WANDERLUST Stopping island sheep from straying can be a challenge.?Pic: Ciara Moynihan
Me versus the livestock
Looking back on a lifelong battle with keeping animals, from sheep to bees
For some reason, any of my endeavours to establish a worthwhile relationship with livestock seemed to end in disaster. It began with sheep. Having sorted a relationship with a Clew Bay islander, I decided it would be a good idea to establish a sheep farm on his fallow acres. I would mind them while he was away fishing.
We duly got our flock together. From day one the sheep rejected their designated fields and made beelines for the neighbours’ plots, with the result that I spent my days scrambling from one end of the island to the other until I seriously contemplated driving them all into the sea.
When we eventually got a place of our own on the mainland and settled down in Cloona near Westport, it seemed like another good idea to get a goat to browse the hillside and provide milk for the family. The new arrival was supposedly pregnant, and we anxiously awaited the birth. That never happened. Instead all she gave birth to was what appeared to be an enormous ripe tomato.
End of experiment number two.
My next clash with nature came in the form of bees. After all, it was an ideal place for them, surrounded as we were by heather. So I acquired a hive and furnished appropriately and speculated on a yield of gorgeous fragrant honey. I cannot remember if there was ever a yield of even one spoonful, BUT I’ll never forget the days the bees attacked me and I turned purple. I’m sure my family will never forget it either. Even now I almost get an allergic reaction when I see a jar of honey.
After an interval for recovery, I decided to take on a feathered project next and acquired a Muscovy duck and drake. Again there was an ideal part of our garden for them, consisting of a boggy section with a stream. At first they seamed happy and all set to beget a colourful family. But one day they simply were not there. And for all I know they may have returned to their native land of Mexico!
As the children (five) grew older, they started agitating for a pony. For some now-obscure reason I got a present of a Connemara one from a friend in that region. In my mind it seemed normal to acquire more and start up a pony-trekking business. With the aid of a friend who had a field nearby and access to two elderly nags, I was ready to go – but the horses had other ideas, particularly one that had originated in Louisburgh. Every night she left the field by unknown means and led her mates back home. So each morning we had to set off with all the necessary equipment to catch and ride them back in time for any trekkers who might have turned up. (This business did not last long either.)
Even the common domestic animals seemed innately hostile to my endeavours. A black Labrador we had chased a lamb over a cliff into the sea on one occasion, resulting in me having to plunge in after it fully dressed, and carry it back up the cliff to restore it to its mother. End of dog.
Then there’s the cats. Nobody can remember just how the original ones became 20, but I can tell you that the same number is still preying on me night and morning for food. I know it will actually end in them eating me.