Friday 27 April 2007

The Ballinamore Advertiser

*** Of course, the house was sold a long while ago now!***

This is going to read like a cross between a tourist leaflet and a free newspaper... sorry. I made the trip to Ireland.

From the road

The purpose of the journey was to place the house with a local estate agent, something we've been planning to do for nearly two years now. Finally achieving that goal is coming close to breaking my heart.

This dear old house is not in the best of health but it's given us several years of happy holidays and rural isolation in a very beautiful if poor part of the country. Returning after over a year away was like coming home again and although to anyone else the few pieces of furniture and fittings left behind will look like rubbish of the lowest value each scrap represents some effort or memory that will be lost forever when the place is sold. I cried for half an hour before I locked up and came away and will cry again when we make the final visit to complete the sale.

However, we can't be in two places at once and trying to be in three is insane. Better we part with our old dream and allow someone else to enjoy all that quiet loveliness on the mountain side.

The house can be viewed by appointment with Gordon Hughes Estate Agents in Ballinamore. It is listed as a 4 bedroom, 2 reception room country house with mains electricity, telephone connection (although we've never had it enabled) and septic tank in need of complete renovation on approx. 2 acres of land with meadow and mature trees. Water is through a private scheme piped from the mountain and heating is by open fire and an antique range (in need of immediate conservation). Nearest neighbour is approx. half a mile away, the local village with church and shop about 1.5 miles and Ballinamore with supermarkets, pubs and banks about 5 miles. Local activities include mountain walking, fishing, golf and horse riding. Time from Dublin about 2.75 hours by car. Price 150,000 euros ($204,000, £102,000 at today's exchange). You can contact me for further details by leaving a comment to this post and I will get back to you by email.


Sunday 22 April 2007

Kiss me quick

This is a picture of something most of us regard as a little bit special, mystical, magical, historical and rather unusual.


Mistletoe has long been regarded as something out of the ordinary, beloved of druids, touched by the gods and holding significance in many cultures. Our orchard is swamped with the stuff. Some of the trees are so infested that in the winter they still appear green, as if fully leaved from a distance but the truth is they are covered with this pernicious and ultimately destroying parasite which slow sucks the strength from the branches until there is none left for further growth and the tree dies.

mistletoe berry

It starts innocuously enough. A bird wipes a sticky berry from its beak onto rough bark and leaves a primed seed stuck on the branch ready to sink a connection into the living tree. In a year or two great bunches of clear green growth have developed, flowers and berries form and the process is repeated.

When we first arrived and found the extent of the problem we blithely imagined we'd have a couple of years profit flogging it off at farmers' markets at xmas but it hasn't worked out like that and the decision has been made, no matter what the cost in loss of druidic karma (you what!?!), to operate a zero tolerance policy and remove it as completely as we can to give our poor trees some chance to grow and prosper.

It's not that easy to remove. Although individual branchlets are brittle and easy to snap off where the mistletoe joins the branch the fusion, presumably managed by the mistletoe, forms a large and fully integrated 'root' that must be sawn through. We have yet to discover if the part left behind is capable of regrowth but we fear it will be. The trees are full sized, grown on their own roots or strong rootstocks to make tall specimens capable of withstanding poor conditions and the depredations of deer and cattle. Because of this getting to the upper branches to clear the infestations is almost impossible. In some cases all we can do is prune out entire branches at a lower level to take the parasite out at the same time.

A long task ahead and in an area where mistletoe is endemic a never ending one. Anyone needing a sprig for xmas, please come and pick your own.

mistletoe berry

Thursday 19 April 2007


Several times during the last year we have spotted a tabby cat in the yard and roaming among the buildings. Given the quantities of rodents about the place we've been rather pleased to see it - our old cat can really only catch a vole if it runs into his jaws, something we have actually observed, voles are that stupid, but it doesn't happen often - and because the stranger seemed solitary and somewhat aloof, refusing scraps left out last summer we concluded that it was a male. This is no bad thing, feral cats in rural France are pandemic and queens can produce more than one litter in a year. The deleterious effect on wildlife is considerable and besides too many cats lead to starving, disease ridden creatures who perish miserably in the cold winters.

cats' mother

However, this spring, on an exploration of barns and outbuildings Paul had never visited, we chanced upon a darling nest of kittens.


Absolutely adorable and completely alone when we spotted them, we tried not to disturb the beautiful babies but were unable to stop ourselves going back for another look the next day. This time the mother cat was there, our familiar tabby 'boy'. She didn't like the look of us and retired to the rafters of the barn. Next time we went to look the kittens were gone.

We didn't try to search them out, but left Bagheera's scraps in a bowl near where we had first spotted them. This time the food was found acceptable, feeding four growing kittens leaves little room for feline pride and besides, Bagheera's food is always of the best even if he doesn't find it good enough.

However, it raises some questions; now we have five cats on the farm we shall have to take steps to stop uncontrolled breeding. There is birth control for cats, medication that can be put in food if the cats are hungry enough to eat it but it's a very hit and miss process. Far better to catch the cats and have them neutered but that will be no easy task either. It's going to be a problem, but I must say I do love to see cats about the place and wish them well.

Saturday 14 April 2007

Tree Felling

At the back of the house there was a huge out of control leylandii conifer which cast a tremendous shadow across the back of the garden...we decided it had to go.

Felling a treeUp a tree

The pictures can't really give a true impression of the size of the tree (but you can see another one here on Paul's stream) or of its closeness to the buildings. There was only about a 25 degree sector where it could be felled without taking the back garden fence, the straining wires for the kitchen chimney stack, the new woodshed, the bakehouse or the main house with it. When Paul went up to clear the lower branches so that we could get a rope around the trunk to help control the direction of fall he discovered the main trunk split in two about half way up and the whole tree leaned backwards from the way we wanted it to fall and towards the house.

We began to worry a bit as there were only the two of us there and I don't do chainsaws. Paul would have to do the cutting and I would have to the pulling, his task requiring finesse and mine brute strength. Ah. Only one of us is multiskilled in that way!

Some head scratching later and a plan was formed to take one fork of the trunk first to reduce the weight of the whole to a manageable proportion. We cleaned the bole of ivy and attached a rope to the part furthest away from the house.

It worked like a dream, Paul made the cuts and with a gentle tug the quite considerable trunk fell exactly where we had intended. So far, so good.

However, with that bit out of the way the tilt backwards was even more apparent and we began to wonder if removing the first side had made our task even more difficult by unbalancing the load unfavourably. Fifteen metres of solid conifer crashing through the roof of the house would have ruined our holiday rather so a great deal depended on getting the angle of cut correct and the tension on the rope firm enough to offset the weight of the trunk at the critical moment when the final cut was made.

Paul cleaned off a lot of branches to reduce the burden and then, with me hanging grimly on to the rope, we started the felling. We were so concerned that the thing would just snap before the third cut was made I had to keep tension up during the whole procedure but the rope was slippy and kept tightening around my hands uncomfortably.

At the tree end Paul was anxiously eyeing his angles for the wedge cut and trimming out small sections to ensure that nothing went wrong. Then he went for the last attack. A straight cut through from the back of the trunk to the top of his wedge cut.

I hung on for dear life and just as he reached the end of the stroke I thought we'd lost it. The whole tree rocked backwards, dangerously swaying in the direction of the house. Holding on as hard as I could it was only possible to steady it in a upright position. Paul dropped the saw and came running, at some risk to his life as he passed beneath the expected dropping place of the tree and grabbed the rope. A mighty pull and everything was alright again. The tree fell, neatly on top of the previous cut and disaster averted.


Wednesday 11 April 2007

First Swallow

has been spotted in Normandy. We've been there over Easter but a slight issue with connectivity has meant no posts or email until we got back. Today, in fact.

More to follow soon...