There’s one fine county in Ireland

By Staff Reporter

When you’re a city person, sights like this can really surprise you. Rows upon rows of gnarled, old trees, branches heavy with big, awkwardly shaped apples.

Dúlra was in the heart of the Orchard Country, but he was still surprised that people actually make a living from growing these fruit.

And a good living, it seems.

Just facing this field where the apples were about to be harvested this week using the wooden boxes in the photograph, a field of freshly planted apple trees were growing, their thin sprigs clear evidence that there is fresh life in this ancient industry.

After 3,000 years of growing apples here, they’re still expanding.

Maybe we don’t realise this industry is so big because we don’t buy these apples. They can be huge and often misshaped, whereas we like the ‘perfect’ apples of the Mediterranean. The type of apple grown in Co Armagh for the past 100 years is the Bramley, named after the man who developed it. It’s green with a red blush on the side that gets the sun.

It’s particularly suited to our weather, slow-growing, developing right into autumn to make up for our limited sunshine. And this year it won a protected geographical designation from the EU, making the Armagh Bramley a world brand.

The dense fruit developed by its slow growth – and its sour, tangy flavour – makes it ideal for cooking. But who would guess that cooking apples could turn into a £50m industry in Armagh alone? Well, the farmers here are raising a glass to the cider drinkers of the world.

Cider is increasingly becoming the drink of summer – especially in various flavours – with a bottle poured over a glass of ice the ultimate refreshment. And with our great summer, sales have rocketed.

Bulmers – marketed as Magners in the North – has 78% of the Irish market and they need millions of apples – the closer to its Clonmel, Tipperary, brewery the better.

And so in Armagh, they suddenly can’t grow enough of them.

Ninety per cent of the county’s apples are growing within a six-mile radius of Loughgall, where Dúlra happened to be passing through this week when he stopped to take this picture. Incredibly, apples are grown in 782 farms – and growing, pardon the pun – employing 700 people part-time. All these apples are gathered by hand – it must be backbreaking work – but keeping bruising to a minimum is vital.

The rich soil and protection from the sharp northerly wind provided by the drumlins in this area – as well as hedgerows and even the grass which is never cut below the trees – produces hardy, more dense apples that can be stored for a year and still hold their flavour.

Some of the trees here are obviously a century old, and they are pruned by hand each year to ensure a maximum harvest the following year.

There were plenty of apples lying on the ground below these trees, and Dúlra couldn’t resist. He picked a few up and stuffed them into his pocket, keeping an eye on the surrounding houses in case an angry farmer appeared.

What can he say? He’s a city boy, after all.

But later, once he bit into them, he realised why there is no need for security or fences around these fields.

He’ll stick to enjoying them in his cider.

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