Last week I read a story about a 77 years old lady living up in County Fermanagh. Margaret Gallagher lives alone in her 200 year old stone cottage. She was photographed standing outside her front (and only) door to a background of flowers you wouldn’t see the likes of at the Chelsea Flower Show. The caption should have read, ‘happiness is’, because if ever a picture depicted happiness, contentment and serenity this was it.
What will surprise you here is that Ms Gallagher’s house is not equipped with electricity, running water – and therefore of course no TV, computer, electrical tools or labour saving devices. Margaret’s only modern convenience is a basic mobile phone – which she charges from her car.
She has loads of friends and doesn’t feel the need to ‘move’ with the times. You could say that her very existence centres around the big turf fire on the open hearth. Food is cooked over the open fire; water is heated for washing clothes and gives warm water for her bath.
This woman looks twenty years younger than she should and when her face exudes the utter joy of living – should not some of the rest of us be having a look at ourselves in the mirror?
Once upon a time I might have dismissed somebody like Margaret Gallagher as being ‘a bit touched.’ But who is the more ‘touched’; the man who is running around in circles to stand still or the serene lady pruning her flowers at the cottage door?
My late uncle lived a similar lifestyle to Margaret – and he could afford to live any way he wanted to. ‘Eccentric’ and ‘odd’ were two of the kinder words the younger generation called him from time to time. Paddy was ultra-intelligent, an avid reader and unstoppable talker – one of the most contented and philosophical people I have ever known. So again, which of us is doing it the right way?
I had a shift-boss in Canada a long time ago, by the name of Archie Nabbess. Archie and I were friends. I knew other members of his family and they were all good people The Nabbess family were Cree Indians – or ‘First Nation’ as they would be known now.
One night Archie and I were having a drink or two … or nineteen or twenty to tell you the truth! In the course of conversation, drink and my ignorance, I proceeded to highlight all the civilisation and many advantages that the white man had brought to his race of people.
Archie did not get angry, but through the smoke and the haze I could still see the hurt in his eyes. My friend then proceeded to give me a history lesson on how his tribe was ravaged and their idyllic life robbed. His ancestors lived a simple fulfilled life.
They had an abundance of food, lived as one with nature and engaged in a daily pursuit of pleasure. ‘And you are now telling me, Bernie, how much better off I am, two-thousand feet down there in a black hole, drilling rock just to feed my family?’ How many of you think that Archie was right in what he said?
At this stage of my life, the most thing that I am is a farmer. (Now … now, Lads!) It is a wonderful life, done in a small way and without pressure. I am not a fan of ‘factory farming’ – where birds or animals never see the light of day. ‘Zero grazing’, where the grass is cut and brought in to the cattle in a shed, should never be the way we farm in Ireland.
A man cut silage for me a couple of months back. His tractor cost more than what it cost to build my house back in the day. Up there in his cab, which resembled a shuttle space rocket panel, my friend is totally removed from nature. My farm equipment consists of an old Zetor tractor, a transport-box, trailer and buck-rake and all my cows have names.
The fox, rabbit, pheasant and swan pay more heed to each other than they do to me. I see and hear everything going on around me and I am grateful for this privileged existence … just like Margaret Gallagher (Though I do need my Sky Sports inside the house!)
I have even become more tolerant of so-called weeds. Whilst I won’t allow dockens or thistles to grow on grassland, I have stopped mercilessly spraying along the headlands. I learned that one nettle can support a hundred different species of caterpillar. These feed the birds which makes up the choir, or ‘dawn chorus’ which wakes me up every morning.
I know I am not depending on my farm enterprise; but I have found that farming does not have to be intensive to show a profit – and if there is a slight difference, the quality of life more than compensates: Ask Margaret Gallagher…!
Years wrinkle the skin, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.