Farm Ireland
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Thursday 21 September 2017

'We just didn't see the danger' - Farmer on loss of James (6) in tragic accident

James Higgins
James Higgins
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

"For others today's news becomes tomorrow's news. But it's still raw for us", says Padraig Higgins who lost his son James, at just six-years-old in a farm accident in 2008.

Padraig, a suckler farmer from Clondelara near Shannonbridge in Co Offaly, still remembers vividly the last time he saw his son. 

"He was playing with his toys in his sitting room. I remember thinking at the time someone would break their neck with all the toys on the floor.

"He was full of life and devilment," Padraig says, noting "it's amazing the things you remember".

James was nine years younger than his older brothers, says Padraig, "but was on the farm more than anyone".

"His other brothers looked after him. He was always helping out on the farm. If we were doing anything he would always find a job for himself.

"He'd be 16 now," Padraig could say without a moment's thought. "Born November 26, 2001. Died January 19, 2008," he says.

"It’s a tough day every year. We light a candle the whole time for him. The toughest thing can be family events - be it weddings or birthdays. He's just not in those family pictures. But he's not forgotten," Padraig stresses.

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Danger

"We just didn't see the danger", Padraig says, remembering the fateful day. 

"He had just collected his first pair of glasses. It was a big deal. He was all excited. Delighted with himself he was. He was going across to show them off to his grandfather when it happened.

"The hole was no more than two meters cubed", Padraig says, describing the sinkhole in which James drowned. "There had been very heavy rain in the days before and it was swelled with water," he says.

"We saw the little green knitted cap that he would have been wearing normally and it was floating around on the top of it," Mr Higgins has said when describing the incident in the past.

"It is an awful thing to lose any member of your family like that - but to lose a child, because they are so innocent and they don't understand the dangers on the farm, is really difficult. The knock-on effect is that when we have family events or that kind of thing, we know there is one missing.

"He was six when he died and Santa had only been a couple of weeks before that. Santa has not come since then," he said.

"The difference between a farm accident and other tragedies is that the farm where it all happened is still there and needs to be managed. The cows still have to be milked that evening and the next morning, the cattle still need to be fed. That can be tough.

"I found it a huge challenge. Walking by where it happened really effected me," he says.

Padraig describes the help he got from family and friends at the time as "unbelievable". "But after a while, they have there own lives to live and that’s understandable," he adds.

"Today's news becomes tomorrow's news. You sort of feel on your own. It's raw for us all the time. You need to be directly effected by it to know how it feels."

"But life can't stand still," Padraig stresses. "You have to make the best of it".

Embrace FARM

Padraig is now a key member of the team behind, Embrace FARM, a service helping families that have lost loved ones to farm accidents.

Embrace FARM was founded by Brian Rohan and his wife Norma, a farming family from Shanahoe, Co. Laois, in 2014 to provide a bereavement support group for farm families who, like them, have lost a loved one or, indeed, suffered serious injury in a farming accident.

Brian's father Liam lost his life as a result of such an accident, which took place on the family farm on June 19, 2012.

Rather than just accept the fate that he and his family were bereaved, Brian, together with his wife Norma, founded Embrace FARM in Liam's memory.

The primary objective of Embrace FARM's accident support network is to help bereaved families through regional support sessions and an annual remembrance service.

"The organisation has been a fantastic initiative and has brought families together to share their experiences. It's amazing the healing effect this can have for people," Padraig said.

It has been a busy year for the Directors of Embrace FARM as 119 families have made contact with them to have their loved one remembered.

Over the last two years, the year six regional information nights were held in Cork, Limerick, Mullingar and Tuam. Embrace FARM also organised four family residential weekends (in Middleton, Cork, Kilkenny and Laois) and one adult residential weekend in Laois with a day trip to the Japanese Gardens.

An Ecumenical Remembrance Service will be held in the Church of the Most Holy Rosary at this Sunday, June 25, 2pm in Abbeyleix, Co. Laois to remember our loved ones who have died or have suffered injury from accidents on the farms of Ireland.

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