For hundreds of years, Burren farmers have marked the end of summer by herding their cattle up onto winter pastures in the limestone uplands. This tradition is known as winterage and the Burren is one of the only places in the world where it still occurs.
Through the centuries Burren cattle have been renowned for their delicious meat and milk attributed in no small way to their grazing patterns, the flowers that grow in their wake attract botanist enthusiasts from all over the globe and the Burren landscape is awash with archeological remains of fortifications built to protect these prized cattle. Winterage is a practice that has been integral to shaping today’s Burren.
As Dr Brendan Dunford of the landscape charity Burrenbeo Trust explained: “The practice of Winterage is not only unique and intriguing, it’s a big part of the reason why we have so many monuments, flowers and stories here in the Burren today. Witnessing the cattle browsing on the herb-rich winterage pastures, drinking from the calcium-rich springs or enjoying the ‘dry-lie’ of the limestone captures the very essence of this ‘fertile rock’.
The Burren Winterage Weekend is set to celebrate all facets of the Burren’s fascinating farming heritage and the broader significance of pastoral farming, this weekend in various locations across the Burren region.
There will be a food fayre with stalls and demonstrations to showcase the Burren’s fine food and drink. Walks over and under the limestone landscape will tell the tales of its geology.
There will be a display and detailed talk on the traditional shorthorn cow, working horse demonstrations, a farm machinery display and explanations of best practice in the management of Burren winterages.
Knowledgeable speakers will bring to life the ancient monuments of the landscape. Whilst the international dimension of farming will be illustrated through artistic displays and talks.
As part of the weekend, the landscape charity, the Burrenbeo Trust, is organising a walking celebration across one of Ireland’s most inspiring landscapes accompanied by local farmers, poets and philosophers.
The Herdsman’s Walk, approximately 8km, promises to be a memorable immersion in Ireland’s most exceptional pastoral heritage. On Sunday morning everyone is invited to join in the inaugural community re-enactment of a Winterage Cattle Drove and walk with the cattle from Fanore up to their winter pastures.
As well as being a time for the movement of cattle, Samhain is also a time for festivities and celebrations that herald in winter. There will be fancy dress scavenger hunts for children, traditional music sessions in the pubs, stories and an performance by the renowned Lismorahaun Singers.
The Winterage Weekend is open to all, from the hardened farmer to the country enthusiast, from those who remember the cattle droves to children who have only heard tales of them.
It is an opportunity to celebrate our farming heritage. Event co-ordinator, Brigid Barry of Burrenbeo Trust said: “It’s wonderful to honour the many generations that have herded cattle on these hills, to celebrate their legacy and to hope that these wonderful traditions can somehow be sustained into the future.”
Watch the The Burren Winterage – A New Film by Gavin Frankel in association with Burrenbeo Trust and the BFCP for a preview.