All roads lead to the Burren this October with the return of the Burren Winterage Weekend, an annual celebration of the ancient and unique practice of winter grazing in the Burren. Co-ordinated by local charity The Burrenbeo Trust, this year’s festival features a wide range of farming, heritage, and cultural events, most of which will take place in-person in Kinvara, Co. Galway and its neighbouring Burren farms while some will take place online via Zoom.
In-person events will include a number of farm walks, farm poetry and music, a farming for nature film night, children’s creative nature-writing workshop, an introduction to winterage meats, traditional cheese tasting and the Burren Food Fayre. For those interested in issues around sustainable farming, there is a two-day ‘School’ with panel discussions, farm workshops and keynote presentations. Innovative European Innovative Projects (EIP-AGRI) from across Ireland will be profiled while farmers themselves will share their deep knowledge of the land and livestock on the Friday. Followed by the Farming For Nature day of workshops and panel discussions leading into the annual Farming for Nature Awards will be a chance to meet and celebrate some of our most outstanding regenerative farmers. The flagship event of the festival, the Community Cattle drive on Sunday 24th of Oct will offer participants a chance to become ‘a farmer for a day’ and partake in Ireland’s most ancient pastoral tradition by accompanying a local farming family as they herd their cattle on to their upland winterage pastures.
Online events will feature talks on the role of pastoralists in our global environmental health by Fiona Flintan and Ann Waters-Bayer, a vision for Ireland’s sustainable systems by Tom Arnold, and farming experiences in Irish literature by author Nicholas Grene.
One of the event organisers Brendan Dunford noted that ‘This year’s event comes at a particularly important juncture. There has been so much talk about Ireland’s new Food Systems Strategy, our Climate Action Bill, the EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy, as well as our new CAP Strategic Plans. Much of the success of these ambitious strategies will depend on farmer’s capacity to deliver safe, nutritious food while reducing emissions and reversing declines in water quality and biodiversity loss. This is a huge ask of our farmers but one that is possible if we get farmers ‘on board’ and offer them the incentives and supports they need to deliver what society wants’.
Local farmer and community leader Michael Davoren remarked that ‘after all the lock downs, we are so excited about welcoming back our farming friends from all over Ireland to the Burren. This year we are featuring some of the best of ‘homegrown’ talent, with over 40 speakers, most of them farmers. The Winterage weekend rightly puts farmers centre-stage – they have so much knowledge, enthusiasm and inspiration to share and now, at a time of crisis, we really do need to listen and learn from them’.
This unique event, held to coincide with the ancient harvest feast of Samhain, marks an important turning point in the farming calendar, when the summer’s bounty has been harvested and we face into the long winter ahead. In the Burren this is marked by the equally ancient, and highly unique, practice of winterage, whereby livestock are herded onto the limestone hills to enjoy the remnants of the summer flora, the calcium-rich water and the warm ‘dry lie’ of the limestone rock.
The Burren Winterage festival marks this inflection point in the farming year by celebrating the bounty that farming – at its best – can deliver: Nutritious food, rich biodiversity, diverse landscapes, healthy water and soils and thriving rural communities. Farmers from all over Ireland – beef, sheep, dairy and tillage and horticultural – are central to the weekend of celebration, learning, debate and fun, culminating in a very special communal cattle drive to the hills of the Burren.
Places are limited for all in-person events and will require pre-booking. More information available on www.burrenwinterage.com