“Holland is divided by the main river, the Rhine. The southern part below the Rhine, in times gone by that was where all the cattle were. I grew up there.
I grew up on a farm and I worked with other farmers. I then started to work in Greece and Turkey when I was 18/19. I worked on a farm in Greece, in an agricultural college.
From there I moved on to Turkey. That was a very good time. I worked in the midlands of Turkey in a village to bring waterpipes down from the mountain so that the village had water.
That was an eye-opener, because people were very poor and very limited, but I experienced such goodness from them and such a quality of life by living so simply, that I went home after those four months and said: “I don’t want much in my life. If I have what the people have there, I’m fine. I don’t want all the luxuries.’
I had seven siblings growing up. Six sisters and one brother, Joseph. Joseph did his basic education and then he was going to do more study in college, but he dropped out. He said: ‘I want to stay at home on the farm with my dad.’
As soon as I noticed that he would like to start farming, I said to myself, it’s better for me to leave than him. He was too young and three on the farm would be too much. I said, I’ll have to see if I can either rent or buy a little plot of land.
I tried for some time in Holland to buy a little holding. It was a little bit dear, but I already had a feeling I belonged somewhere else.
When I was 19 I asked my dad could I go away for a few months. I hitchhiked from Holland to Belgium. Then I hitchhiked from Belgium across the channel to England. I travelled to Fishguard in Wales and I took the ferryboat to Rosslare.
I didn’t know where I was going, but I ended up in Ireland. Which meant I was drawn to this country. I spent a few months here offering work to people on farms in Kilkenny and Waterford, that area. That was my first time in Ireland.
I did go back to Holland, but I knew I would return here sometime. I needed to build up a little bit of capital.
I met my wife Maria in the mid-80s, when I was temporarily back in Holland. I said to Maria: ‘Listen, I’m going to go back to Ireland, because that’s where I want to continue my life.’ I said to her: ‘I hope you will come with me.’ She was more eager than me to come, luckily.
We were looking for a place, a traditional farm. That was here, Lough Avalla Farm in the Burren. We’re about 10 minutes or so outside Corofin. I bought this place. Then the children were born. We’ve five children. Two girls and three boys.
The old ways were not stupid or wrong. There were a lot of good things in the way people farmed long ago
In Holland we always had about 30 milking cows. This is a different farm, it’s up a small boreen. The milk tank can’t get up here. I knew I had to go into suckling. I now have mainly cattle, Belted Galloways, as well as some sheep and goats.
From day one I was a very traditional farmer. I went organic very young as well. The old ways were not stupid or wrong. There were a lot of good things in the way people farmed long ago.
A lot of farmers come here and they think I might not go for certain inventions or machines. That’s not true. For example, the idea that I would never use a milking machine, that I would do it all by hand. No, certain machines and certain techniques are really good, as long as we copy nature or as closely as possible to nature.
On the farm here there’s a ringfort, it’s a listed monument. There’s also a holy well, cairn, fulacht fiadh and beehive huts.
After I had spent time making the farm work and the children had grown up and gone to school, I had a feeling, that with the help of my children, we might make a walk on the farm.
So I informed the council. They gave me the discs and the arrows to make a trail. It took weeks and weeks to make the whole trail. I’m so glad I went for it. That was 12 years ago. Lough Avalla Farm Looped Walk is 6km.
I knew I wanted to welcome the public onto the farm. As long as people respect it, anybody can do the walk. Farmers are important for the public, people need food. If the public appreciate what you do and can see how you work, it might be beneficial for the farming sector as a whole.
I don’t have a website, a computer, internet or a smartphone. I’m not saying computers are wrong, but I don’t need them. The good thing is, people come to do the walk and I’m sure if the experience is good, they will tell a friend. That’s enough.
The walk is free and people are good. The only danger is if people bring dogs. Dogs should be kept on a lead or not brought along if people walk farm land.
People thank me that I allow the public to come here. That’s what I like about the Irish people, they are very kind like that.”