Farm Ireland

Thursday 24 May 2018

Breaking the mould - meet the women running the livestock marts

Ann Fitzgerald talks to three women who have proven their mettle in the male-dominated world of the marts

Marion Devane took over as manager of Tuam Mart ten years ago and has worked there for 27 years all in. Photo: Ray Ryan
Marion Devane took over as manager of Tuam Mart ten years ago and has worked there for 27 years all in. Photo: Ray Ryan
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Ask anyone to pick the most macho part of the macho business of farming, and they would probably not look past a mart.

Yet, without the benefit of gender quotas or the invocation of other forms of positive discrimination, women now run about 10pc of the country's livestock marts.

One of those leading the way is Marion Devane in Tuam, Co Galway. She arrived at the mart door 37 years ago … and basically never left.

Marion was on a Fás course and needed to get experience. The manager at the time, Tim Relihan, took her on. She worked on the desk for 27 years and then, 10 years ago, took over as manager when she was asked to do so by the chairman. "But if the job went up, no way would I have gone for it, she says.

Marion herself cringes at the thought of being called a "trailblazer".

Indeed, her first response when asked about doing this interview was: "Oh, God, no, I wouldn't know what to say. I wouldn't even think of myself as the manager at all, only that you put it to me."

Promotion: Maura Quigley
Promotion: Maura Quigley

Eimear McGuinness is manager in Donegal. She studied tourism and languages in Killybegs. After her son Odhran was born, she thought that she would like to do part-time work. She started in the mart office in 2003 and took over as manager in 2007.

The mart was being leased at the time and on a downward slope, with talk of closure. Eimear looked to what type of cattle Donegal had to offer. Seeing great quality weanlings, she met exporters, factory and feedlot agents and has built a successful business around them.

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She then started a sheep producer's group which has grown each year and has also strengthened their sheep sales.

"I love helping farmers and I hate the present situation that a lot of farmers are in where they are struggling to make a living," says Eimear.

When Maura Quigley did her Leaving Cert in 1977, she got all three jobs she applied for - in the nearby Roscommon mart, the civil service and the ESB.

She plumped for the mart because she was playing camogie and doing other activities locally. She, too, initially worked in the office, became secretary to the board of management in 1999/2000 and then, five years ago this month, was appointed manager.

When the job came up, Maura wasn't going to go for it. "I don't mind the work", she says, but initially, "felt daunted by the responsibility".

For any of these women, the mart was not the family business. They all got the manager's job on merit.

As to why so many marts are now being run by women, there does not seem to be one simple answer.

But there are some common threads, ie a strong sense of fairness, willingness to work long and irregular hours, ability to multitask and, critically, to manage people, farmers as well as staff.

It sounds a bit like marriage!

For example, marts have a well-founded reputation for hosting heated disputes.

"You have to remain calm and bring the parties together," says Marion, adding, "women are good at that."

For her, the most rewarding part of the job is when someone comes in to say thank you, maybe for some advice she gave about selling stock.

"It's a small thing but very moving."

Maura likewise points out that people sometimes come to her to say, "you are going well." She adds: "It means a lot as farmers are not wasteful with compliments."

The one area of the business that is more challenging for women is the physical side, says Marion.

"You just don't have the same strength as men handling stock."

Eimear was recently asked by a transporter if anyone was available to help load a particular lorry, and he found it hard to accept when she volunteered.

"It is a male-dominated world. But I've never thought about being a woman in it. I just get on with it."

While Eimear is well able physically to go down the yard for, say, a pen of heifers, "it's a nice thing to be offered help. Whether you are a man or a woman."

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