When I text the girls back home, raving about my first Nathan Carter gig, the first response was “Nathan Carter? You’re a real farmer’s wife now!” Not true in a literal sense, of course, but there was no mistaking her sentiment: by embracing country music —the unofficial soundtrack to life in rural Ireland— I had completed a transition of sorts.
“I can just see you there now in the farmhouse kitchen,” said one friend, “with your Cath Kidston apron.” “You’ll have rosy cheeks; you’ll be, what’s the word — robust!” said another.
Stereotypes aside, their banter got me to thinking about how my life now differs from theirs by virtue of being in a relationship with a farmer.
There are the little things: the second breakfasts and extra loads of laundry. The need for a dedicated space just inside the back door where mucky boots can be discarded. The medicine cabinet that has just as many supplies for cattle and sheep as it does for the humans who reside in the house. The broken sleep between the months of February and April, when the lambs and calves come thick and fast.
And then there are the bigger things.
I remember telling one friend about Jack’s decision to go into farming full-time. “Fair play,” she said to me when I shared my excitement and pride at his committing to the move, “I’m not sure I could do it — be in a relationship with a full-time farmer.”
She attributed her wariness to the uncertainty surrounding a farmer’s income, but I dismissed her concern, choosing only to see the positives: him being his own boss leaving us free and able to take holidays as and when we wished, being one advantage.
However, as my grandfather used to say, “Man proposes, God disposes.” Sure enough, in Jack’s first year of full-time farming, we were hit with a BVD outbreak and a serious tractor accident that combined, left money tight. We did manage a couple of weekend breaks, which is more than many, I’m sure, but it was a far cry from the fortnight in Mauritius that my friend enjoyed with her partner that summer.
Not that the location matters. Nor the cost of the trip, either.
Where my friend does have an advantage, and what I do sometimes envy, I realise now, is in how easy it is, by comparison, for her and her partner to enjoy quality time together. Attending events as a couple, heading off for a spontaneous day out, a weekend away, or arranging to meet up with other couples in the evenings is no big deal.
When you’re in a relationship with a farmer, “spontaneity” goes out the window. Dinners out, day trips, even seeing friends at the weekend take careful planning, and even then, plans can change in an instant when you’re at the mercy of animals’ feeding and birthing cycles and weather, amongst other things.
But it’s not all bad, and interestingly enough, it’s my American friends, perhaps more than anyone, who remind me of the perks. Every now and again on social media, below a picture of me holding a lamb or standing against a backdrop of green fields and granite sky, a friend will pop up with a comment along the lines of, “You’re living the dream!”
And in many ways, they’re right — even if the dream I’m living is one I never knew I harboured. When I consider it now, however, and to many who know me, it makes perfect sense.
As a writer, I’ve hit the jackpot. From Seamus Heaney to friend of the Farmers Journal, Imen McDonell, life in the country has a habit of inspiring creatives. In that respect, I’m spoiled. I’ve always written, but never before have I had such a strong focus, such an appetite to capture on paper, one sole aspect of my life.
I’ve always loved animals and been fascinated by the natural world, so I relish any opportunity to learn more about it — which is something that Jack benefits from too, as my willingness to get stuck in means he has an extra pair of hands on deck as and when needed.
Reared on the music of Garth Brooks, John Prine, and Christy Moore, amongst others, and a fiddle player in my school’s trad. group, you could argue that “country” was calling me from a young age. That it would be a pairing off with farmer, however, that would become the catalyst to a complete immersion, was not something I saw coming. Yet here I am in rural North Kildare, a (relatively) young professional woman who counts pulling a lamb and not passing out at the sight of a calf being born amongst her greatest accomplishments in recent years.
My life may be different to the lives of my friends, and it certainly comes with its own set of challenges and rewards. But as the first familiar bars of “Wagon Wheel” fill the night time air on that Saturday in July, one thing is for sure: this townie-turned-farmer’s-girlfriend wouldn’t have it any other way.