Ireland… tall tales, joyous songs and lots of apples

My arms are elbow-deep in a sticky mush created by the juicing machine as it devours countless apples. Taking a break to taste the thick, sweet syrup, I listen to Sean, who has decided it’s time to convince me of his story-telling prowess. His tall tales are of murder, bombings, inside information about the IRA, and his intention of robbing Fort Knox.


I’m at Ballytobin in County Kilkenny taking a break from my travels around Ireland to participate on a short-term voluntary workcamp. Ballytobin is a Camphill community providing a sheltered environment for children and adults in need of special care – and our job is making enough apple juice to last the community the next 10 months.

Founded by Dr Karl Koenig in 1939, the International Camphill Movement has grown from its humble beginnings in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, to about 100 schools, homes and villages in 22 countries. Koenig’s vision was “that in later years Camphill might become a place where the true destiny of the handicapped child will always be known”.

Ballytobin cottage

Ballytobin is government funded but in many ways self-sufficient and the community is run by a group of dedicated volunteers, mostly from abroad. Initially recruited for a year many have stayed longer – drawn by the peace and tranquillity of this place and the sense of belonging you feel even after a few days.

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