Catherine McKeever balances a tray loaded with four shot glasses, each filled with a golden liquid.

Normally such a sight would be seen in a bar in the early hours of the morning, not on a farm in the middle of the day.

However, the big difference here is, these shots aren’t going to end with two painkillers fizzing in a glass of water the next day. In fact, the substance in question has many purported health benefits.

It’s not hard liquor, but in fact apple cider vinegar. Made right here on the McKeever’s farm outside Portadown in Co Armagh.

Given that Irish Country Living is in the Orchard County and we’re talking apple cider vinegar, you guessed it, the McKeevers are apple farmers.

Third generation, actually. While their history with orchards goes back quite some time, it was recently enough the McKeever’s diversified into making cider, apple juice and apple cider vinegar.

Firstly though, to know where we are going, we must know where we have come from.

So, Peter- Catherine and Pat McKeever’s son- takes us back to where it all started, with his grandfather and namesake.

“It was Granda that started all this. Those larger trees at the front of the orchard, he planted those 55 years ago,” Peter explains. “There was no juice or ciders made here when Granda was doing it now.

“Those apples would have been sold down in the Dublin Market. He would have travelled down there and he would have travelled down to Clonmel as well to deliver apples. Daddy took it on then at a young age as well.”

On Long Meadow Farm – the name given to their products also – the McKeevers have 28 acres of orchard on the home farm and an outlaying 80 acres.

They grow many varieties of apples, one of their main being the Bramley apple for which Armagh is famous. The Armagh Bramley apple has PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status. They also grow Katy, Golden Delicious, Jonagold and Jonaprince varieties.

The older trees planted by Peter Snr are much bigger than the newer trees planted by his son Pat. The younger trees will only grow to between four and six feet, making them easier to pick. With health and safety in mind, the idea is to reduce the amount of ladder work.

Eventually, most of the trees will be replanted to the smaller kind, but Catherine says they will retain some of the older trees because of the history they encapsulate.

We wanted them to have their childhood without us trying to start up a brand-new business

When passing a patch of significantly smaller trees, I ask Pat how long have those ones been planted. A lot of the replanting was done 14 to 18 years ago, but those particular ones were put in “the year Armagh last won the cup,” he laughs. A reference to Armagh’s last Ulster football title in 2008.


At this juncture, it’s probably time to address how the McKeevers added beverage producer to their repertoire.

Rather than being something they took up on a whim, Catherine says that making their own cider was something she and Pat had discussed for quite some time before they put the wheels in motion.

“It’s something we always talked about even when the children were wee, but because we’ve five kids it was too much when the children were still young,” Catherine explains.

“We wanted them to have their childhood without us trying to start up a brand-new business. So we did wait until they got through their education. Then we said we’d take the bull by the horns. That was eight and a half years ago.”

The Bramley Barn on Long Meadow Farm. \ Barry Cronin

Peter has four sisters - Catriona, Alanna, Patricia and Nuala. By the time Peter was finishing school, he knew that he wanted to stay at home and work on the farm.

“Uni was just never in my mind,” Peter says. “Sure, you were always doing this. It just felt natural and normal. It didn’t make sense to go anywhere else.”

The fact that Peter was interested in working at home, made expanding the business more possible, explains Catherine. Their initial product offering was cider, Long Meadow Medium Cider and Long Meadow Blossom Burst Cider.

Catherine recalls their first foray in the cider business clearly: “It was daunting at the start. Extremely daunting. I remember the first batch we made, there were 800 bottles.

All I could see was bottles sitting everywhere, thinking how in the name of God are we going to get rid of these. In the beginning, we gave the majority of that away to try and get it into different places.”

“That’s a small batch compared to now,” Peter interjects.

“To us that’s nothing now. That’s wee buns,” Catherine smiles.

There was a lot of graft getting the Long Meadow Cider name out there initially, Catherine says.

“We did all our sales ourselves at the start. Going into bars trying to speak to managers. They were saying, ‘We’re not interested. We don’t want any new products.’

Pat, Catherine and Peter McKeever. \ Barry Cronin

It’s soul destroying, because you’ve put your heart and soul into making these products. We’re not sales people. We’re ordinary people, farmers. In our eyes we had made these wonderful products and why would you say no.”

When they got a distributor on board the whole thing changed. Long Meadow began getting into more and more places, their name and reputation growing in tandem.

Now they sell all over from restaurants to pubs, shops, off-licences and their own online store. They’re also in Sainsburys and export to Italy and France.

The product range has expanded to five ciders, as well as pure and sparking apple juice and apple cider vinegar – of which we were doing shots of (diluted with water) earlier.

Long Meadow products have won a plethora of awards. Some of the most notable being the Blossom Burst Cider winning a gold star at the Great Taste Awards and a gold at Blas na hÉireann.

Going forward

All of the apples are pressed and cold-stored on the farm. The cider is fermented here and the apple juice – which is 100% apple with no added sugar – is made and bottled here too.

The bottling of the cider is outsourced at the moment, but currently they are installing a bottling plant, which will mean everything will be done on farm.

With regard to their apple cider vinegar, the McKeevers are working on a very interesting project with Ulster University. Apple cider vinegar is used in cooking, but many people take it with health in mind. They even sell it to farmers to give to livestock.

“We’re working really closely with Ulster University to get our own research, specific to our own vinegar, because there’s no real scientific research to say that it does what it does,” Catherine explains. “We’re getting all that feedback from our customers.

“It was one of those old remedies that was there years ago and it’s now come back around full circle.

We’re working with them now at the minute and we’re going to be doing human health trials, to see that there is merit in what they say it does. If we get that, that’ll be our USP (unique selling point) for our own vinegar.”


Another strand of the Long Meadow business is farm tours. Pat, Catherine and Peter all take the guided tours for both domestic and international tourists. The tours include an overview of what they do on the farm, tastings and a cookery demonstration.

They recently built the Bramley Barn down in the orchard, where guests can sit for their tastings and cookery demos. Going forward Catherine says they hope to be able to offer hands on cookery experiences, where visitors can cook their own scones, soda bread and apple pie.

Pat McKeever took over the family apple business from his father. \ Barry Cronin

At harvest time visitors will be able to go into the orchard to pick the apples for their pie, a very authentic experience.

Harvest lasts from the end of August to the end of October, a particularly full-on time for the family. Mostly, it’s just Pat, Catherine and Peter manning the operations, but at harvest time workers come in from abroad to pick fruit.

Going forward, as well as enhancing the cookery experience on their tours, the McKeevers are looking to get into more retailers south of the border and expand their export business, hopefully shipping to the US in a substantial way – they sent apple juice recently to Texas for St Patrick’s Day.

Looking back, undoubtedly the McKeevers’ apple business has diversified and grown enormously in recent years. But Catherine is very clear on one thing in particular: “We were initially apple farmers and we’re still apple farmers. That’s the crutch of our business. If we didn’t have the apples, we wouldn’t be able to make the products.”

As they say, an apple a day. . .

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