WWOOFING at Ryan’s Cottage -by Vincent and Andrea

Life in Ryan’s Cottage is lot of laughter, very happy conversations , flowers, sweets (and wall scraping). We could enjoy true Ireland, with a visit of a small pub in a near local town, where we tasted the famous Guinness and listened to some folk music. We also met her friends, so lively and funny. Either sleeping in the caravan or the bedroom is enjoyable,and we didn’t lack of comfort. Furthermore, and this is from the perspective of two French people,  we ate very well during our stay: chili, fresh salad from the garden, pasta…it all felt so good after a day of labour. There is a lot to do here in Ryan’s Cottage, and you will never feel bored. We can only tell you how much you will appreciate this place, and we hope that you will fill the space we unfortunately left in this cottage.

Vincent and Andreavincent and andrea

Before and after

Now it’s time for us to say farewell to Ryan’s Cottage, and I’d love to make a list of all the big and little things we’ve been doing here. So let’s go!;

  • Cutting wood was the first task I remember doing here; now I don’t picture it as the funniest thing in the world, but I was excited then.
  • Chopping the wood with the incredible machine and pour the little pieces on the cardboard in the garden’s paths.
  • Scraping the wall: the most tiring job of all… You never end scraping, it’s so frustrating. But we made a lot, so we’re proud.
  • Painting the pergola: so many timbers to paint, I think we still have some wooden leftovers to paint hahaha
  • Tiling! I enjoyed this so much, it was like making a puzzle.
  • Weeding… Acceptable if it’s in the garden, awful if it’s on the side of the road. God, too many weeds out there. High density of roots and nettles where you don’t expect them. I hate those devilish plants with all my heart; I don’t give a damn if they make an excellent soup. Fuck soup (kidding, I love Jude’s soups. Fuck nettles).
  • Speaking of goddamned things… Midges. I despise midges. Deeply.
  • Fixing the floor of the entrance with Liscannor stone. Like a puzzle as well. It looks beautiful now! None of us think it needs cement.
  • Fixing the chicken house’s new pillars for the pine marten not to kill the chicken.
  • Cleaning and tidying the polytunnel. It took us one morning only, but the result was incredible. It looked like a brand new polytunnel, so pretty with all the compost David brought and all the strawberries and tomatoes we planted. I’m very proud of that job.
  • Painting some chairs and the caravan. Oh my god, the caravan… what a change. Jude’s friends came and painted some flowers each. Watching it now is so satisfying that makes me wan to keep working. Good strategy, Jude!
  • Filling with sieved soil a new bed for our beans. Fernando and I are making a competition with our beans. I’m sure mine are going to grow higher, basically because he hasn’t planted them yet haha.
  • Build towers with the pieces of turf! Jude told me the task had an specific name, but I don’t remember now. You know what I mean.
  • Dig a pond. At first, it was a hard and tiring job that made me concerned about mining or working in the fields. Lifting heavy shovels under the sun is harder than it seems. We all ended up with back ache. Poor city babies, crying after working a tiny part of what our grandparents worked in one morning…
  • Making more beds: easy chain work. Find the couples, rip the metal pieces out and cut them so that both timbers are the same length.
  • General house cleaning: floor, windows, chimney… Not really a job, but some times it took long.
  • Transporting dry wood to the back of the house, for the fire in winter.
  • Removing the branches Baptiste cut. We’ve discovered chain work is way better and more effective. I hope Beltrand is good after we leave.

We’ve done lots and lots of amazing things here. We are happy to have made this place better and helped Jude. We’ll never forget this experience,  and hopefully we’ll be back some time!

Thanks Jude for all the love she’s given to us, she’s an extraordinary woman.

New wwofers!

Hey everybody! It’s not Jude here, it’s Sofia, one of, her two new Spanish helpers. As she was telling in her last post, there was a lot of work to do; I guess it’s not that much now.

When I arrived Ryan’s Cottage, I was so overwhelmed by its beauty and natural charm. From the wild fairytail-like entrance to the wide variety of species inside. As we were taking a tour through the woods and the garden, I realised the cottage had a strong potential where LOTS of things could be done. Actually, Jude had in mind several projects which involved bees, chickens, a compost toilet and a lot of paint. “This is going to be fun, I can’t wait to get started”, I thought. Indeed, the many tasks that Jude had started by herself were varied, and all of them unfinished. Now we’ve been here for almost 10 days I realise how much she needed help. The fact of thinking about having this beautiful garden and not being able to do everything I want because it takes more time than I think makes me sick; it must have been (and still, it is) insanely frustrating for her. Jude’s love for her place and dogs can be found in every project she has on mind, and most of all in her face when she looks at them. That true dedication and deep passion are the things that make me want to help her fulfill her dreams. I’m so happy that we can be here, I wish I could explain how lucky I feel. We’ve truly become an amazing trio; I didn’t expect to get along this well with my host.

Catch up photos

It has been a long time since I last wrote.  There is so much to do here, and my job too.  So rather than not blog at all, I decided to just upload the best pics of the last 9 months.  Maybe I will even caption them!20170829_16055020171015_12450220171016_15040120171016_15051320171016_15054720171016_15063120171016_15090320180302_08292620180302_08302620180302_11172920180303_14180620180512_15360720180512_15394020180512_15400720180512_15421920180512_15511220180512_15521920180512_19442828954614_2074544192820083_1841238732260606010_o (1)Bella's retreatickle goaty teethIMG_1794IMG_1812IMG_1860IMG_1889IMG_1892IMG_1921IMG_1927IMG_1934IMG_1936IMG_1943IMG_1954

More additions to the gang


Friday saw the arrival of 2 new girls to Ryan’s Cottage.  Ruby (Rhode Island Red) and Sinéad (Sussex), relative of our Sybil.  They are settling into Fowlty Towers in stages, and have a temporary home inside, Heath Robinson style. made from a dog kennel, part of an old sofa, a pallet, a clothes airer and some of that nasty green plastic barrier mesh.  This is to give them time to get used to the environment and the older girls before they get the full run of the place.  Meanwhile, the Fowlty Towers bedroom extension is still at a standstill due to the weather and -boooooh us having to work elsewhere part-time.


I have started a job as a homework tutor 3 days a week and Shaun is working weekends at the airport.  We’re finally getting the cash together to replace all the things we have broken.  Kaputt items include 2 jigsaws, 2 drills, circular saw blade, scroll saw, strimmer/brush cutter, washing machine, all the USB ports and jack socket on my laptop, vacuum cleaner and likely quite soon, the garden shredder which is getting very temperamental!

The garden and polytunnel have done relatively well in supplying us with food, considering I am pretty crap at planning and am still learning.  We could be producing a lot more.  Not to be too hard on myself though, we are still building on poor soil and most perennial food sources will take another 2-3 years to establish.


Flowers from the garden.20170821_163046

Still lots of flower and insect activity-even in October!IMG_1746


The Jerusalem artichokes are battered by the winds and leaning everywhere.  When can we eat them?IMG_1747

An exciting dog training/balancing act.


New 3 bay composter being inspected by the girls.20170829_16061420170829_160629

Marauding goats!20170829_16065720170829_160800Dug up all the “accidental” tatties, mainly read roosters. About 60% had slugs in them and were fed to the chickens!20170829_16081020170829_160819

Next year I will plan for a different set of veggies.  I have been eating very low-carb for the last few months, as a desperate way to finally get my type 1 diabetes under control.  It is starting to pay off, so next year I will cut out the higher carbohydrate peas, beans, carrots, beets and any other root vegetables in favour of much more leafy greens.  Spuds are definitely off the menu -YES, NO SPUDS!  IN IRELAND!

Ted and Dougal have been helping to tidy around the back, the edges of our neighbours field, and whenever they can get access, my precious fruit bushes and trees.  Here they are clearing what is left of the nasturtiums behind the kitchen.  I haven’t the heart to lock them in their enclosure, as all that’s left in there is that damn creeping buttercup. It’s poisonous to them, but thankfully they won’t touch it.

What do you do with a one-testicled goat by the way?  As one of Ted’s precious baubles somehow wheedled its way through his castration band  (before we got him), he’s getting rather randy with poor little Dougal.  He’s still a delight though, and loves a fuss and a scratch.  I think the sensible thing would be to take him to the vet but can’t quite bring myself to do that yet.IMG_1766IMG_1760

More History

I just received a very exciting email from Dermott Ryan (previous owner of the cottage) with a photo of his grandmother, Bridget Ryan, next to the back door of the cottage, in about 1956.  The cottage still has a thatched roof, and the tiny boarded window is where the present kitchen window now sits.  In the bottom right corner there is what looks like a milk churn.


Bridget is also seen in the top right of the picture below, of the women of Corraige in about 1947.

Corraige women 1947

We were just chatting again about the local vernacular architecture, and planning next spring to strip back the multiple layers of facade on the fireplace wall, util we reach the original stone.  Hopefully we can give it a chance to breathe and dry out more as it is still holding the damp.  Better get practising our lime mortar pointing skills on the inside of the cow shed!

I found the picture below of what ours is likely like, with everything stripped back.  Its a random internet find, so I hope whoever has copyright doesn’t mind!


How it looks at the moment.


I think we’ll be moving back into the caravan before starting that particular job!

The building census sheet from 1901 tells us that the cottage back then had a thatched roof and just two rooms – the large bedroom and the main room.  It also lists 3 outbuildings.  We currently have 2 and the remains of the lean-to which housed the cart.

Corraige building census 1901

The two rooms of the cottage were home to the Ryans below in 1901:

Corraige census 1901 Ryan household.png


Making Hay whilst the Sun Shines

Its been a busy 3 months.  We now have proper power and water to the cow shed thanks to Shaun’s determined digging.  He buried the cable and pipes 2ft under the shale in the yard.IMG_1258

We finally sorted the electric fence and Ted and Dougal the goats love their little playground.  Its a bit excessive with the 5 wires, but they did finally get the idea they couldn’t just walk through it!  They’ve also settled in and accepted us as their new “herd” and will happily follow me around between shed and enclosure.  In fact, they have learnt how to jump through the shed window and into the next field, and will happily munch away at the brambles there until I call them back in.  They have grown so much in 3 months here.  Ted in particular is big, and very cheeky.  You have to keep your eyes well away from those horns!  We realised that the reason for this – ahem, his escaped testicle!  They were both recently banded when we brought them home, but somehow one of Ted’s escaped.  Time will tell whether we need to take him to the vet of whether he will still prove to be sociable with one ball!IMG_1598IMG_1603

Viv the duck, that we had decided was a girl, suddenly developed a curly tail feather!  This meant she was actually a he, and therefore had to be separated from the chickens, lest he tried to mate with them.  Fortunately, my friend Biddy has female ducks and no male, so agreed to give him a new home.  Now he has settled in there, but still thinks he is a chicken, and is following her chickens around and sleeping in their coop at night!  Ours are still happy and laying huge eggs daily.  We have decided to extend the family with another 3 hens…coming soon!20170617_17521120170622_110750

June was full of lupins and foxgloves galore…I love them both.



At the beginning of July we had our first visit from Shaun’s Mum and Dad, which was lovely..the photos are of our trip to Doonbeg/Doughmore beach with the dogs.


I just had to put this picture in of my friend Biddy’s new baby donkey for no reason other than its utter cuteness!  Shaun…can we please have a donkey or two?


Borage, flowers all summer, adored by bees.  Stunning blue!IMG_1565

The cottage in early JulyIMG_1638


Lovely trailing fuschia!


I have completed a bit more work on the bathroom.  Everything is reclaimed, found, or recycled.  The bath panel is old pallets, cupboards from an old kitchen, mosaic tiling from donated tiles, beach finds, old beads and willow pattern plates that were chipped or cracked, donated by friends.  I still need many more to do the shower area, so keep your eyes peeled!20170813_17144720170813_171514

The garden is so lush, providing lots of food and aesthetic joy!  In particular the potatoes and peas gave a great harvest.  Now the tomatoes and courgettes are ripening faster than we can eat them!

New edible perennials I have been donated or grown from seed are: lovage, perennial cabbage and sorrel.  These are great as the need no attention.  I’m really not organised enough to successively plant lots of salad, so this stuff is a lifesaver when we run out of lettuce!

New experiments ate minutina (erba stella), oriental salad mix, pumpkin, aubergine, squash, cape gooseberry, cucamelon.  I’ll update on these later.

In (almost) continuous supply are radishes, beets, round lettuce and little gem  lettuce, mange tout, cress, spinach, chard, broccoli (just keeps producing more florets!)

I’m delighted to see some things have self-seeded from last year.  Borage, nasturtium, calendula, mallow, daisies, foxgloves, are all contributing to that lovely cottage garden feel.

Speaking of cottage gardens, I have put so much effort into growing dreamy cottage garden plants, and am continually frustrated by my failure.  None of the seeds of either have germinated, despite my bests attempts at nurturing under different conditions, temps, etc.  Finally I bought (yes BOUGHT) a small delphinium and a small hollyhock in a pot and planted them out.  I checked them daily, sometime several times.  The snails moved in and wreaked havoc overnight.but didn’t kill them off.  I waged war.  I made traps and beer traps, I picked snails off and fed them to the birds.  They still fail to thrive .

How I want these plants to look: 650x423.fit.hollyhock-collection-growing-talldelphiniums

Sadly mine look nothing like this!


Goaty shenanigans

On 28th April we finally brought our pygmy goats home.  My dream had originally been to be fairly self sufficient in milk, butter, yoghurt and cheese through the milking of Nigerian Dwarf breed goats.  These are small in stature, but great milkers -perfect for our small bit of land an modest needs.


Pure Nigerian Dwarves no longer exist in Europe, and have been mixed too far with other pygmy breeds, originally bred for meat.  They are mostly kept as pets.  Over the past 6 months we have been researching, pondering, changing our minds, procrastinating and looking despairingly at our dwindling bank account.  I finally decided that although our dairy ideas were not going to be practical, I could not live without having goats here, and offered on a group, to re-home a couple that needed one.  Along came Annabel from Cork, whose pet herd had become a little large.  She offered us two little wethers to love and cherish.  They are perfect little guys!

The end of the cowshed was prepared with a cosy little bed/den, and we replaced the corrugated steel door panel with chicken wire for ventilation and sunlight.  All the wood was reclaimed timber and pallets, even the hay rack. The enclosure  was part woodland, where we had removed as much of the poisonous plants as we could, though by most accounts, goats are pretty savvy when it comes to avoiding that stuff.  We put up a 3 wire electric fence.  We had seen this working perfectly up in Mayo at a breeder’s place.  Well, it would, wouldn’t it?

NOT with Ted and Dougal!

We had seen where they lived in Cork.  Up a mountain, with 20-odd other goats, lots of goat company and wild forage.  Lovely!  We brought them home and they were terrified of us and no doubt in shock after their journey.  We decided to keep them in the shed and just sit quietly talking to them as we fed them for a few days until they got used to us.  After so much reading for months about how good goats are at escaping, I was terrified of losing the little fellows.  To cut a long story short, the first day in the enclosure, they got out, with dog collars and leads attached, fortunately.  After chasing up the hill and lying in the long grass pretending to be a Mama goat. “mehhhhh”ing, amongst other things, I every so slowly managed to get hold of the dog leads.

The next couple of days were spent on building a small enclosure attached to their shed.  For the past 10 days I have just been working on getting them used to me, and making sure they come running for the  rattling tin of food.  Ted will now allow a little tickle and back scratch whilst he is eating, but Dougal is still very skittish.  Watching them play is a real delight -head-butting, nuzzling, jumping and twisting in games of “fight off the rival” and “escape the predator”.  I guess more pets is the last thing we could afford, but how could we regret these little guys for even one second?


Video: “Munch munch”

Video: Settling in.



I am going to use these old chairs to make the perfect “Pagoata”  shelter for the lads.

IMG_1215This is where they can eventually browse to their hearts’ content in the woods, once they have sussed out the electric fence!

IMG_1211This is the small “nursery” area.  There are now 5 lines of fence but we haven’t tried them in it yet as we’re worried it may be too small.  They walked right between the wires of the first version.  The dogs and chickens are wise to it though.


IMG_1127On another positive note, Viv the duck has turned out to be a girl!  Yay, Vivienne can stay with the chickens and we’ll look forward to trying our first duck egg in the next few months.  Here she is, chilling with her foster mum, Sybil.  All is well in Fowlty Towers.IMG_1208


Permaculture zones for the procrastinator

For my family and friends who arewondering what all this permaculture talk is about, and perhaps why it is all taking so long.  Read on!

Zone 0 -the house, the centre of thinking, and sleeping, and thinking about thinking…maybe tomorrow.  Probably the most neglected of all zones, hence the lack of internal pictures.

IMG_1055Actually, it is described by experts as:

  • Zone 0: the centre of human activity, for example, the house.

  • Zone 1: close to the house, is the most controlled and intensively-used area containing the garden, work-shops, greenhouse, small animals, wood-pile, compost, etc.

The blocks in quotes in this blog refer to this article, which I recommend reading: http://permaculturenews.org/2008/11/08/what-is-%E2%80%98zone-zero%E2%80%99/

Workshop is all sorted, up and running.  I have a new table saw which I am pleased with for the price, and am starting to get odd jobs making bespoke furniture items.  Not enough for a business but you never know..

The woodshed is complete with a temporaray reclaimed polytunnel plastic roof.

Last week saw the pallet fence completed, well except for the bit where we cheated and put chicken wire up -until tomorrow, or next month or maybe next year.  Grand total of about 4 Euros on screws, everything else was salvaged for free.  This is primarily the veggie garden with herbs and salads close to the door.


It is Nellie and Cleo proof so far.  Eric however, just hopped straight over.  Since he is more afraid of the chickens and duckling than they are of him, we’re not too worried.

IMG_1057IMG_1076IMG_1099Another trailer full of scrap timber someone wanted rid of from their yard.  It has to be sorted into useable, useable outdoor treated, rotten and needs drying out for fuel, screws and nails removed, stacking and so on.  Most people wouldn’t be bothered, but the one thing we do have plenty of, is time.  Time spent here in the outdoors with our animals is priceless.IMG_1116An almost ethereal figure in the distance looks like he could be…noo…surely not… scrubbing the caravan roof!  Are the parents coming or something?

So the barn, caravan, chicken coop, goat sleeping shed etc are all zone 1, which is more or less complete.

  • Zone 2: “has typically larger shrubs, small fruit and mixed orchard, windbreaks, poultry, ponds, terraces, etc.”

I have planted about 30 blackcurrant shoots, about 30 raspberry,  2 blueberry, a couple of redcurrant and whitecurrant in zone 2, along with 3 pear trees, two apple, two cherry, a quince and a plum tree so far.  I wonder how long before we see any fruit?  img_0957The pond is still not quite a pond due to all the wet weather making digging almost impossible.  The poultry will be free to roam this area and assist the frogs in keeping the slug population down.

Eventually here we plan to have a composting loo and solar heated shower, but hey, manyana.

At the edges of this area, in wetter ground, I have planted scores of willow slips and now some bamboo.  Hopefully this will provide more wind-break, material for construction and garden use, and fuel-eventually.

  • Zone 3: contains unpruned and unmulched orchard, larger pastures or ranges for meat animals or flocks, and main crops.

This is where it gets a bit messy due to the fact that we just have one acre had trouble with siting the polytunnel.  By rights this should be in zone 1, but this and the compost heap are in-between zones 2 and 3.  Due to the fact that the barn was already right in front of the house, we have no land at the back of the house to the north, and most of the rest was wooded, we had to lose a few sycamore trees last autumn to clear a space for the tunnel and let enough light get to it.  It seems to have worked, and we still have most of our beautiful trees.IMG_0976

Hmm, meat animals -nope, we thought about it, but the goats in zone 3 will definitely just be pets.  Not sustainable, not permaculture, but there we go…city folks in the country eh?  As my previous blog explained, the dairy thing just isn’t going to happen any time soon.

  • Zone 4: is semi-managed and semi-wild used for gathering, hardy foods, unpruned trees, and wildlife and forest management.

This is “the rest” of the woodland where I have dotted more saplings and fruit bushes around for general foraging and wildlife.  We have impregnated logs with edible fungi which hopefully will make their home here. When I finish procrastinating, I will make some bird and bat boxes perhaps.  Here we have the hedgehog house, piles of totting wood and lots of spring wildflowers.  I am determined to get wild garlic growing here!

  • Zone 5: is unmanaged wilderness – where we observe and learn; it is our essential place for meditation, where we are visitors, not managers.

The 6-10ft wide border around the perimeter consist of very tall trees of various species, both evergreen and deciduous, an ancient hedgerow, and on two sides, a ditch on the other side.  Apart from throwing a few more dead twigs and branches onto the hedgerow here and there, we are leaving it to the wildlife, just observing and admiring.  The other day I spotted a tree creeper for the first time, making its way up our large willow.  What a delight that was!