Cork farm hosts socially distanced Santa visits

An award-winning open farm in East Cork is welcoming Santa to meet and greet young people and hear what they want for Christmas — albeit at a two-metre distance, writes CHRIS DUNNE
Cork farm hosts socially distanced Santa visits

Family members, Eddie and Teresa Leahy and Joanna Ahern in their take out café at Leahy’s Farm , Dongourney, Co Cork. The family are setting up their first outdoor Christmas Grotto where children will be able to come to visit Santa Claus this year. Picture Dan Linehan

VISITS to Santa will be very different this year due to Covid-19 — but Leahy’s farm in East Cork have pulled out all the stops to ensure children who still want to have a word with the big man, can do so safely.

Teresa Leahy runs Leahy’s Open Farm in Dungourney with husband Donal. The couple have three sons and two daughters, Andy, aged 20, Tara, aged 16, Jack, aged 14, Charlie, aged 13, and Abbey, aged 11.

“Santa was very impressed with the set-up here on the farm this year and he said he can still comfortably have a chat with the children about what they want for Christmas even though they are two metres away from him. He knows everyone will be safe where he’ll be,” said Teresa.

Can he still ask them if they’ve been naughty or nice?

Teresa laughs.

“I’m sure he can!” says Teresa, who is an old friend of Santa’s welcoming him to Leahy’s Farm every December.

No doubt Santa’s booming voice with his signature ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ Will ring out loud reaching the children’s ears?

“I’m sure Santa’s presence will be felt near and far!” says Teresa.

“The barn is very sheltered and the children will have a good view of Santa and they’ll be able to get their photograph with him standing two metres away.”

Santa is usually in the old cottage in the yard with Mrs Claus, isn’t he?

“Yes, he is,” says Teresa.

“Mrs Claus will be busy baking in the kitchen and the children can see her and say Hello to her as they pass through.”

Santa got special dispensation to travel in his sleigh from his home in the North Pole to make sure he can operate safely from the barn in Leahy’s Farm.

“His old friend our reindeer is here on the farm too if Santa needs a lift anywhere in a hurry.” Santa’s helper, the resident reindeer on Leahy’s Farm, is in good company.

Maisie the cow is always available for milking if young visitors wish to have the hands-on experience. Her rich cream goes to the chocolate factory situated on the farm and it is an essential ingredient in the delicious Leahy home-made ice-cream, as well as for the scrumptious home-baking available for visitors to the farm.

“We provide fresh home-made goods for the coffee shop here on the farm,” says Teresa.

“Visitors love a cuppa and a slice of home-made apple tart cake while touring the farm and enjoying seeing all the animals and attractions here. The children have great freedom in the playground.”

The chocolate factory near the museum of yesteryear, Nanna’s Nook, must be like visiting Willy Wonka’s real-life Chocolate factory?

“The kids get a great kick out of it,” says Teresa.

The lambs are bright-eyed and waggly-tailed when they get bottle-fed and the sneaky snake often makes an appearance, hoping for a snack or two.

“The snake is very popular!” says Teresa.

“Humphrey the camel, here for 13 years, was a real novelty,” Teresa adds.

“Our llama is very sociable and his wool is very soft. The Alpaca is very like the llama and they are closely related.”

Leahy’s Open Farm in Dungourney didn’t always house such exotic animals.

“It was originally a dairy and pig farm, owned by Donal’s parents, Eddie and Eileen Leahy,” Teresa explains.

“They had seven children, four girls and three boys, and they lived in the old cottage in the centre of the yard which is now known as Farmer Eddie’s Cottage.

“The old cottage dates back over 100 years and Eddie and Eileen’s first four children were born there.”

The couple built a new house down the boreen close to the main road to cater for their increasing brood.

“They made every effort to expand the farm and very slowly over the years the farm turned into a very successful dairy and pig farm,” says Teresa.

Eddie, who worked hard on the farm, had a love for vintage farm machinery and when he had time off on Sundays, himself and Eileen often went to vintage festivals and shows. Over the years Eddie built up a massive collection of vintage farm machinery.

“It was a big effort to load up the machinery and equipment to bring it around to festivals,” says Teresa.

“So, in, 1996 Eddie decided to lay out the vintage farm machinery on the farm. He put a sign out at the road inviting people to come and see it. It gathered momentum and there was huge interest from the public. Families would come and tour the farm and make a day out of it.

Eddie and Eileen, with family support, decided to open up the farm to visitors.

Eileen was a master baker who always loved baking and when the coffee shop was built on site it proved to be a runaway success.

“Eileen absolutely loved home-baking,” says Teresa.

“Everything was made fresh every day by Eileen and other family members. The coffee shop was a big hit from the start.”

Eddie and Eileen, seeing so much potential in diversifying into agri- tourism, sought advice to proceed further in their ambitions for the open farm.

To date, the support, advice and funding received through the SECAD group has been fundamental to the development of the farm.

Each year, the facilities continued to grow with extra additions and attractions added. Leahy’s Open Farm soon became a well-known tourist attraction in east Cork, attracting thousands of visitors.

The farm was always a family affair.

“Donal and I took over the reins of the open a farm in 2013 when Eddie retired,” says Teresa.

“All the family get roped in! Including Mam and Dad down the road. Their children, grandchildren and a large number of locals, all get part-time employment from the open farm. We are so lucky to be working with amazing people who want the best for the farm.

“Everyone working at Leahy’s is an absolute asset to the farm and they all deserve a good pat on the back for all the work they put in.

“Donal’s brother, James, farms the agricultural land.”

The 18 acre farm is home to an array of farm animals, including hens, ducks, goats, and sheep that all have good relations with the more exotic animals living on Leahy’s Open Farm.

Eddie Leahy’s love of farm machinery is evident.

“The kids love operating the mini JCB in the digger park,” says Teresa.

“Older kids are attracted to the adventure trail and climbing towers. Mums and dads get serious fun on the quad and barrel train rides.”

Leahy’s Open Farm was eerily quiet this year due to Covid-19.

“It was fairly traumatic,” says Teresa.

“We didn’t know whether to let our staff go or not. Things were so uncertain and unknown. Our Halloween event, which is a really fun event for children, had to be cancelled.

“There were no school tours or birthday parties. In all the years it was the first time we had to close our doors.”

Even though things were different this year, Santa was going to try his best to make it to Cork — and arrived at the farm on December 3, staying right up until Christmas.

“Tickets to see Santa sold out in a day and a half,” says Teresa.

“We are creating a lovely festive atmosphere with fairy lights and music. With our reindeer nearby, Santa will feel right at home!”

Leahy’s Open Farm was named as the winner of the 2019 Talamh Sustainable Living award for its enterprise that has ‘transformed the holding from a dairy and pig production to an agri-tourist model.’

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