A Galway family who ‘upped sticks’ to France to carve out a new life on the land in a move which proved such a success, they are now diversifying into the farm holiday business.
Locals in Eyrecourt had mixed views when Declan Gardiner and his wife Emily decided thirteen years ago that they were taking their young family to France where they intended purchasing a 300 acre farm which came with a 300 Charolais herd.
Declan and Emily sold their house and nine acres in Eyrecourt – to effectively cut their ties and make them focus on their new life – and move to the Nouhant region which is around 230 miles directly south of Paris.
Since 2006 they have developed the farm, purchased a new holding, increased his Charolais and Limousin herd and they are now farming 1,250 acres of land.
The couple moved with their three children Luke, William and Laura who were twelve, eleven and seven at the time.
They attended local French schools and while it proved extremely difficult for them initially, they are now fluent speakers in the language 13 years on.
Now in his mid-twenties, Luke worked in Amsterdam but is now back in Ballinasloe in the concrete manufacturing business; William (24) is in Clarmont in France where he is involved in the manufacture of cosmetics (Celine Dion is a customer) while 20 year old Laura is spending a year in Australia.
“She is the real farmer in the family,” admits Declan.
Prior to them leaving, Declan, who was 41 at the time, has been rearing pure bred Limousin bulls for the previous 15 years as well as being employed as a fitter in Galmoy Mines in Kilkenny and just before his move, he had around 150 of a herd.
Emily, originally from Birr, County Offaly, worked in Chanelle Pharmaceuticals in Loughrea.
Declan admits that the first two years were difficult and a few doubts crept in during that period. Language was a main barrier and trying to get things done in the development of the farm also had its obstacles.
Having spoken to other people from both Ireland and England who had sold up and moved lock, stock and barrel to France, he was tempted by the idea and went in search of a farm of land.
He was quite surprised to discover that good agricultural land can be purchased from around €1,000 to €1,400 an acre – in parts of County Galway in 2006 reasonable quality land has achieved in excess around €20,000 an acre at the time.
In Ireland they owned a house and nine acres of land and were renting a 100 acre farm, where they had built up a pedigree Limousin herd.
But since moving to their new farm in central France they have increased their cattle herd and cereal production and since 2009 were milking 200 goats but have recently and reluctantly ceased this enterprise mainly due to the lack of availability of farm hands, particularly at weekends.
“It was turning over €40,000 clear profit alone,” Declan said.
In more recent times, the Gardiners have developed a unique farm holiday business which involves guests occupying the four houses on their farm to get away from it all and have a hands on experience on the farm at the same time.
It has proved hugely popular with Irish tourists who want to experience the French farming way of life and have no problem with getting ‘down and dirty’ to achieve this.
But the Gardiners have also had guests from Germany, England, Holland, Switzerland and as far away as Dubai and Thailand.
Depending on the work that the guests contribute on the farm, it is reflected on the cost of their stay at the end of the holiday.
“We had a retired couple who stayed three months on holiday and worked on the farm as well,” Declan added.
And indeed it is Declan’s intention to try something similar himself. His plan, over the next couple of years, is to travel to Pennsylvania in the States to work on farms operated by the Amish community.
He has only been home to Ireland four times since he left while Emily travels at least twice a year – but they are as determined as ever to live out their lives in France.
Future of beef industry in doubt
STARK warnings have been issued this week that ongoing protests outside meat plants by one splinter farming organisation could jeopardise the whole future of the Irish cattle and beef industry.
Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, in an open letter to farmer protesters, said that over recent weeks their message had been heard loud and clear, leading to the agreement that was hammered out after 36 hours of talks last weekend.
“Over the weekend, huge efforts were made to reach an agreement, to signal to you, that not only have your voices been heard – but that things are going to change. That is why the leaders of the IFA, Macra na Feirme, ICMSA, ICSA, INHFA and the Beef Plan Movement backed the agreement.
“That is why the representatives of the Independent Farmers of Ireland said that they agreed to recommend the deal to those of you at the factory gates who sent them. All of these people who represent the vast majority of farmers in Ireland believed that this was a decent start on a way forward,” said Minister Creed.
He pleaded with farmers still protesting (the Independent Farmers of Ireland) not to be responsible for the destruction of the Irish beef industry. “Those of you who are minded to continue the protest must now be fully aware of your responsibilities. The future of the Irish beef sector is in your hands . . . the futures of your fellow farmers are in your hands,” said Minister Creed.
Galway IFA Chairperson, Anne Mitchell, said that the time was right to ‘give the agreement a chance’ as many beef farmers were coming under the most extreme financial pressure. “We need to get cattle moving again. The message has been delivered as regards the plight of beef farmers. An agreement has been reached – we have to give it a chance,” she said.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Portumna seeks slice of Downton Abbey action!
The release of its first silver screen drama has seen the spread of Downton Abbey fever all over again – and one local Junior Minister wants to see Galway cash in on its new connection.
Because, according to Ciaran Cannon, the appearance in the movie of Princess Mary – a visitor to the fictional Crawley family seat – creates a direct Downton link to Portumna Castle.
And the Minister for the Diaspora and International Development is urging the tourism sector in Portumna to make use of the town`s connection to boost visitor numbers.
“Fans of ‘Downton Abbey’ will be flocking to movie theatres in droves to see the hit drama revived for the big-screen and interestingly, from the point of view of East Galway`s history, the movie version features the real-life character of Princess Mary,” he said.
Because the real-life character of Princess Mary visited Portumna in 1928; her husband was the last owner of Portumna Castle prior to it being acquired by the State.
The new cinematic outing for Downton Abbey sees the servants and aristocrats of the famous house receive a visit from King George V and his wife Queen Mary, prompting much panic and excitement.
One of the most prominent royals featured in the film is that of Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood – played by Peaky Blinders actress Kate Phillips.
The real Princess Mary was the only daughter of King George V and his wife Queen Mary. She had two older brothers – the future kings Edward VIII and George VI, the latter being the father of Queen Elizabeth II.
See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Galway mum on signs of heart valve disease – and how to get back to full life
Una Fahey had spent two days in bed floored by a vicious ‘flu – or so she thought. Her youngest son Enda was to play in the Galway County Minor Hurling Quarter-Final that day in 2017 but she was unable to focus on the match, she so ill with a high temperature and sore bones.
“I wouldn’t be one to go to the doctor with the ‘flu because you could spread germs – I don’t know what made me go but I didn’t want to be in bed anymore and wanted to get better quicker,” she reflects from her home in Kilbeacanty, outside Gort.
She attended her local GP clinic which was staffed by a doctor on call that Saturday. Her condition was so serious that an ambulance was called and she was dispatched to University Hospital Galway.
Tests revealed she had bacterial endocarditis – or heart valve disease. Within 48 hours she had both her mitral and aortic valves replaced with mechanical valves.
Her illness came as a complete shock. She was 57, healthy, and looking forward to some free time as the last of her five boys was leaving home to go to college.
“I had no warning really. I’m still not 100%. I get very tired – tiredness is actually the worst thing about it,” Una reveals.
Croí, the Heart Disease and Stroke Charity, is urging people aged 65 and over not to mistake the symptoms of Heart Valve Disease for old age during European Heart Valve Disease Awareness week.
Read full interview and advice in this week’s Connacht Tribune.