‘Take me to the island’: A wrap for baling silage on Cape Clear

Limerick farmer Colin Doherty enjoys a change of scene every summer when he leaves behind Adare for the island experience of baling silage on Cape Clear, Ireland’s southernmost inhabited Gaeltacht island which is located off the coast of West Cork.

“My dad Bryan and I farm just outside Adare. We are farming 200ac, mostly in one block, 120ac owned. We milk 165 cows and have the maiden heifers contract reared. We have expanded from 70 cows in 2014 and built a cubicle shed last year and are starting a new milking parlour soon,” said the 31-year-old.

While Adare is a tourist hotspot, he said it doesn’t impact on the family farm, with little noticed apart from occasional helicopters flying over, going to Adare Manor. “My uncle, Trevor, and cousin, Adrian, are going over to Cape Clear around 15 years now to do the baling.

“They have a longer relationship with the islanders though. My uncle sold a lot of bulls to the islanders and would have helped them in other ways too. My first trip over to Cape Clear was when I was 17, in 2006. I didn’t go over for maybe 10 years then and have been there for the last four or five years,” Colin said.

There is a boat which does the trip several times a day but the tractors won’t fit on it so there is a special boat which you can drive the tractors onto which is specially organised by my cousin and the islanders. We take two tractors, one with a baler, one with a wrapper and also a van with diesel, spare parts and tools.

“We take a baler and wrapper separately because a combi baler wouldn’t fit on the island. We also take smaller tractors. My cousin has bigger machines but he leaves them on the mainland. The roads are narrow and the gateways are narrow so wide tyres on the machines wouldn’t work but generally we don’t have any issues.

‘Big event’

“Up until this year I would do the wrapping and Adrian, my cousin, would do the baling. But this year he only came with us the first day and then went home to milk his cows and do some baling on the mainland so I did the baling and a friend of my cousins Conor O’Reilly did the wrapping.

“We stay with one of the farmers and his family. It depends on weather and other factors but we usually stay for four to five days.

“This year we went on Wednesday, June 24. We came home on the Saturday morning due to rain and then went back out on Sunday evening. We finished the baling on the Monday and then came back to the mainland on the Tuesday,” Colin said.

“We work for around 14 or 15 farmers. There is another contractor who goes out later in the year and he does some more. The farms are suckler farms with some small and some bigger herds. Farmers there range in age from mid-30s to mid-70s. The farms are broken up into lots of small fields but the land is mostly very good.

All the farmers follow the baler and wrapper around the island and help each other to draw the bales home. Just like silage anywhere else in the country, it’s a big event.

“When I was younger I was nervous about losing bales over the cliffs but thankfully it never happened. I have a good bit of machinery experience now so it doesn’t worry me. You just have to get into the mindset to be more careful and pick a good spot to open the baler and once you get that into your head it is no issue,” said the Adare farmer.

‘Change of scenery’

“Covid-19 thankfully had very little effect on us. As farmers, we had lots to do so isolation was easy. The island was quieter than usual and the ferry wasn’t running as much as normal which meant if we needed any supplies from the mainland we needed to be more organised.

“Usually, with lots of trips a day, my uncle or someone on the mainland can put parts or any other supplies on the boat in Baltimore to send to us if needed. If something breaks down on the island it can be very difficult to get going again quickly due to lack of supplies on the island,” Colin said.

“It is something I plan to keep doing. Generally, the farm at home is quiet at that time of year and my dad can keep things going here. I really enjoy being there and it’s a great change of scenery for me,” he said.

“Cape Clear is a lovely place to visit and I would encourage anyone to take either a day trip or you can stay out there. It’s a real example of an Irish island and not too influenced by tourists. They also do a boat trip to the Fastnet lighthouse which is well worth a visit.”