Note: I visited Molly Gallivan’s Traditional Irish Farm as part of the travel conference TBEX Ireland. This was not a sponsored visit since I was a paid conference attendee and the tour came with the conference. However, the exact tour I went one was a group tour organized for the day. Molly Gallivan’s has group tours that can be pre-arranged like this, or you can visit as individuals or small groups. Check their website about exactly which activities you are interested in to see how to schedule it as an individual or you can ask them for a reference to a group tour if you want to go on a completely guided tour like I did.
Visiting a Traditional Irish Farm
Last month, I spent two weeks driving all over the Emerald Isle. I saw castles, country homes, and historic pubs. One of the coolest history-inspired activities I did while I was there was visiting the traditional Irish farm called Molly Gallivan’s in the Sheen Valley in Kenmare, County Kerry. We tasted moonshine, watched a bread-making demonstration, and hung out with some pretty cool donkeys.
Molly Gallivan’s Farm History
The farm is named after the real Molly Gallivan, who by all accounts was one tough cookie. She owned the farm in the first half of the nineteenth century, and her descendants lived in the cottage all the way until 1997.
After being widowed with small children, she did what she had to do to survive. She turned her farm into an illegal pub, started brewing moonshine, and began welcoming tourists to taste her “Molly’s Mountain Dew.” You can check out pictures of Molly and her cottage here.
After the last of Molly’s descendants passed away, a local family decided to purchase the farm and restore it to the way it would have been during Molly’s time. Stephen O’Sullivan was born in another house in the valley, just over the hill from the farm, and he didn’t want developers to destroy the historic spot. Instead, he and his wife Frances, along with their children, began the sometimes-thankless work of being the custodians of history. They were determined to keep the memory of the Old Sheen Valley alive. The run the farm in a way locals and tourists alike can experience what Ireland would have been like during the 1840s.
The Sheen Valley
Molly Gallivan’s is in the Sheen Valley outside Kenmare. I went on a day trip from Killarney, where I was based in during this part of my trip, exploring the Kenmare area. The road back from Molly Gallivan’s to Killarney was along the Ring of Kerry, which was stunning.
Of course, before getting to Ireland, I had heard of the famous beauty of the Ring of Kerry. However, I hadn’t heard anything about how beautiful the Sheen Valley is. There are more than enough local activities to devote a few days to just this part of Ireland.
I know that so many places in Ireland are covered in gorgeous, green, rolling hills. But even after having been in the country for a week already, the Sheen Valley made me stop and stare.
Things to Do at Molly Gallivan’s
Molly Gallivan’s is currently listed as the number one thing to do in the Kenmare area on Trip Advisory, which makes sense to me since they provide a pretty wide array of ways to appreciate the history of the farm while still having a really good time.
The farm has a lot of different things you can do, some you can show up and start, while others need to be scheduled in advance. Here are the things that I did (or wished I’d gotten to be able to do), but if you’re planning your trip make sure to check their website for times and availability.
Explore Molly’s Cottage
When my group tour arrived, we went straight into Molly’s cottage for a breadmaking demonstration from Frances, one of the owners of the farm. She explained that during Molly’s time, guests would have been expected to help with the breadmaking as part of the customs of being a good guest.
Stephen and Frances didn’t ask for assistance (and everyone in my group was too in awe of Frances to offer).
Stephen, who would lead the rest of the tour, also gave us an introduction to the history of the two-hundred-year-old farm, in addition to sharing why he and Frances purchased and restored it.
The cottage has been restored to the way it would have looked during Molly’s time in the 1840s, but it’s amazing to think someone was living there all the way until 1997!
The moonshine demonstration was definitely a highlight for me, although we actually did this toward the end of our visit. Stephen explained to us the history of moonshine in Ireland and taught us how it’s made. This version of moonshine is called poitin (sounds like poutine), and tastes pretty good! I left with my own bottle to share when I got home.
It’s amazing to think about the ingenuity that Molly, a widowed farmer, had to start this business, and even more wonderful to think that her memory is kept alive in such a dedicated way. Right down to her moonshine still.
Here’s a description of how they make the moonshine from their website:
Molly distilled her renowned home-made Poitin (whiskey) locally known as “Molly’s Mountain Dew”.
Potatoes or barley were first fermented with sugar and baker’s yeast in large barrels to give “the wash”. It was then heated over an open fire distilled through a “worm” or coiled copper pipe to give a clear but potent whiskey.
When we left, we got certificates in Poutin making, which was a pretty cool souvenir by itself! (Of course, taking home some moonshine was better)!
Walk through a Traditional Irish Farm
This was really fun. Driving through Ireland, you see so many farm animals (especially sheep!), but you don’t usually get up close and personal with them. But at Molly Gallivan’s you get to walk among the farm animals.
I saw a naughty pig try to get out, a sheep butt Stephen to get more food, and chickens running wherever they wanted. I was in farm animal heaven.
(If you want more Irish animal goodness, check out this post about Irish baby animals from my first trip).
Explore the Famine Ruins
On the farm is a ruin from the Irish famine. Stephen did a wonderful job explaining what life would have been like for the (very large) family that lived in this house during the potato blight.
The area was a very poor area due to the fact that the ground is rocky. When potatoes failed year after year, there were not great alternative food sources that could be grown in the region.
Test the Sun Calendar
There are two large flagstones that align on the summer solstice. Moved into place over 6000 years ago, it’s amazing to realize that people have been using this one plot of land for all of Irish history. I wasn’t there on the solstice, but (with a little planning) you can be!
This history is also represented by the giant druid statue that greets you when you arrive at the farm. The place where the statue is standing is, aptly enough, called Druid’s View:
TWO West Cork sculptors are behind Kerry’s newest interactive tourist attraction, a 12ft Druid located at the aptly-named Druid’s View.
The druid, carved from the trunk of a large Monterey Cypress tree and cloaked in copper, was recently welcomed to its new home, at Molly Gallivan’s Cottage and Traditional Farm in Bonane, Co Kerry, close to the West Cork border.
The imposing and impressive Druid figure is the result of an exciting collaboration between the two artists – wood sculptor Anthony Cornforth and metal sculptor Peter Little.
The statue is really beautiful in person, but I didn’t realize it was also interactive! I’ll have to go back to check this out:
Located between Kenmare and Glengarriff on the Beara Peninsula, the druid represents the first settlers in the Sheen Valley, more than 6,000 years ago. To enable visitors to interact and engage with the sculpture, a camera has been placed on the druid’s staff. Visitors can look through an eyepiece enclosed in the druid’s cloak and share in the ‘Druid’s View’.
The druid looks across Sheen valley to the highest peak – Barra-Bui – where a cairn on the summit marks the resting place of an ancient Chieftain.
See the Turf Bog
In autumn and winter, you can smell peat burning in fireplaces all across Ireland. While the land at Molly Gallivan’s might not be great for growing crops, the bog is perfect for digging out peat to dry for the fire.
What is a bog? Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
A bog is a wetland that accumulates peat, a deposit of dead plant material—often mosses, and in a majority of cases, sphagnum moss. It is one of the four main types of wetlands.
Much of Europe’s peat-producing bogs have been completely used up, so the bogs of Ireland are special. There are actually rules about how much and where they can cut peat so that the bogs aren’t destroyed.
And of course, where there are bogs, there are bog bodies.
Enjoy a Traditional Irish Evening
I was there on a tour of the farm, so I didn’t get to experience a traditional Irish evening. However, this looked super cool so I’ll pass on the info. Call ahead to see about booking one. They throw evenings straight out of the 1840s, including an American Wake to say goodbye to relatives moving to the United States to escape the famine.
Traditional Tea or Irish Meal
If you can’t be a part of a full evening, you can still eat in the restaurant or have afternoon tea in the tea house.
Check out how lovely the restaurant is!
Wander the Craft Store
The store is full of handwoven wool garments and other amazing traditional gifts. My suitcase was full before even getting to this part of the country, so I didn’t get to shop the way I wanted to. I did come home with this lovely mug and some moonshine!
I absolutely love buying Irish wool products, and if I had a friend with a newborn I wouldn’t have been able to resist picking up something soft and cuddly as a gift. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could justify picking up that day, no matter how hard I tried. But if this had been my one big trip of the year, I would have gone bananas in that shop!
Tips for Visiting
- Their hours change in the winter and some of these things are by appointment only, so call ahead or check out their website.
- Prepare to be outside walking around the farm (sunscreen, good shoes, etc).
- Give yourself enough time-I didn’t have enough!
- The area has lots of other cool activities you can do-chocolate making, nature hikes, parts of the Ring of Kerry, etc.
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