The Goats of Connemara
By Ronnie Lovler
This baby goat was born in June 2020, on the farm at the Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Photo by Ronnie Lovler
Authors Note: Just for a moment I wanted to reflect on something other than politics, COVID-19 and all the social turmoil that has marked our collective lives in 2020. This tale is my Thanksgiving gift to all of you.
I am always intrigued and fascinated by the goats of Connemara, the descendants of the original heritage herd that was bred here when poet laureate Carl Sandburg, and his wife, Lillian, lived on the property.
The 245-acre farm at Connemara, today the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina is where the couple lived from 1945 until his death 22 years later. A year after he died, Lillian sold the property to the National Park Service.
It was Lillian who was responsible for the couple’s decision to make Flat Rock, North Carolina their home. She raised goats when they lived in Michigan, and she wanted to continue her work, when they decided to look for a new place to live.
She visited Connemara and liked it. It had pastures for her and inspiration for Carl, who produced about a third of his works and received his second Pulitzer Prize while living at Connemara. And Lillian went on to win national acclaim for her Connemara herds.
I have visited here numerous times on trips to North Carolina and I am always drawn to the goats. It’s hard not to spend time looking at them and I am not alone, especially those visitors who have children in tow.
During a recent visit I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to talk with Ginger Hollingsworth-Cox, education specialist at the Sandburg Home, who shared the story of Lillian and her goats. According to legend, Sandburg told Lillian “we can go anywhere as long as I have a quiet place to write. I will follow you wherever you go.
At one time, there were 200 goats on the farm. Hollingsworth-Cox said. “Today, the historic site maintains a small heritage herd of about 15 goats and we breed them every year to keep her legacy alive,” she said.
A few years ago the National Park Service, thought it might be time to let the goat farm go. But Hollingsworth-Cox and the rest of the onsite staff disagreed.
“We had a team of our regional leaders that came to the park to talk about what our significant resources were,” she said. “They were quizzing us on what needed to be here in order for visitors to get a sense of Carl Sandburg, and what the Sandburg life was like.”
“They argued that the goats were an expense to maintain and where not really essential to the story of Carl Sandburg. We said we have to beg to differ because although Carl Sandburg, the writer, the poet, the author, enjoyed his pursuits here, his wife was a pretty amazing lady herself. “
Lillian Sandburg created a home where the family could live, but brought her prize-winning goats with her. “Basically did everything so that he could pursue his interest. She handled all the business dealings took care of all the bills. She handled everything so that hecould be free to write. So her role in the story is critical as are her goats,” Hollingsworth-Cox said.
Staff won the argument and the goat farm was saved. The goats on the property now are “descendants of the original goats. They are bonafide we have pedigree charts, all the way back to Sandburg goat times and we get them registered every year,” Hollingsworth Cox said.
The park won an award a few years ago for continuing to tell Mrs. Sandburg ‘s story. The American Dairy Goat Association recognized her for her significant contributions to goat husbandry.
Although the Sandburg home is closed to the public now in these COVID-19 times, the property is open with its pond, small waterways and five miles of trails to hike. So there is still plenty to do for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
And then of course, there are always the goats.