Archie, the largest cat in munster
This article is reproduced with kind permission of the author, Pete Wedderburn (www.petethevet.com), & first appeared in the Evening Herald in early 2009. Archie sadly passed away on July 2nd 2009. Photo by Jonathan Skinner.
Problem: Archie lives on an unusual diet of gourmet cooking, and he’s thriving.
Archie is a cat of distinction. He’s a striking looking animal, with white feet, bib and whiskers standing out against the background of his long black fur coat. His upright posture and his direct, clear, yellow eyes give a sense of his strong personality. When I met Archie recently, I quickly understood that this friendly, purring, cat sees humans as peers rather than “owners”. As I talked to him, he pressed his head against my lower leg and then against my extended hand, but when I stooped to pick him up, he backed off and stopped purring, as if to say “only on my terms, Mister”.
Archie is the resident cat at Ballyvolane House, the Blue-book listed Irish country house near Fermoy in County Cork. He is a cat whose presence leaves a strong impression in its wake, and there is one thing about Archie that make him particularly unusual: he is twenty two years of age, yet he carries himself like a sprightly ten year old.
He was found in a warehouse, as a kitten, and given to Justin’s family as a present by a guest. There have been passing farm cats over the years, but Archie has been the only animal who has had free access to come and go as he pleases. His flashing yellow eyes are quick to send a warning message to any other cats that venture into his territory, and even now, he is not afraid to use physical force against marauders to hustle them out of sight.
Justin was a student when Archie arrived in 1987, and since then, he’s travelled the world managing hotels. He’d expected that Archie would have died of old age by the time he took the decision to come home to manage the family business in 2003, so he was very was pleased to meet him at the front door. Few cats live into their late teens, and almost none into their twenties.
What is the secret of his longevity? He is regularly vaccinated and treated for fleas and worms, but it is almost certainly his exceptional diet that is the critical factor. Archie is given some standard tinned cat food, but this is supplemented by daily left-overs from the Ballyvolane dinner table. There can be very few cats that dine regularly on fresh trout from the Blackwater river and organic beef and lamb from local farmers. Archie’s substantial frame has been well fed over the years on the best of Irish farm produce. Even now, in his dotage, Archie exudes a healthy aura, his glossy coat and his bright eyes testament to his extraordinary chef-prepared diet.
Archie, by necessity, has fitted well into the guest house environment over the years. He has learned to stay out of places where he is not wanted (such as the kitchen and guests’ bedrooms), but he has occasionally drawn attention to himself in unfavourable ways.
Justin’s mother used to host meetings of the Full Moon Club, where visitors joined hands in a circle, meditating and praying for world peace. There must have been something about the linked hands and the humming that irritated Archie’s sensibilities. He prowled silently up to the group, before swatting at the nearest hands, upsetting the mood of the moment and inflicting painful scratches. After a couple of such episodes, he found himself firmly shut outside whenever there was a full moon.
Ballyvolane is surrounded by formal and informal gardens, as well as acres of woodlands and parklands, but over the years, Archie has found his entertainment close to home. He climbs trees, and chases butterflies and birds. Justin’s father used to have a passion for Fan Tailed Pigeons, and Archie discovered that the birds were both easy to catch and delicious. The Fantails used to parade along the roof of Ballyvolane House, and Archie soon learned that by climbing up the wisteria at the rear, he could reach the roof valley, just within stalking range of the birds. After catching a pigeon, he would eat it in its entirety, leaving no trace of evidence. It was only the sight of Archie on the roof followed by the absence of a bird that led the Green family to suspect their pet cat of being the killer.
Archie has slowed down in recent years, and now spends much of his time sleeping. He is as strong as ever when he needs to be, as Justin regularly finds out whenever the cat’s densely furred “trousers” get matted or mucky. The task of tidying Archie up takes three people, all wearing leather gauntlet gloves of the type used for barbed wire fencing. Two helpers are needed to restrain the incensed Archie, while one person struggles with scissors and brush to spruce up his fur into a reasonably neat and tidy condition. Archie is quick to forgive such indignities, and as soon as the deed is done, and the gloves have been taken off, he sidles up in a friendly manner to his assailants, purring in his usual contented way.
There are a only few documented cases of cats living into their thirties. It is just possible that, with his strong personality, his exceptional diet and his hearty constitution, Archie could be set to join that celebrated group of feline tricenarians.
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A uniquely warm atmosphere pervades throughout the gardens and grounds of Ballyvolane, created largely by the mixture of mature deciduous trees, formal, semi-formal, walled and woodland gardens, not to mention the wide variety of wildlife that thrive therein. Ballyvolane literally translates as 'the place of springing heifers' and is testament to the fertility, richness and natural diversity of the land on which the estate lies.
The Cousin who couldn't leave
The gardens were originally laid out when the house was built in the early 18th century by the Pyne Family. The planting of the trees on the Estate was undertaken by Thomas Pennefeather, a cousin of the Pynes, who came to stay for a fortnight and remained there for forty years in the position of agent. He planted most of the mature deciduous trees in the gardens and surrounding parkland, nurturing them in their formative years and ensuring their lasting presence for the centuries to come.
Little People... Big Outdoors!
Ballyvolane is ideal for little people with vast grounds to get lost in, a tree house to play in, woods to explore, hens to feed, eggs to collect, donkeys to pet and lots more entertainment nearby such as Fota Wildlife Park, Blarney Castle and Leahy's Open Farm. Farmer Justin (!) will take all the kids on a tractor and trailer ride around the estate after breakfast.
Visiting the Gardens at Ballyvolane
The gardens are open (mostly) to the public during the summer and from mid May the bluebell-carpeted woodlands are at their most spectacular. Please phone us on 025 36349 in advance just to check we are open as the house and gardens are closed for private house rentals from time to time.
The formal gardens at Ballyvolane are on the south side of the house. Three tiered lawns extend southwards dissected by gravel paths lined with flowering magnolia. The banks blossom with snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils earlier in the year while in May, bluebells begin to sprout from under the mighty copper beech behind the top lawn where croquet is played. The rockery sits west of the bottom lawn while all around magnificent flowering trees and shrubs enclose an idyllic space.
Through a small gate east of the top lawn one enters the walled garden, a huge enclosed area, now three quarters pasture. The remaining cultivated area still retains the charm of a carefully nurtured ornamental space but it is predominantly a working and productive vegetable garden providing fruit, vegetables and herbs for the kitchen much of the year round. The huge walls that enclose the walled garden were built by the Pynes under the famine relief schemes in the early half of the 19th century - the carved capstone adorning the arch that stood at the end of a once much longer beech hedge dates the construction at 1828. In 2015, a tennis court and 7-a-side soccer pitch were added to the walled garden.
The woodlands surrounding Ballyvolane provide ever changing and breathtaking scenes throughout the year. Just east of the north side of the house lies the rock, a small knoll, densely planted with native timbers reaching skywards for light, while at their base a path weaves through a carpet of bluebells from mid May.
The ornamental lakes which adorn the parkland below the front of the house were originally dug by hand during the 19th century and were recently restored, deepened and landscaped to accommodate trout for fishing. Until the mid 1990's they had been hidden by dense undergrowth and submerged in silt. Though restoration is complete, replanting and regeneration is ongoing.
Ballyvolane plays host to a wide variety of wildlife both native and domestic which provide a great distraction for little people and big kids alike. Some of our native species, such as the red squirrel, can sometimes be a little elusive but patience is well rewarded. Ballyvolane is still a working farm too and the cattle that graze the surrounding pastures are kept good company by two much loved donkeys (Poquita & Heloise). Various kinds or rare-breed pigs currently occupy the back haggard along with the large flock of Muscovy ducks and hens who lay eggs for the breakfast table and for baking. The spaniels and terriers are always bubbling with excitement, welcoming guests and begging to be taken for walks. Fan-tail doves occupy the aviary in the gardens.