The unique farming heritage of the Burren has been the subject of many scientific papers but, for the first time, it has inspired a children’s story written from the first-hand experiences of a Burren farmer.
Shane Casey grew up on his family’s farm in Fanore, Co. Clare – on the Atlantic edge of the famous Burren, overlooking the Aran Islands – and it is here that the story is set, between Blackhead mountain and the Caher valley.
The story begins at Blackhead, when Sarah, a young shorthorn calf, is born. Shortly after, she moves across to the Caher Valley where she has a chance encounter with a cuckoo. The cuckoo, Colin, has come all the way from Southern Africa to see the Burren flowers at Blackhead. But Sarah has never heard of them! How could it be possible that she has never seen or heard of the one thing the Burren is most famous for – its flowers?
Shane is the author of four other children’s books about Irish wildlife, but says his inspiration was a bit different for this one.
‘Sarah’s farmer plays a secondary character in the story,’ says Shane, ‘but we find out in the end that his role is the most important for safeguarding the Burren as we know it. His way of life is shared by farmers across the Burren, including my own family. And there are parts of the story that many farmers will relate to, that maybe others have never experienced, such as the sweet smell when you open up a good bale of hay.’
‘Being out on the Burren in the early hours of a spring morning, when there’s a full moon, to look after a cow calving is something that very few outside the farming community have experienced. Or the satisfaction that comes when opening the gate to let cattle into fresh grass. Or finding the first gentian of the year, or hearing the first call of the cuckoo, and knowing the winter is behind you, and hoping for a good summer ahead.’
Illustrated by renowned wildlife artist Gordon D’Arcy, all proceeds from Shane’s beautiful new book are being donated to a local educational charity, the Burrenbeo Trust www.burrenbeo.com. But there is something else that makes the book stand out – its design and layout makes it dyslexia-friendly.
‘They’re only little changes,’ says Shane, ‘but they make a huge difference. We use a combination of special dyslexia font, colour schemes, and layout to make it easier for children with dyslexia to read.’
‘Little things, like avoiding a double space after a full stop, prevents white lightening on the page. Or left-aligning the text instead of justifying it, makes it easier to see where the sentence ends and is less daunting for a young reader than a block of text.’