I was born and brought up here on a small mixed farm exactly where Finn Valley Cottages are now located. It was typical of farming in Ireland at that time, where many farms had a mix of cattle, sheep, pigs and hens. My father kept pigs, chickens and cattle and I adored helping him with the daily livestock and other farm chores. I really enjoyed feeding the pigs and going up the fields with my father to count the sheep and cattle.
In my childhood I vaguely remember hen houses in the fields and all livestock was free range. I was very much an outdoor person and loved helping on the farm. I wanted to carry buckets of water from an early age and frequently remember spilling the water down the inside of my welly boots as even the small milking buckets were really too big for me to carry! I hear you ask what is a “milking bucket”. It was a small metal bucket which the milk went into when hand milking. We had a quiet white cow who allowed me to milk her, but insisted on kicking the workman when he tried to milk her. She was also happy to let my father milk her and he held her tail during milking. That was a skill that was too advanced for me and so I had her tail occasionally swiping right around my head as I squeezed the strands of milk out. My mother was not happy when I came back into the house with my hair and clothes smelling of cows! Like the workmen, I had a pair of dungarees to go over my clothes but I did not wear a hat or a cap.
When I was about six years old I got the best birthday present ever. I was told my present was outside and I still remember the joy when I found a brown and white calf with a tiny greetings label around its neck and standing in a warm and cosy pen made with straw bales in the barn. It was a sad day when I said goodbye to my precious grown-up calf 18 months later as it made its way to market in a very large cattle lorry.
I loved going places with my father and I was very occasionally allowed to go to the cattle market and the pig market in Strabane. The cattle market was on the site of where the library and Alley Theatre now stand and the pig market was in what is now Dock Street car park. Dock Street was where the canal came all the way into the centre of Strabane. A hundred years ago it was possible to get on a canal boat in Strabane and go to Derry/ Londonderry and then board a ship to emigrate to America.
I was a very practical child and was lucky enough to get a donkey. The only item of harness that I initially possessed was a bit – the remainder of the bridle was made from rope. There was no saddle – instead I had an empty meal sack – a jute sack that the pig meal had been in. This was a great way to achieve good balance when learning to ride. When I progressed to a pony the donkey followed the pony over the jumps. A major thrill was to become the very proud owner of a real saddle with stirrups.
Growing up on the farm was a mix of hard work and fun, but it was not much fun when I had to do my school work. My Mother was Principal at Tullywhisker Primary School and so homework took a great priority.
I have an older brother, Hall, who was far more studious in his approach to life. I was the naughty outdoor child and he was the reliable young man who always “did as he was told” – especially where homework and study was involved. Today he is a Bishop in the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Mahajanga in Madagascar – (having retired some years ago from being a rector in a London parish – he remains a workaholic, instead of enjoying a well-earned retirement!)
When my father became unwell in the late 1960s I ran the farm and at the same time attended Loughry Agricultural College to study for an HND in Poultry Production
My first ‘proper’ job after college was as a lecturer in Poultry production at Plumpton Agricultural College in Sussex. Quite a change in cultures from rural Ireland to southern England! After a few years there I moved to Harper Adams College in Shropshire to their poultry department for another few years, before returning to Plumpton as the new Head of the Poultry Department there. Teaching was not my real love as it was so restrictive. I completed a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA), part time ,at what was then Brighton Polytechnic (now Sussex University). I joined a commercial poultry/food firm Daylay, near Newark in Nottinghamshire as technical manager on the agricultural team. This was much more interesting and I eventually moved to North Yorkshire as their area manager in charge of a group of poultry farms and their associated 90+ staff. During all of this time I continued to manage the family farm from afar.
After 10 years in industry I returned home to Ireland in 2000, to start my own business from scratch. Since returning home I have done poultry consultancy, and farm quality inspections for the industry both in Ireland and the UK.
In 2012 as part of a farm diversification scheme, I began to develop redundant barns on the family farm to create Finn Valley Cottages, and as they say the rest is history!
One of my goals in life was to marry a farmer, but instead I married David, who is a Church of Ireland Parish Priest in Taughboyne in Donegal. You may see him around at the cottages when you visit. He is interested in churches and history so he can help you to trace your family roots in the area or take you on a guided tour of churches – including Derry Cathedral where he might play your favourite hymn on the organ.
Finn Valley Cottages is my retirement project!. I have been very privileged to meet some very interesting people and I thoroughly enjoy meeting the guests.
My interests are horse riding, golf and fishing. My favourite golf courses are Narin and Portnoo, Murvagh, Rosapenna, Portsalon , Cruit Island and Royal Portrush as well as being Lady Captain 2020 in Newtownstewart
My favourite fishing is on the Mourne, the Owenkillew , the upper parts of the Finn and the Derg.