Meet the Howards
Living and farming in the 'craggy' Burren
When we visit their homestead in Co Clare, organic farmer James Howard and his wife Bridget treat us to a delicious spread of home-made brown soda bread and creamy fresh milk. It doesn’t get more natural and wholesome than this. James is determined to keep alive Howard family traditions which have survived generations despite enormous changes in agriculture in recent years. "The house is 200 years old and the roof is practically on the table," he laughs.
Craggy Island ...
The Howard family farm can be found in Corofin in the world famous Burren area. Fans of the TV show 'Father Ted' may also recognise the landscape - the series was filmed here and Craggy Island Parochial House is just a stone's throw from the farm. According to James, the current owners of the house serve tea to occasional visitors, using Bishop Len Brennan's Hat as a tea cosy. James, himself, was involved in the TV series, appearing as a judge in The Craggy Island Lovely Girls competition. The Howard farmhouse was also occasionally used as a set for the show - the farm's bathroom was used for some memorable scenes featuring Father Dougal in the bath.
The Unique Burren Landscape
The Howard Family Farm is called ‘Gortlicka’, Irish for stony field, James says he has 20 broken ploughs on the edge of his fields and that this landscape presents particular challenges for the farming community.
“The house is 200 years old and the roof is practically on the table,” he laughs. The Burren comes from the Irish word ‘bhoireann’ meaning a stony place. Its formation has lain unspoiled since the ice-age and botanists, archaeologists and ecologists flock to see alpine and mediterranean plants living happily together in this dramatic and unique landscape.
James and Bridget have three children – Elizabeth, who is working in the Cliffs of Moher Interpretive Centre, Séamus, who works for a farming contractor and Eimer, who is in her last year at university. It’s Elizabeth, James says, who has shown the most interest in the organic way of life and helps him tend the organic garden where they grow the family’s vegetables.
“We produce everything we eat really, and even used to grow our own wheat, but now we buy flour to make bread,” says James. “We have six ducks, four hens, two dogs and one cat as well as sheep and cows. We sell the meat from the sheep locally. We’ve been organic for about 15 years but have never been a very intensive farm.
“Our cows eat an organic diet of turnips and hay which we grow. We buy in organic nuts. We have been supplying organic milk from 13 of our cows to Glenisk for around ten years. I first met Vincent Cleary when he was talking at a meeting for organic farmers and now the Glenisk lorry comes twice a week.
“I think the important things to remember are start small, talk locally, produce a good product and deal one-to-one with the man who is buying and producing your produce.
“I think the important things to remember are start small, talk locally, produce a good product and deal one-to-one with the man who is buying and producing your produce."
“GM foods could be a big problem for food production in Ireland in the future. It’s going to make things more difficult for the small farmer. It’s hard to survive in the old ways. I think that farming is not just about prices and financial gain and hope that a renewed interest in organic foods may lead to the survival of these beliefs. I am unusual amongst farmers in my local area because most are not organic.
“When I am not out in all weathers milking the cows I like to go to local hurling matches. We’re GAA mad in our house.”