Tir na Si summer camps go down a treat in Watergrasshill
Summer camps with a difference. That was the experience of children signed up for the summer camp taking place at Tír na Sí open farm in Watergrasshill this week. The family farm played host to dozens of children ranging in age from four to 10 over the past three weeks.
Paul and Juiia McCarthy opened Tír na Sí to the public two years ago. They'd run a B&B business alongside their family farm before that and, Julia says, would often get requests from guests to 'walk the farm'. "That gave us the idea," Julia explains.
Paul and Julia decided from the start to make their's an eco-friendly farm, with an emphasis on self-sufficiency and sustainable living. Farming in an environmentally friendly way which includes using no fertiliser on the site, their's is an example of how people traditionally farmed and lived in the past. "Not only does it preserve the environment for future generations, it makes sense economically," Julia points out.
Natural materials were used where possible. Buildings and walls were constructed of 60-year-old native Irish larch from sustainable woodlands in the Glen of Aherlow. The stone used in the walls was quarried locally. Fences are made of larch and ash. Recycled materials are used where possible and wood burning stoves provide heating and hot water. Julia, a qualified chef, uses their own beef and ham in the dishes, cooked fresh in-house and served in the tearoom. "We source as much as we can from the farm," Julia says. Fresh eggs are sourced locally. All baked goods served in the restaurant are also homemade.
ALL THE WAY FROM NEW ZEALAND...
Their farm animals are mostly rescue animals. "We decided not to source any as so many people were coming to us with animals that needed to be homed," Julia pointed out. It's how they got their 10 Fallabella ponies, their two donkeys and their Kune Kune pig, a New Zealand variety which came from Galway. It's a firm favourite with little visitors.
The range of farm animals which includes emus, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits and ducks, geese and hens, can all be viewed in their outdoor habitats from a pathway which wends its way right around the site. Children are allowed pet and feed them. The pathway doubles as a nature trail and a chance to view the over three and a half thousand native trees and plants sown there. Species which can be seen at their best at present include the crab apple, wild cherry, hazel, elder and wild rose. Most are harvested for food. The rose hips are almost ready now for picking and will be used to make syrup, while the elderberries will be made into a cordial.
The McCarthys grow their own vegetables and fruit. Oftentimes children are seeing for the first time when they visit how vegetables and fruit grow. During my visit on the farm, Julia checked the progress of their pumpkins which they're growing in preparation for Hallowe'en, when a special event will be held at Tír na Sí.
The emphasis is not just on sustainable and environmentally friendly living, but on retaining the traditions and folklore of the past. Julia imparts her own knowledge of the hedgerows to visitors and talks about old traditions associated with many of the plants and flowers that grow there.
MANY OPTIONS - IN ALL WEATHER
Folklore is enhanced for young visitors with a visit to the secret fairy woodland, where observant little eyes can see evidence of fairy residences among the trees.
A pond has been allowed to evolve naturally and is home to frogs and a water hen. Willows are being grown with a view to hosting basketry classes at a later stage. Tír na Sí already offers cookery classes and demonstrations.
With an outdoor play area and indoor one as well for those wet days, the McCarthys seem to have thought of everything. Throw in pony and trap rides, Celtic themed crazy golf, picnic areas, sheltered seating areas, the tearooms and shop and you realise they really have. And it was all done from their own resources, with no government grant aid. Paul previously had a machinery business and money from that was ploughed into their new enterprise.
It's hard work, seven days a week, Julia concedes, but necessary to make it work. Their son James and daughter Lauren also work in the business, making it a real family affair. The couple are pleased with how it's going so far. Catering for special occasions such as birthday parties, Communions, Confirmations and the like help boost business, as do special seasonal events at Easter, Hallowe'en and Christmas. And of course those summer camps which, for the past three weeks, have been sending home a lot of tired but happy youngsters.
Thursday 15th August 7:05pm