By Brian Ogle
This week I visited an Ulster farmer whose farmhouse is certainly unique – at least in this part of the world. He lives in an airport control tower, right in the middle of a 180-acre farm.
This two-man farming co-operative programme started five years ago with the object of re-claiming and developing part of a wartime airfield – now used only by a few flying club enthusiasts. It is now nearing completion.
The scheme, being carried out by brothers-in-law James McNicholl and John Mitchell on an old airfield at Mullaghmore, near Garvagh, County Derry, has so far enabled the partners to “capture” about 160 acres of land for grazing and barley-growing.
Changes indeed from the dark days of a quarter of a century ago when Mullaghmore played its vital role as a lifeline in the desperate fight for the nation’s survival.
Runways which once reverberated with the roar of Spitfires and Lancasters now echo to the softer notes of tractors and reclamation plant as the battle for land for agricultural development is joined with equal fervour – and not a whit less efficiency.
And the airport control tower from which round-the-clock vigils were kept has been demoted to the less sensational role of farm dwelling. The “take-over” of Mullaghmore is complete.
For John Mitchell, the tower is ideally sited in the middle of his holding and with some renovations, nearly all of which he carried out himself, it makes an excellent farm residence.
The partners use the concrete runways as means of access to the various parts of their 180-acre airport farm.
“We have found the co-operative idea is particularly well suited to our airport farm,” said Mr Mitchell.
“Each year we grow around 100 acres of barley while the remainder of the land is used for the grazing of our 40-strong beef cattle herd. All cultivation and reclamation work we share equally,” he added.
Since they formed the co-operative, the partners have carried out extensive drainage work to practically all the land on the airfield.
“We have been able to do the work fairly cheaply using our own machinery,” said Mr McNicholl. “Pipe-laying operations are now well under way on the last 15 acres which we hope to re-seed and use for grazing next year.”
In addition to the 180 acres of land being used by the partners at present, 35 acres of concrete runways criss-cross their holding.
“We have no plans for reclaiming this at the moment as we feel the cost of removing the concrete would be prohibitive and would outweigh any advantages we might gain,” added Mr Mitchell.