The Cow Book

A Story of Life on a Family Farm

John Connell

Published: 7 March 2019
Paperback, B Format
ISBN: 9781783784189


Farming has been in John Connell's family for generations, but he never intended to follow in his father's footsteps. Until, one winter, he finds himself back on the farm and begins to learn the ways of the farmer and the way of the cows.

Connell records the hypnotic rhythm of the farming day - cleaning the outhouses, milking the herd, tending to sickly lambs, helping the cows give birth. But alongside the routine events, there are the unforeseen moments when things go wrong: when a calf fails to thrive, when a sheep goes missing, when illness breaks out, when depression takes hold, when an argument erupts and things are said that cannot be unsaid.

The Cow Book is the story of a calving season. It is also the story of the cow itself, from its domestication and worship as a God by the Ancient Egyptians to the modern practice of mechanized herds, via the figure of the cowboy, the destruction of the American buffalo, the demise of the aboriginal jackaroos and the consequences of BSE. And, above all, it is the story of Connell's life as a farmer, of his relationship with his birthplace of County Longford, with the community around the family farm, with the animals he tends, and with his father.

About the author

Image of John Connell

John Connell's work has been published in Granta's New Irish Writing issue. He lives on his family farm, Birchview, in County Longford. More about the author


Superb ... an unexpected triumph, surely a prize-winnerRichard Benson



‘A gorgeous read, full of warmth, truth and tentative wonder. John Connell has written "an elegy to the nature I know", but this book is an elegy to so much more - to art and myth and sorrow and longing’ Sara Baume

‘I usually view rural Ireland from a train or car window but reading this gripping, fascinating book I felt I was becoming a cattle farmer’ Roddy Doyle

‘In lyrical prose, Connell describes the timeless rhythms of farming, the ancient relationship between man and beast, the fellowship that binds rural communities of Ireland, and the fierce generational struggle between father and son’ Jane Shilling

‘John Connell's The Cow Book starts well... and gets better. This is an important slice of living, breathing agricultural history written with absolute honesty by an insider who has the rare quality of being able to see it from the outside too’ Rosamund Young

‘This book is a vivid and sharply observed account of a way of life which is almost invisible, a new hidden Ireland. It is also a fascinating portrait of a single sensibility, a born notice, someone on whom nothing is lost, observing birth and death, the landscape and his own heritage’ Colm Tóibín

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