Always ready with a warm welcome!
Castledawson Open Farm, established 11 years ago, is
a treasure trove of weird and wonderful things, a haven
to the curious imaginations of old and young alike.
Josie herself remains the most interesting attraction.
In her seventies, she runs the farm on her own with
the help of friends and family, welcoming to any passer-by
and humble and modest in her achievements. The farm
is situated on the Leitrim road near Castledawson and
can be tricky to find, especially after an enthusiastic
gust of wind took the original sign hostage. But on
arrival it’s well worth the effort and the two
pounds admission fee, especially if you indulge yourself
afterwards with a cup of tea and a slice of boiled cake
The thatched cottage was a simple animal dwelling before
they transformed it into its current splendour. This
was achieved using money from the Peace and Reconciliation
fund, the rare skills of a thatcher, and their own sheer
hard work and determination. Indeed Josie was often
to be found painting the walls beyond midnight, but
only after the animal feeding and the many daily chores
had been completed. Today, visitors enter the cosy dwelling
where the peat crackles in the hearth, leisurely pouring
over the antiques and old photographs of a long lost
period in time. There’s the wooden cradle in the
bedroom, the traditional cooking implements hanging
from the ceiling and the gramophone that sadly sits
in silence, lame in its need for replacement needles.
The cottage is both a venue and a haven for many. Local
businessmen drop in on occasion to escape the stresses
of work and clear the head, and local children choose
it as the ideal place to have a birthday party. Once
a year, Josie hosts an open day in aid of various charities,
bringing together local musicians playing traditional
music, vendors selling cakes and jam, and other worthy
talent in a bid to entertain the masses.
The animals on view include the chinchillas, the miniature
Shetland ponies, the peacock, the emus, the rare breeds
of pigs including the Indian Dwarves and the Belty sow
, the Pigmy goat named Skipper, the chipmunks, the Guinea
fowls and the Clocking hen to name but a few. A star
attraction must be Vickie the fox who was brought to
Josie as an injured cub eleven years ago and has been
a family pet ever since. Aside from the animals, the
garden boasts an operational well, various water pumps
and a stunning hand-painted Romany caravan, purchased
in County Down and brought back to its original state
by family and friends.
Who are you staring at then?
Indian dwarf pig.
Castledawson Open farm is a unique place to visit and
the average visitor cannot fail to find something to
stir the curiosity. Open from March to September, time
is running out to see it before the gate is finally
shut for the year of 2004. So go see Josie and her farm
and never again complain that you have too much to do
and not enough time to do it. If Josie can run this
unique farm on her own, there’s not much excuse
for the rest of us!
here to open a popup window with a gallery of images
from the Open Farm
Josie on the radio
Your Place & Mine reporter John
Gregg popped in to see Josie in August 2004 and she
took him a tour of the farm. Click on the pictures or
text below to eavesdrop on some of their chat.
How to get there
Directions: from Belfast drive to the end of the M2
motorway and take the bypass round Toomebridge. Go past
the Elk Inn (on left) and opposite the T-junction cafe
is the Deerpark Road on your right. Turn into Deerpark
Road and then the second road on your left is the Leitrim
Road. Fourth lane on the left is the open farm. (The
farm is one mile north of Castledawson.)