Photographer’s Notebook: Hook Head

element: Barley / DATE: 30/04/2020

I live in Wexford Town, about 45 mins from Hook Head. It was overcast, raining and the temperature had dropped considerably in town compared to the days previous. I gave grower Martin Foley a call to see what he was up to:

“We’re doing a bit of sowing today,” says Martin. 

I asked him what the weather was like; it was a one word response:

“Powerful.”

Growing up in Wexford, you know that when a farmer uses that word, it means one of two things: warm, with glorious sunshine; or arctic, with gale-force winds to cut you in half. I knew it would be the latter. 

As I approached the Hook peninsula, the weather seemed to open up. I stopped the car in the middle of the road at a high point that overlooks the limb of land from afar. Hook Head was shining in the sunlight.

Hook Head from the distance
Hook Head road
Hook Head

The approach to the lighthouse is majestic. The road can take two-way traffic, but only just. Eventually, after a few more photo opportunities, I arrived at Martin’s farm: the last stop on the road before the Atlantic Ocean. 

Martin’s land actually envelopes Hook lighthouse, one of the oldest in the world and a major tourist attraction in the region. The current structure has been in place for almost 850 years. The location feels old. I’ve come here many times as a kid and today, it is all but evacuated due to the encroaching global pandemic. Bar, of course, two farmers and a photographer with a long lens.

Two tractors were out on the land when I arrived. Martin himself was out rolling. He wasn’t lying about the weather. It was absolutely baltic and blowing a gale. I managed to tempt him out of the tractor for a very quick portrait mid-way through the visit. He was reluctant – I think, due to the cold, not that you’d know from his outfit of a polo shirt and suit jacket. There was no time for chat anyway; farmers just want to get the seed in the ground. 

Martin Foley, Hook Head
seed
Hook Head lighthouse
Stone ditches

The land is as flat as I’ve seen. Some fields could easily moonlight as a football or cricket pitch. Sowing is dusty work; watching the machinery run through the land reminded me of last year in Bannow Island. Plumes of soil thrown up into the air on a cold sea breeze. Bannow, however, has plenty of soil. I remember my feet sinking into it like sand that day. Here in Hook Head, the soil feels shallow, as if you can feel the limestone bedrock underfoot. Watching clouds of dust being carried on the gales and out to sea, you’d wonder how there is farmland left here at all. But, there is. I wonder what it will look like in mid-season when it turns green against the lighthouse.

The hedges, if you can call them that, are a hotchpotch of stone reclaimed from the area, including rounded stones from the beaches adjacent. Bushes of briar bind the loose rock, holding it all together. A small but important defence here.

Hook sowing
soil at Hook Head
Hook Head dust

Looking across the field, I watched the sowing machine go back and forth along the farm’s boundary closest to the cliffs. There’s not much between it and the ocean. I’m sure these fields have seen a few waves in their time. And, if not for the soil, I’m sure I could taste salt myself.

Hook Head also gives us one of the rare opportunities to see underneath the farm. Five decent strides from the farm gate is the cliff edge. Thankfully, the wind is in the right direction today, and I’m able to walk down on to the exposed limestone bedrock. In certain parts, there’re 10 to 12 feet of exposed soil, revealing the millenia of strata underneath.

I waved at Martin’s tractor from the car, as I took the only road out of Hook Head. I’m not sure if he saw me. A special place, indeed.

– Caolan Barron, Spring 2020

signs