There comes a time in every relationship when the couple’s parents must meet. Having just passed the three year mark, and with me now firmly rooted in Kildare, Jack and I recently decided that for us, that time had come.
February through May were out due to the demands of lambing and calving, but once June rolled around, bringing with it empty sheds and a much calmer schedule, finally, we were ready to make plans.
And so it was last weekend, then, that my parents set out on their journey south from Derry, to the land of the Lily Whites, North County Kildare.
That Saturday, Jack did as he usually does, heading out to the farm first thing, while I stayed home to tidy in anticipation of my parents arrival. Dinner was booked for 7:45pm, and, ever the worrier, once my domestic tasks were completed, I spent the remainder of the day considering all the ways in which the upcoming get-together could go horribly wrong. Jack’s parents were farmers, born and reared. My Daddy was from the country alright, but the son of two school teachers; my Mammy a city girl, through and through.
This wasn’t just North versus South, it was town(ies) versus country. What if they had nothing in common? What if the meal was a series of awkward silences broken only by pensive munching as everyone wracked their brains for something witty or enlightening to say?
I needn’t have worried, however. The four got on like a house on fire. Over fish and chips and steak in Avenue, Maynooth, my mother spoke of her experiences as a Catholic teenager growing up in Belfast during the Troubles while Jack’s father shared the story of his 1967 stint in Mountjoy prison following his participation in the farmer demonstrations of 1966 and subsequent roadblocks. My father shared his memories of growing up as the youngest of nine, while Jack’s mother, who has raised six of her own, recalled how, as an only child, she’d always wanted a big family.
The following morning, eager to see this place that has been the inspiration for my writing for so long, my parents suggested a walk around the farm.
I watched them take in the green fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, and enjoy the bird song that’s amplified as only it can be in the country. We crossed the road to the yard where I’d witnessed my first calving and, just a couple of months ago, pulled a lamb for the first time — events and milestones my parents had heard about over the phone or at Sunday dinner. Now, those stories had a setting.
On our way to have a look at the bull that was holding court in a nearby paddock, we passed the sheds, empty at this time of year. Mammy pointed out a sign that I’d never noticed before, mounted high above the bird and bat boxes, just below the eaves: “Forest farm: all creatures, great and small.”
I wondered if my parents were imagining my future there, as I liked to do, and picturing their visits in years to come.
A short time after, we left them into Connolly station where they boarded the Belfast-bound train. Then, it was back to the house for me where there was laundry to be done and a shepherd’s pie to be made, while Jack headed back to the farm, aptly enough, to reunite a cow and calf, separated inadvertently whilst cattle were being moved from one field to another.
On the surface, it seemed that nothing had changed, but in those hours immediately following my parents’ visit, I felt that, in fact, something had changed. In sharing it with those who reared me —bridging the gap between my past and present— my life in the country had become more real.
It was only a pity, I thought, that they hadn’t visited a few months earlier when they would have seen the place at its liveliest. Ewes and lambs filling the sheep shed, a labouring cow in the crush, the bulls out the back, their heavy heads low as they pull at the silage in the trough.
I was proud to show off this new world, I realised, proud to be connected to this way of life that until three years ago, had been so alien to me. It’s far from farming I was raised, but it’s here that I’ve arrived, and it’s here I hope I find my future, too.