Donkey Love

My hand is shaking slightly, which is troublesome, because so is the tiny chair I have pinched in between my thumb and forefinger. I’m trying to make the seat big enough for a fairy king’s bottom to fit, without splitting the bark with the tip of my Swiss army knife. This is my most ambitious item of furniture so far, with its curved, inset seat-back, and it’s going to go fabulously with matching table and fireplace. Scattered around me are bits of bark, clumps of moss in five different shades of green, sticks of bamboo of all lengths, logs of wood, paintbrushes, saws, drills, tins of paint, glue and wood varnish, and an assortment of miniature furniture pieces.

Welcome to the fairy garden workshop, my “Irish farm experience” turned into Jess Gil’s very own Fairy Tale: A true story. Runaway, the barn cat, is doing figure eights around my legs, and Rollo, the donkey has wandered over from his manger to say hello. He ee-ooors at me and I give his head a scratch. Senile Sam, the golden retriever, might come up from the house and bark at me for a couple of minutes. He was run over by a car out the front of the house and seems to be missing part of his brain. From my work bench in the shed I can hear the geese honking outside – they’re about to start laying so they are especially obnoxious. And the two white, plumed cockerels crow all day over their chestnut flock.

Every morning I take Ronda and Pup, the two working dogs, for a walk around the property. I now have a pair of Wellies, so can trudge through the mud in the bottom paddocks to say hello to the four resident horses, who’re getting fat on all the winter feed. Then I walk through the tropical gardens below the house, or along the Seawalk, if the Atlantic isn’t too mental that day. I might help Eoin vaccinate some sheep, which aside from building fairy houses, is the next best thing I’m good at. I make sure I say good morning to the nervous ewe next door – she’s just had the first lamb of the season and I like to see his little bum running away from me.

And some mornings Salem and I just hang out taking selfies.

It’s my last day in donkey fairy heaven. I have been extending my stay by a couple of days for the last two weeks, partly because I’ve become obsessive about perfecting my fairy creations, and also because I’m determined to see some lamb births before I leave. All Eoin’s sheep are hobbling around out there in the rain, very pregnant, but stubbornly refusing to drop their bundles.

But I’m really going this time, lamb or no lamb. It’s midday, and Eoin comes into the shed to change his rain pants, which he does three times a day on average. “We got a lamb, Jess,” he says. “Top paddock.”

“Oh my god,” I think is all I say. And then I’m legging it out of the shed, into the rain and up the farm road. I’m in my wellington boots, running up hill, and I’m grinning so much my face hurts. My wellies are springy and I’m flailing about a bit, trying not to slip on loose stones or in muddy puddles. Valentia Island is made of slate, so it’s everywhere on the roads, and very slippery when it’s wet. I strain my eyes in the rain, looking at all the woolly bodies in the paddock, trying to spot something small and new-born looking.

And there it is, this little black faced lamb, less than thirty minutes old, staggering around, bleeping, dragging his umbilical cord around underneath him, and definitely taking the cake for cutest animal on the farm.

Within the hour, Mum has dropped another perfect, slimy, woolly lamb on the ground. One has two perfect little horns on his perfect little head. We bring them in to the barn out of the elements, but not before I’ve had a good cuddle, and introduced them to their donkey housemates.