Farming is ‘write’ up Longford man’s street

A Longford man has documented a slice of family farming life in a new book.

Journalist, writer, film maker and farmer John Connell puts his artistic eye to good use, recording the rhythm of everyday activity as well as contemplating the bigger picture in ‘The Cow Book’, published by Granta.

Cow-inspired books are having a moment, it seems, with ‘The Secret Life of Cows’ attracting a lot of attention recently. Its author, Rosamund Young, describes this latest publication as a piece of “living breathing agricultural history by an insider who has the rare quality of being able to see it from the outside too”.

Connell has the benefit of perspective, through his travels in Australia and Canada. He left behind a very different life, with a fiancee and a penthouse apartment in Canada, to pick up the pieces on the family farm at Birchview.

There is much in the book with which farmers will identify, from cleaning outhouses to helping cows to give birth, and dealing with sheep worrying, to the general issues of tiredness, depression, climate change and the pressure for cheap food.

It’s a very honest book, depicting memories of mistakes made, the stress that is part and parcel of farming, and a sometimes fraught relationship with his father.

Despite the challenges of life on a family farm, there are plenty of positives that shine through including the beauty of nature, the value of inter-generational interaction and the importance of good neighbours.

The Cow Book is the tale of a calving season. It is also the story of the cow from domestication and worship by the ancient Egyptians to the modern practice of mechanised herds through the figure of the cowboy, the destruction of the American buffalo, the demise of the aboriginal jackaroos and the fallout from BSE.

Beyond those themes, the book provides a snapshot of Connell’s life as a farmer, of his relationship with his birthplace and with his parents.

The life and death realities on the farm and the unforseen problems that can arise are reflected upon. Some of the subject matter is local and some global. All of it is sharply observed.

The Cow Book is an evocative read that paints an insightful picture of what author Colm Toibin describes as “a new, hidden Ireland”.