My Weekends: I am up with the lark every morning

Alan Kingston owns and operates Glenilen Farm in Drimoleague with his wife Valerie, they make fresh dairy products using local milk
My Weekends: I am up with the lark every morning

Alan Kingston, Glenilen Farm, Drimoleague, with some of their products. Picture: Denis Scannell

Alan Kingston features in our My Weekend column

TELL us a little bit about yourself

I grew up here on our small 59 acre farm in West Cork, it has been in our family for 200 years.

I’m the youngest of four, growing up with two brothers and a sister, who all still live in West Cork. I have loved farming from a young age and have fond memories of taking churns of milk to the creamery with my father.

I went to school in Skibbereen and I’ve often been asked why I decided to leave school at 15, my answer is always because I wasn’t allowed to leave at 14.

I went straight into farming, I also worked with my older brother Peter Ross who is a market gardener picking vegetables to supply locally. I’m married to Val and we have three children Sally who is 22, Grace who is 20 and 18-year-old Ben.

Val spent time volunteering with a dairy project in Burkina Faso before we settled down and got married. She began experimenting with a small amount of milk from the farm and started selling cheesecakes and soft cheese in the farmers market in Bantry.

That little enterprise has grown significantly since 1997 and we now employ 50 people.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

I love to stretch out in front of the fire and read the paper. Friday evenings can be busy.

I often help out at our local kids club in Drimoleague. We could have up to 30 children each week and there’s music, story time, games and crafts. I will usually finish the night by watching a bit of the Late Late Show.

Lie ins or up with the lark.. which is it for you?

To Vals’ disgust, I am up with the lark every morning. It is part of the farming blood, I can’t sleep in and I’m up before the sun rises almost every day of the year.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

It can be hard to avoid work at the weekend. Glenilen Farm started at our kitchen table and remained there until 2002 when we opened our first factory. We’ve extended since then but it is right beside the house.

It is the farming mindset, you live at your workplace and work never really creeps out.

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

I would love to visit Palermo in Sicily again and I would of course bring Val with me. There was something really special about the culture, the weather and the food. The fresh fruit and fresh fish was amazing.

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

We love to spend time walking on Sheep’s Head, it is wild and wonderful. We also make use of the Drimoleague walkways.

Valerie and Alan Kingston on their farm in West Cork.
Valerie and Alan Kingston on their farm in West Cork.

The St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Walk starts a short distance away and goes through our farm following the Ilen River.

The walk is 35km long and finishes in Gougane Barra, 17 local farmers opened up their land for the trail and it became even more popular over the last two years.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

I really enjoy spending time with family and friends at the weekend. I like to go to church every Sunday, it is really important to me and gives me great head space.

Do you get to indulge any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

Hobbies for a farmer are few and far between. We were never encouraged to take time off when we were growing up and that has stayed with me. I do enjoy watching a bit of rugby and walking. There are so many wonderful walks on our doorstep, especially up Mullaghmeisha, the view is spectacular.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter, do you have a signature dish?

Val is the cook in the family. I can make porridge or cornflakes topped with yoghurt, that’s pretty much it. Family meals are really important to us and we make an effort to sit down at the table together whenever possible.

The phones are put away and we often end up going through photos and reminiscing over family holidays. 

We cycled from London to Paris in 2013, it took 10 days and we stayed in B&Bs along the way.

The girls were teenagers at the time and were embarrassed to be seen with their father in his lycra gear but it is the one holiday they talk about most.

We have so many places to eat out in Cork - where are your go to spots for coffee/lunch/special meal?

We’re really lucky in West Cork, restaurants have the highest quality ingredients to choose from whether it’s locally grown vegetables or freshly caught fish. Monks Lane in Timoleague is my choice for a special meal, they have simply great food.

Sunday night comes around too fast... how do you normally spend it?

I usually spend Sunday evening catching up with the kids before they head back to work or college. It is a great time to catch up with my siblings too, David Ross, my brother lives nearby, he runs the Top of the Rock Pod Páirc.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

I don’t have an alarm clock, I’ve never needed one. I’m always up at 5 or 5.30am.

What else are you up to at the moment?

I helped to set up and run a food bank in Drimoleague called Feed West Cork.

I didn’t think that a small village would need a food bank but the demand is there. It has been open since May 2021 and up to 20 families use the service in the Methodist Church each week. We work with the Food Cloud and have a small group of wonderful volunteers who provide the service.

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