The farm at Dunmoylan has been in the McDonnell family since the early 1800’s. Dunmoylan, which refers to the townland on which the farm is situated, is Irish gaelic for “Land of the Fort” or the “Fort of Maolin.” Farming at Dunmoylan had very humble beginnings, starting off with only a handful of milking cows, a horse and cart to deliver dairy to the creamery, and a hearth fire to prepare food in a thatched stone dwelling house that would have been attached to the cow shed. Richard and his brother, David are the 7th generation of McDonnells to be the honorable custodians of this land.
Today, Dunmoylan is a modern grass-fed dairy and free-range poultry farm with a focus on sustainability and renewable energy. The farm is split into two sections that work together in forming a self-renewing circle of agriculture: the traditional farmyard which is managed by my husband and consists of the dairy and poultry sectors; and the other half, run by David, which handles wind power, anaerobic digestion, and the development of other renewable energy projects.
We have adopted the traditional intergenerational approach to Irish farm living. There are three homes that are part of the farm at large. The “home” farmhouse which is inhabited by my father-in-law, Michael and would have been where the original 18c dwelling house was located. Our little homestead, adjacent to the farmyard, which is named Dunmoylan Grove, with “Grove” symbolizing a row of very old Ash trees that line the hedge on the northern side of our house. And, David’s home across the road which was the original Presbytery built in 1872 for the local parish priests. David is married to Rosanne, who hails from a local O’Connor farming family. They have three lovely children.
In the farmyard, Richard milks Holstein Freisian dairy cows which are on grass from spring until early winter. Grassland management is a huge responsibility for him with a number of fields to juggle at a time. In the spring, maize and oregano is planted for an autumn harvest. The maize, herb and grass silage makes up the winter feeding diet for the cows, but only when the weather proves too harsh to be outdoors.
Richard also raises free-range poultry, which was proudly implemented on the farm in the 60’s by my late mother-in-law, Peggy. The chickens are fed a uniquely developed diet which encourages them to forage for food on the lush green pastures outdoors while also having barn shelter.
There is a small, rather overgrown, orchard on the home farmyard which was originally planted in the 1940’s for the purpose of supplying an Irish cidery, and has since been cut back to a scale that provides just enough for our families with a bounty of apples, pears, plums, gooseberries and currants each summer and autumn.
My father-in-law is also a beekeeper. He has three buzzing hives in a wooded area near the Shannon River that keeps us in honey all year round. In time, the beekeeping duties will be passed on to Richard or perhaps Geoffrey if he is brave enough!
Dunmoylan Grove is my “farmette.” This is where we grow many of our vegetables, some fruit, and raise small amounts of pastured livestock for meat. It’s where I make wholesome magic with the milk from the home farm and press orchard apples and pears into juice. We are currently developing this homesteading farmette concept to include more growing space and a center for mindful cooking and learning.
While the farm and its working practices have been updated over time, my husband’s family remains very much a traditional Irish farming family with regard to the beliefs and etiquette systems that are observed within the family as well as the local community. Raw milk in the tea, big roast dinners at lunchtime each day, quaint country suppers, inviting the Wren Boys to entertain our family with traditional Irish music and dance in the farm kitchen on St. Stephen’s Day, the blessing of the farm on May Eve, a fresh shamrock on a lapel for St. Patrick’s Day, a protective cross made of reeds for St. Brigid’s Day, a penny for luck on a sale of land or cattle, and unwavering support of small local businesses. Here in the Irish countryside, there is a such a strong appreciation for tradition and sense of community that it can sometimes feel like we’ve stepped back in time.