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Till the Cows Come Home by Lorna Sixsmith

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Memoir

By Swirl and Thread

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‘One Farm. Two worlds. Three Generations.’

Till the Cows Come Home is the latest book from Lorna Sixsmith packed with memories of an Irish Farming Childhood. Published with Black & White Publishing, it is a very warm-hearted memoir of times gone by, as Lorna recounts family anecdotes and stories of her younger days growing up in Crettyard and her later return, becoming the fourth generation to farm at Garrendenny, Carlow in the Irish countryside.

As a 100% city born and bred gal, this was going to be a very different book for me…read on for my thoughts.

When I received a copy of Till the Cows Come Home I got an immediate warm feeling. With Lorna Sixsmith’s smiling face on the cover, in the company of her beloved dog, Sam (and cattle) and with her daughter, Kate, herding on the back of the book, it was obvious that this was going to be a very personal memoir. It is always a privilege to have access to the personal lives of others and, in Lorna’s case, she takes us all on a trip back down memory lane when times seemed just a little bit simpler.

Lorna and her husband, Brian, made the very brave decision to quit their pensionable jobs and return to Ireland with a newborn in their arms to take over the reins at Lorna’s ancestral farm in Garrendenny. Lorna had left the land with the intention of creating a life for herself outside the confines of a small rural community but life has a way of throwing a few curve balls at us, in Lorna’s case it was the opportunity to take over the farm. Garrendenny has been in Lorna’s family for generations and in Till the Cows Come Home, Lorna brings us on a meandering journey through the history of her family, the lives of a local community and a rural Ireland that has seen dramatic changes over the years.

We all are familiar with the TV show ‘The Good Life’ and I think, for some, this idyllic existence is a dream. For Lorna, her husband Brian and two children, Kate and Will, they seem to have achieved this peaceful lifestyle. Through pure hard graft and through some very tough times, Lorna and her family have completely embraced the farming life. The memories of her Salisbury years still linger in the background, but that is where they remain.

As well as been a history of the Sixsmith family over the generations, Lorna describes the monumental changes that took place in Ireland, with the introduction of new equipment and of course electricity….

‘Rather than reading newspapers and darning socks by the light of the fire and a Tilley lamp, light bulbs now illuminated the kitchen and every room. As the light was switched on for the first time in the high-ceilinged kitchen and cobwebs from previously dark corners swung into view, the first reaction was to switch off the light again!’

Till the Cows Come Home is littered with such recollections and memories, told with such a comic voice, making it very easy to visualise the expressions of pure horror when the shame of all the cobwebs came into view.

Ireland was a well known supplier of sugar, providing a steady income to many farmers but the decline in the sugar industry brought with it the need for farmers to diversify, which Lorna documents in her book. Within the twenty-four chapters, Lorna tackles a variety of different topics from Sunday traditions in a religious and rural community – ‘Even if rain threatened during the harvest, they still didn’t work on Sundays’ – to the superstitious nature of many farmers – ‘It was believed neighbours could take revenge by destroying your crops. if they placed rotten eggs at the end of drills, took your turnip thinnings or removed moss from the four ditches of a field, it would affect your crop for that year.’

Although I am a ‘hands-up’ city slicker, I have great memories of blackberry picking as a child and, sorry Lorna, being afraid of the cows in the field!! I love nothing better than floury spuds and spotted dick (or curnie cake as we used to call it!!) and absolutely love the stillness that can only be found up a quiet boreen away from the madness of city living. Could I? Would I? No. I like my creature comforts too much. I cannot abide the smell of slurry/manure and the whole notion of an early start calving does not even register with me. But what I do love is the sense of community, that sense of support that is now so lacking for many who live in the city.

Till the Cows Come Home is like a warm hug from Lorna. Her upbeat nature, her positivity and her ‘just get on with it’ attitude is an inspiration. Till the Cows Come Home might look like a book that would appeal to only one section of society, but don’t be fooled by those cows on the cover. Till the Cows Come Home is a book for all, a journey back to the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents and I guarantee you will also learn something you never knew along the way.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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