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Saturday 3 December 2016

Rose of Tralee to get 'Feirm Factor'

Farmer Tom McGillycuddy, 2008 winner, will be dashing escort

Published 16/08/2011 | 05:00

As the RTE cameras pan across the 32 dashing men who are escorting this year's Rose of Tralee contestants, your eye might be drawn to one escort who seems more familiar than the rest.

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Dairy farmer Tom McGillycuddy is easily recognisable due to his crop of fiery red hair but even more so since he graced our screens on TG4's farming series 'Feirm Factor'.

In 2008, the 29-year-old farmer became the first ever winner of the reality series, in which television cameras followed him and the other 11 contestants around for eight weeks, putting their farming skills to the test.

A graduate of Clonakilty Agricultural College, the dairy farmer proved himself a worthy winner of the gruelling competition. His prize was a brand new Land Rover Discovery, which he is still driving and "will probably die here on the farm eventually".

He was never tempted to trade the jeep in for a cheaper model, even when milk prices hit rock bottom in 2009.

"You should never sell your luck," he laughs.

Home is Castleview Farm, a 180ac farm at Coolbane, Killorglin in Co Kerry, where he is currently milking a 104-cow pedigree Holstein Friesian herd.

A Kerry Group supplier, Tom has plans to expand the herd in the coming years and has already geared up the yard by building extra cubicles, slurry tank and bulk tank.

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"But I am limited in how many extra cows I can milk because of the land base around the parlour so my aim is produce more from the cows I have," he says.

His target is to increase his level of AI use and breed higher-producing cows. "I could graze an extra 20 cows onto the land in a good year but in a bad year I don't want to have too many cows. The land just won't take it," he says.

His choice of AI sires for the next crop of calves included DSU, KOZ, SOK and RXR. The bulls included some genomically selected bulls and some chosen on the advice of the ICBF Herd Plus programme.

"If I can improve the herd overall, I might sell some good heifer calves," he says.

Tom is blessed among women, being the only boy in a family of five. He lives at home with his mother Patricia, while his sisters Ellen, Marie, Karen and Patrice live in Oxford, Dublin and Wexford.

Being Kerry natives, it is hardly surprising that the McGillycuddy family have a strong connection with the county's premier event, the Rose of Tralee.

Tom's younger sister, Karen, a teacher, represented Kerry in the competition in 2009, the year after Tom won Feirm Factor and 18 months after their beloved father passed away.

"When she was growing up, Karen was always the type of girl who wanted to be a Rose," recalls Tom. "And my father used to tell her she would be the Rose of Tralee some day."

It was Karen's enjoyment of the excitement, glamour and thrills of the competition that prompted Tom to apply for a position as an escort.

"It's a great festival. Everyone really has great craic and I knew from hearing Karen talk what an escort would need to do to help a Rose," he explains.

Rose of Tralee escorts must be aged under 30 years of age and, with his 30th birthday approaching in 2012, this year was Tom's last chance to apply.

He beat off stiff competition from 12 other potential escorts in the county selection process and then joined a group of 32 for the Escorts Boot Camp.

This crack (or cracked!) group of lads were taken off to Ballinasloe, Co Galway, where instructors from the Pilot Training College taught them teamwork and discipline through physical challenges and camping overnight in rough terrain. They were also trained in the art of carrying hairspray, tan and safety pins while attending to their respective Roses.

Tomorrow Tom will discover which Rose he has been assigned to and the rest of this week will be a blur of lunches, dinners, balls and competition.

While he swans around in a tuxedo, his mother Patricia and Clonakilty college student John Courtney will take care of business at home on the farm.

The dairy farmer has chosen a unique gift for his Rose, in the form of a piece of bog oak that was found on his home farm during the re-seeding process.

"I think an American Rose might appreciate it most so fingers crossed!" he laughs.

The Rose of Tralee Festival runs from Thursday, August 19 to Tuesday, August 23

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