This time four years ago, I hadn’t the slightest bit of interest in farming. My knowledge of the industry was little to none. And then I met Jack, who introduced me to this brave new way of life. Captivated, I wrote it all down, primarily as a means to make sense of what I saw, lived and learned, and later, to share those experiences with others. It was then that I began to cross paths and connect with other women who also wrote about farming and or life on and around the farm.
Lorna Sixsmith was one of those women. While she and I have been in contact for a couple of years now, we’ve only met once, when, rather serendipitously, we were both in the process of finalising our publishing contracts for our respective non-fiction books – my own, Falling for a Farmer, out later this year through Mercier Press, and of course, Lorna’s, Till the Cows Come Home, through Black and White Publishing. Both by female authors and both set against the backdrop of the Irish family farm, yet two very different books.
As followers of this blog will know, I don’t normally do book reviews. However, when Lorna asked me if I’d consider writing one for her, I was happy to oblige the woman who has been a great source of information, support, and encouragement these past few years – both in a writing context, and as I adjust to farm life . . . and, indeed, to life with a farmer!
No stranger to book publishing, Lorna has previously authored and self-published three other books, An Ideal Farm Husband, Would You Marry a Farmer? and The Perfect Farm Wife. Till the Cows Come Home is her first book with Black and White.
The cover promises “memories of an Irish childhood,” and while there are plenty of those, too, the book is so much more than that. Taking the reader back as far as the early eighteenth century to explain the origins of Garrendenny –the farm that generations of Sixsmiths have called home– Till the Cows Come Home traverses the centuries and decades that follow, bringing us right up to the modern day and the dairy farm as it exists now under the loving care of Lorna, her husband Brian, and their two children, Kate and Will.
The book blends together humorous anecdotes, practical information (concluding with a few farm-favourite recipes, no less!) and insights gleaned from Lorna’s years on the farm, both as a youngster and beginning again when she returned, with husband and baby in tow, at the age of 33.
Sixsmith’s writing style is conversational and pleasant, the pacing relaxed, allowing the reader to settle in and savour at their leisure the idyllic images of an Irish farm life that Lorna’s words depict; cows ready to be milked ambling along country lanes, wayward sheepdogs, hungry labourers gathered around a kitchen table during silage season, children playing in the swathes of grass.
For me, perhaps the most striking –and endearing– aspect of this read are its bovine protagonists. These leading ladies, each one a character in her own right, come alive through Lorna’s fond descriptions of large, “kind eyes,” and attributes such as intelligence, wisdom and their maternal instinct. Writing with such familiarity about the likes of Lucy Mór, Lucy Bán, Contrary Mary, and Delilah, one is left in little doubt that when Lorna is at work, she considers herself in the company of friends.
But it’s not all green fields and happy cows. As is always the way in farming, challenges arise, and Lorna doesn’t shy away from discussing the realities of sickly calves and temperamental machinery. And yet, never once in the course of my reading, did I sense any hint of regret. While she is quite open about what she gave up to take on the family farm and what she misses about her former life in England, Lorna’s prose flows with an easy rhythm that is the signature of a contented soul and a creative mind fulfilled.
With detailed descriptions of the sights, sounds, and, smells (both pleasant and not so) that are the hallmarks of farm life, Till the Cows Come Home engages the senses and the imagination. Read it, and be transported to Garrendenny. Join Lorna on her rounds and experience all the trials and tribulations of life on a dairy farm from the comfort of your own armchair.