Take a tour of the Gubbeen Farmhouse in Schull, and learn more about this foodie family
Take a tour of the Gubbeen Farmhouse in Schull, and learn more about this foodie...

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Image / Living / Food & Drink

Take a tour of the Gubbeen Farmhouse in Schull, and learn more about this foodie family


By IMAGE
22nd Nov 2022
Take a tour of the Gubbeen Farmhouse in Schull, and learn more about this foodie family

Cliodhna Prendergast visits the Gubbeen Farmhouse in Schull – home to one of Ireland’s most remarkable food families. From cheesemaking to knife-crafting and holistic horticulture, the Ferguson family’s talents are many and mouth-watering.

Soft earth imprinted deeply by the hooves of a grazing dairy herd, rich grass bent heavy under the weight of dew and the clank of a pail or whirr of a milking machine on the morning air.

The Irish farm. Those luscious green fields, a wholesome glass of milk or creamy yellow butter is what we come from. Even if you have never set foot on one, we all identify with these icons of the Irish farm.

It was after a day’s work on such a West Cork farm in the early 1970s that Tom Ferguson ordered a well-earned pint of Murphy’s Stout in Gabe’s pub Ballydehob. The pint that was placed in front of him was probably the worst pint he’d ever seen.

When he raised an eyebrow, his eyes were met by a young bohemian girl smiling back at him. Giana had come from London to spend a few weeks of the summer with her uncle, who farmed sheep on Horse Island, and she had taken a summer job in the pub. Tom taught Giana how to pull a proper pint; and in 1975 they were married. 

Their home, Gubbeen Farmhouse, set at the foot of Mount Gabriel in the townland of Schull in West Cork, has since become one of Ireland’s greatest food stories.

Giana spent much of her childhood in France and Spain and had a taste for flavours that were yet to penetrate the Irish food scene of the 1970s. She longed to make traditional handmade cheese and in 1978, they took the plunge, joining Veronica Steele, maker of Milleens, and Jeffa Gill at Durrus as Ireland’s first farmhouse cheesemakers. It was the beginning of something wonderful and important in the history of modern Irish food.

The farm and house was bought by Tom’s great-grandfather as a wedding gift for his grandfather. Tom starts the early morning milking, moving his Friesian herd quietly and gently to the milking shed. He considers himself, as did his father, a custodian of the land and his duty is to leave it, improved, for the next generation, a duty he embraces willingly.

It seems the perfect continuum of farm life to see their son Fingal and daughter Clovis being as dynamic and hard working as the generations that came before. It speaks of people whose purpose is not to squeeze everything they can out of the land, rather people who give and support, and in return are gratified by the results of their labour. 

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Gubbeen today gives the impression of an ideal study of a naturally self-sustaining farm. The luscious-grass-fed cows who produce rich, creamy milk, which in turn produces deeply flavoursome cheese. The by-product of cheesemaking is whey, and that in turn is fed to the pigs that their son Fingal uses in the Gubbeen smokery to produce his smoked hams and superb charcuterie. 

The smokery started off as a hobby for Fingal when he was about 13. Now the salamis, chorizo, pepperonis with natural skins, sausages, bacon and smoked hams and the cheese are sold to restaurants and gourmet food shops.

A knife collection that his Uncle Harry gave to him sparked his interest in blades, which has developed into a passion for making beautifully crafted knives. They are now so sought-after that he closed his waiting list in 2017 with almost 2,000 knives on order. 

Looking out towards Fastnet Lighthouse, Clovis Ferguson, the horticulturist, has her own plot of land, which she farms biodynamically. Clovis is the cook of the family. She and her partner Andrew have cleverly turned their hand to making and producing MuTonics, a range of drinks including Jamu, a spicy infusion of fresh turmeric, tamarind, ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, black pepper, honey, lemon and Atlantic sea salt. Their latest drink is a switchel; similar to kombucha, it is a vinegar drink that has been sweetened and diluted – a fizzy shrub. 

The next generation, the “Little Gubbeens”, Fingal and Ciara’s children, are Olan, Oscar, Euan, Devin and Rowan who each, even at the ages from two to 12, display an individuality all their own. They seem to tumble around the farm, in and out of the farmhouse and into the wilds where they build dens and get up to mischief. 

Sitting in the Gubbeen kitchen, there is a feeling of contentment. It’s a convivial place, warmed by an Aga, with a large kitchen table, and a constant flow of family and helpers. Terriers, pugs and whippets and one large cat with no name wander freely from person to person in search of attention, as Giana watches over everything with a contented smile. 

The lingering impression of time spent at Gubbeen is one of respect, for the land, the animals, the people who help produce the food, and also for each other. The Fergusons have a beautiful way of engaging; friendly chats and respectful conversations, curiosity and an admiration of each other’s work. 

There is a way of being here that is at once progressive yet timeless, ambitious yet content. 

Photography: Cliodhna Prendergast

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2021 issue of IMAGE Magazine. Have you thought about becoming a subscriber? Find out more, and sign up here