Photographer’s Notebook: Ratheadon

element: Barley / DATE: 17/04/2020

Ratheadon, Leighlinbridge, farmed by Andrew and Stephen McDonnell, visited on a mild, changeable day in March. Backdropped by the Blackstairs Mountains, the farm at Ratheadon stands at the junction of three borders between Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny.

The main field had been half-ploughed the day before, and by the time that I arrived, work had resumed on the other half. It’s interesting to see the difference in the soil between the freshly ploughed land and that which was lifted 24 hours previous. 

McDonnels, Ratheadon
Ploughed previously

Having seen a number of Waterford growers in action at this time of year, all across southern Ireland, I’ve found that ploughing has become a hypnotic thing to watch. Andrew was particularly enjoying ploughing on the day – he was manning his brand new tractor, so quite happy to be showing off his new toy.

Fields at Ratheadon
New toy

One or two of the fields at Ratheadon have a number of telephone lines running through it. They dissect the field diagonally; like big statues, they provide an interesting point of reference and a sense of scale. Andrew navigates the poles expertly, carving the sod around the base with surgeon like precision. This is highly skilled work. The land seems to be ploughing well; to me the fresh sod looked like dark chocolate, and those chunks laying flat to the sky glimmered in the afternoon sunlight.

Ploughing around telegraph poles
Phone lines at Ratheadon
Dark soil - terroir note at Ratheadon

There were signs of the prevailing wind – something I now know to look out for, and a key terroir note. You can see this in the leaning tops of the trees that made up the hedges. On a day like this, certain views across the land were a sea of browns – with the soil and trees blending like paint on an artist’s palette, all of which was overlooked by the iconic Mount Leinster. Down the road, towards Leighlinbridge, are a number of other fields that had been sown the day before. These all lay on the other side of a dirt road to a swathe of winter-sown barley; a great comparative visual in growth rates, which if I have time I’ll have to revisit.

Trees at Ratheadon
Tractor ploughing

We’re in a part of the world that is famous for producing grain. But this region in particular has a strong visible history in tillage.

So, after our farm visit, we headed out a little further to follow the River Barrow, where we found the old mill in Bagenalstown, a majestic, towering stone structure that even though has faded a little is still in some sort of use.

– Caolan Barron, Spring 2020

Small road at Ratheadon
Old Malting House