A tour across the changing culinary landscape of Ireland

Feeding a cow

Down on Olly’s Farm

Our spirits were light despite the overcast morning. We were driving into the Dublin Mountains on our first full day in Ireland, and after recovering a bit from jet lag, we were full of energy. We (my boyfriend, Conor, myself, and another friend) were headed to visit Olly’s Farm. I was a bit anxious never having randomly visited a farm before, especially run by a stranger I met on the Internet. And my friend had never been in Ireland before so I also wanted to ensure he enjoyed the trip. The pressure was on.
A Vesta cow

Olly’s newest addition: the sweet Vesta.

Feeding bread to Olly

Feeding bread to some excited sheep and one determined goat, the indomitable Archie, who is lurking behind me in the photo. When I was young, we had a goat named Little John who loved to jump on me. Some things have not changed! Except Archie did not knock me over!

Smiling sheep at Olly
Using my cellphone as our GPS (since our rental car GPS was good at giving us wrong turns), we drove out of Dublin City and towards the hills in the western region of Dublin County. The twisted roads grew significantly more narrow and my grip on the seat tighter and tighter as we neared Olly’s. We reached the top of a valley and drove down into Middle-earth (Hobbits looked like they might appear at any moment, no fooling). Photos could never do the lush, rolling beauty of the hills justice. We passed insanely green grass, legions of sheep and golden furze blanketing the landscape before crossing a bubbling brook. After taking it all in, we ascended the other side of the Shire like valley and reached Olly’s.

I found Olly after searching for small farms (smallholders is the term) in Ireland on the Web, and I was intrigued immediately. He runs an apiary, where he has played a role in bringing back the Irish bee population, which was essentially extinct. Small apiaries, like Olly’s, are the reason bees are back. He makes his own honey, grows vegetables, raises pigs, sheep, and a rare breed of cattle, the Dexter. We connected on Twitter, Facebook, and email, leading to a spotlight on our website and this visit.
We arrived at the gate to his drive and as it opened, a lovely farmhouse with a million dollar view of the hills and valley was revealed below. Olly greeted us as we pulled to a stop. He was just like his emails: friendly, easygoing, earnest, and inspiring. We felt at home immediately; this would turn out to be a favorite day on the trip.

Olly is a true smallholder. Honey is a focus; however, he has added pigs and Dexter cattle to his farm. We first met the cows and fed them a bit of bread. According to Olly, the Dexter is a small cow and since butchers charge per animal rather than by weight they aren’t as economical. However, they are an Irish breed and he feels it’s important to save them.

We went on to watch him feed the pigs, some of whom loved to squeal when you touched them. He currently has four and is raising them for food; it was interesting to sample some of his own cured pork later during our visit. Next up, we said hello to some sheep. Lambing season was in full swing during our trip. These new lambs were a bit shy with us; however, the adults were quite excited about having some bread. And there was a male sheep named Ram Chop, who wanted in on the action but had to watch from the fence.

We ate produce from his garden, which included an awesome and warm polytunnel (complete with a table and chairs for working, along with all his plants - I would love one). The purple broccoli was scrumptious as were the garlic chives. He uses raised beds and recently obtained a seed propagator to ensure that his seeds germinate despite the daily temperature changes in Ireland. They also have a weather station on the farm! Find it on Olly’s website.

Most exciting, we put on some bee suits and had a first hand look at an active bee colony, even eating honey directly from the hive. I had always run from bees when I saw them flying around me, freaking out a bit to be honest. However, I saw a few on the porch the other day and felt very calm. I think more education around bees is invaluable for future generations. I am glad someone like Olly loves to give visitors a first hand experience with bees. Changed my perspective entirely.
Libby in a bee suit

The latest from Milan! Me in a bee suit with Stella behind me waiting for someone to chase her.

Handling bees at Olly

Olly gave us each some honey from the hive and explained that the bees will repair the section he scraped by the end of the day. He used a bit of smoke to calm the bees down before opening the hive. Here, a bee was crawling towards my hand and there was one on my mask. I have a bit of a phobia, but after watching them I relaxed and was intrigued by the colony. We even got to see the Queen. Our camera decided not to focus for a few photos, however!

Filtered and unfilitered beeswax

Olly holds up filtered beeswax, on the left, and raw, on the right.

Petting the pigs at Olly

Laurel and Hardy with the two Ronnies! My first time touching a pig actually!

At the end of our visit, Olly served up thin slices of his homemade dry-cured pork, tea, and what I call a honey tasting. We sampled several different honeys, each from hives placed in different regions of Dublin County. I never realized that people move the hives to different locales. And the flavor varies depending on the types of plants around the bees. So we had a wine tasting but with honey! The one with the most distinctive flavor for me was the Heather, but I also loved the Soft Set. Needless to say, we left with several jars of his delectable honey and some even made it back Stateside!

The day served as a wonderful overview of the hard work and passion required to be a smallholder. Olly loves his animals; and yes, he also uses them for food. In my life at least, I have always avoided some of the realities of farm life, namely the killing of animals. Surprisingly, I am not going to become a full-on vegetarian because I now get the connection; nevertheless, I hope to continue making better choices when I purchase meat and dairy products. To know that the food I ingest had a life on a farm like Olly’s, with a natural diet and room to play, makes a difference.

A great warm place to spend a day.


Honey from the tasting.

The Dublin Mountains

The million euro view from the garden.

Petting Olly

Luc, formerly Lucy (found out she was a he after naming him). Friendly little guy.