farm. I DID know that there was a castle there, but I had no idea that it was my host dad’s father who owned it. It turns out that the father is the Marquess of Conyngham. On a tour of the castle which Alex (my host dad) gave me two days ago, I learned that the Conynghams were the largest land-owners in Ireland during the nineteenth century. The first Marchioness of Conyngham was King George IV’s most important mistress, and the second marquess was the man who told Queen Victoria that she was queen at her succession. Today Alex’s father, Henry, makes money for the estate by hosting concerts at the castle by the likes of U2 and the Rolling Stones. Who knew??? Being a huge Georgian history nerd, I was very excited about all of this. Also, the whole thing was just an interesting experience. I’ve met so many different kinds of people in my life, and I’m only twenty-one. That’s pretty exciting.
The family was very nice, too. Alex and Carina’s children are ADORABLE. The elder is a three-year-old girl named Laragh, and she has a two-year-old brother called Rory. I became rather attached to him, which is strange because I don’t normally become so enthralled with children. But Rory has these angelic blond curls that remind me of my own hair when I was his age, and he has the cutest shy smile. I also loved the family dogs, of course, big Tarka and tiny Pernod.
Moving on to the other employees on the farm. Laura, the children’s au pair, is a Spanish woman who used to be a WWOOFer and got asked to stay on. She’s a really nice person and a FANTASTIC cook (her food was basically the only real food that I ate, since she made most of the lunches – I made pasta sprinkled with cheese for myself at almost every dinner). When she started living in Slane permanently, Laura brought her boyfriend Lucho over and he became the farm manager. I really like Lucho a lot – his English isn’t very good because he didn’t know a word of the language when he arrived in Ireland eight months ago, and it made for a ton of really funny conversations. He says random English words, like “WHAT” and “more or less”, in completely incorrect places. When the family was on vacation and I was the only native English speaker on the farm, conversations between him and the other WWOOFers could be hilarious failures.
The other WWOOFers were great, too. When I arrived there was a French guy, Charles, and a Spanish girl named Rosa. Charles left about a week and a half after I got there, but Rosa and I happened to be leaving on the same day so I spent a LOT of time with her over the weeks. She’s very friendly, outgoing, and fun-loving, so we had a good time together.
Okay, so we’ve finally reached the part where I tell you about the work. Since it was spring I got to do a lot of planting, which is relaxing and easy. There was also just general maintenance of the plants that were growing and the building of new fields (the farm is very new). The field-creating was really boring and tiring, but the rest was fine. WWOOFing is great when the weather’s nice, since I’d want to be outside anyway, but when it’s cold it can be seriously awful. We had a real mix of weather when I was there, which is to be expected of Ireland I suppose. There was one almost hot week when Rosa and I basked in the sun after work, but the last full week was freezing and rainy, leaving us hugging the radiator at the end of each day. The only other main job we had was feeding the chickens and pigs. Chicks were hatching in our apartment near the end of my stay, which was really exciting since I’ve always wanted to see that. I was not a fan of the pigs, however – Mr. Piggy, the adult male, bit me on the first day. I wasn’t nervous going in to feed him just because I’ve never really thought of pigs as dangerous animals, but these ones are huge (Google “ginger pig”). As I went in to feed him Rosa said that she was nervous on her first day, and then I asked her if I should be. Right after she said no, Mr. Piggy bit my leg on top of a huge bruise I had from varsity. After that I wasn’t really keen on going into the adult pigs’ area anymore, and on the third and last time I did he head butted me. When I started sprinting away, he got his hoof on my hamstring and now I have a long cut/bruise on the back of my leg. WHY DON’T THEY JUST KILL HIM AND EAT HIM, ALREADY? He’s very mean to Matilda, his mate, too – he’d push her into things to make sure he got to the food first. Apparently he tried to kill his own children, too, so they had to put him in a separate area. The piglets were cute, but even they were annoying and, well…hogs. Piggish. I know people say that pigs are actually really smart, but I don’t get it.
By now, if you’re still reading, I’m sure you’re wondering when I’m going to finish this absurdly long post. Not yet, I’m afraid! I haven’t told you anything about my adventures off the farm. I was so tired from this exhausting year that I often just wanted to sleep in on my days off, but I forced myself to explore Ireland. I saw Dublin, which I liked a lot. It reminded me of Boston in that it was a small yet major city, and somehow the architecture of the two places seemed similar to me. Rosa and I also went up to the Hill of Slane, which is supposedly where St. Patrick did his first Christian ritual or something. Now there are ruins of a 16th century church and monastery on the hill, and Rosa and I climbed all over them.
I met up with my friend Kathleen from the hostel in Rome on a Thursday in Dublin, which was fun. On that Sunday, Rosa and I cycled 10 kilometers to Newgrange and Knowth, the 5,000-year-old tomb sites, only to find out that all of the tours were sold out for the day (you can’t go in without at tour). This was the SECOND time Rosa had gone there without getting to see the tombs, since she’d gone by foot before, underestimated the distance, and arrived when it was closed. It turned out to be a beautiful bike ride, though, and Carina drove us there the next Friday so we got to see it eventually. It was pretty cool – inside it’s mostly just a stone room with an interesting roof, but the knowledge that it has remained watertight for 5,000 years is incredible. It was also built so that, at dawn on the winter solstice every year, the sun goes into a carefully placed window and lights the entire chamber inside. The tomb is then pitch black for the rest of the year. There’s a lottery to see this happen, but last year over 31,500 people applied and only 100 get to go.
On the last weekend I went to Cork, because I hadn’t really left the Dublin/Slane area and apparently that’s where my dad’s dad’s side of the family is from. Rosa was supposed to go with me, but she got a stomach bug that made me a huge hypochondriac for the rest of my stay. Seriously, what is it with my luck when I try to travel with friends? Or rather, what is it with THEIR luck? I try to visit Rome with Lauren – her aunt dies. I try to visit Barcelona with Asiyla – she gets food poisoning. I try to visit Cork with Rosa – she gets a stomach virus. All I have to say is – I’m sorry! And don’t visit me!! Anyway, Cork was pretty cool, though including transport to Dublin it took 5.5 hours to get there. I got to see some very nice Irish towns and nature on the way, though. Cork was very pretty, if a little bit run down. I was there for less than twenty-four hours, so all I did was walk around the city, see University College Cork (which is beautiful), and go to the Cork City Gaol. I didn’t even get to go to the famous English market, because it was Easter Sunday on my second day there. Still, the gaol was very cool – it’s an old jail that looks like a castle. I did an audio tour and watched a corny movie. Basically, they treated prisoners horribly there.
I have only one more thing left to say – I made my dad’s pasta and my lemon squares for everyone on my last night. Despite my general lack of culinary skills it actually went really well (minus a mild mishap with the lemon squares, surprisingly), and Rosa, Matt (the American guy who arrived two days before I left), and I went to the local pub afterwards to listen to local Irish people playing traditional music. I wish I’d gone to the pub more often, because it was really fun – Rosa and I were just really lazy most of the time and stayed at home every time we thought about going. Oh well – it was a perfect last evening.
So, that is the novel which details my month in Ireland. If you’ve actually managed to read everything, thanks! I genuinely enjoyed my time there, and I miss it even now. Tomorrow the studying starts again. Sunday is the beginning of 0th week, and my parents arrive a week from tomorrow so I want to get as much 1st and 2nd week work done as possible right now. In a few weeks you’ll have an update on my new, football-less term.