Life breeds hope on a small farm

Yvon O’Flynn is busy with lambing. Mary O’Brien finds an air of anticipation and hope on the farm that comes with the arrival of spring and new life – Yvon’s seven nanny goats have already birthed eight beautiful offspring. The small farmer gifts all her kids, unless she needs a replacement goat, to Bother, an organisation that delivers thousands of animals to support struggling families in countries across Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe.

The animals on ‘Maughanasilly’ hillside farm in Kealkil are happy and well-cared-for. ’Bob’ the three-year-old billy goat was born there. There are 20 sheep raised for their meat, which is sold. The soft-hearted vegetarian farmer recently gave all her ducks away, as she couldn’t bear to slaughter them anymore. In the autumn, she buys broiler chicks and rears them until they are approx five kilos (size of a small turkey).

The sound of birdsong mingles with the babbling of the stream running through the land. There is a mystical quality, as the sunlight hits the moss-covered steps leading to nowhere on the hillside. It’s peaceful and beautiful here.

Close to the house a line of old bathtubs overflowing with greenery are intriguing. Container growing in old salvaged bathtubs is a recent enough discovery for Yvon. A small piece of pipe drains any excess water from the sun-soaked baths which, because they drain well and heat easily, provide the ideal environment for a small garden bed. The baths are also slug-proof because of their height. Yvon’s baths are a mixture of herbs, veg and flowers, boasting crops of cabbage, lettuce, beans – and asparagus kale all through the winter. 

‘Maughanasilly’ is 15 acres, nine of which is worked by Yvon and her son Brion. The vegetable garden with polytunnel, which feeds the farm, is tended by Casper, a friend from Holland who moved here just before Covid. He now lives on the farm and grows the food. No chemicals are used at ‘Maughanasilly’.

“I try to grow as many varieties of veg as possible: carrots, cabbages, onions, beans and peas, suedes, beetroot…” says Casper. For the novice grower, he advises planting potatoes on hard ground in the first year to loosen the earth. This means you can then employ a no-dig system, which is healthier for the soil and plants. He also suggests planting ‘Ragged Jack Kale’. “It’s frost-resistant and if you plant it in spring, you should have it all year round.” Casper and Yvon get all of their seeds from local businesses Fruithill Farm and Brown Envelope Seeds and at Bantry Market, which offers a great supply of plants at various stalls every Friday.

“I’m as self-sufficient as I can be,” shrugs Yvon. “With four children, I couldn’t grow cornflakes,” she laughs. Her four children are now all grown and she enjoys the company of her eight grandchildren when they visit the farm. “All four kids can make baskets and grow their own veg, even one of my daughters, a scientist,” she says proudly.

Yvon doesn’t like the term self-sufficient. “I think you need to work with other people and if you’re self-sufficient you make yourself insular, which isn’t a good thing. Self-sufficiency should be about trading, sharing and helping each other out!” Throughout the pandemic the three farms next to each other on the hillside supported one other. “We have the best of neighbours.”

When she’s not working on the farm, Yvon makes and repairs baskets, which she sells through Bantry craft shop Forest and Flock. She hand collects all the willow, soaking the branches to make them pliable before weaving them into baskets and other useful containers.

She learned the craft here. After a brief holiday in Ireland in her late teens, Yvon felt so at home that she decided to return for good after finishing art college. “I don’t think I brought all of me back from Ireland when I returned to Holland,” she admits.

“I can still remember the moment so clearly at the airport in Amsterdam when the bus driver closed the doors and drove off because we were too slow taking out our money. I thought, ‘that would never happen in Ireland!’”

On being introduced to weaving Yvon says, “I thought it was fantastic that you could play with sticks and before you know it have a useful item with a number of purposes.

Yvon loves farm life with a passion. “It’s a very fulfilling way of life and made me what I am,” she shares.

“Anyone can grow if they put their mind to it. Most importantly, if something fails don’t give up, try again. There is always someone to give advice if you need it.”

Mary O'Brien

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