'I never thought I would drive a tractor again' - freak accident changes farmers life in an instant


Richard Barney O'Connell, Ballyvorisheen, Mallow, Co Cork is pictured using a ramp to access his tractor following a life changing accident. Photo O'Gorman Photography.
Richard Barney O'Connell, Ballyvorisheen, Mallow, Co Cork is pictured using a ramp to access his tractor following a life changing accident. Photo O'Gorman Photography.

Ken Whelan

Richard O'Connell was out on a Sunday hunt with the Duhallows in Co Cork the week before Christmas in 2008 - but after a freak off- farm accident the following Wednesday he was hospitalised in the Mater, Dublin.

The prognosis strongly suggested he might never walk again.

His life had changed utterly in an instant and his best laid plans for the farm in Mallow, where he breeds hunters and jumpers for the equestrian sector were put on hold indefinitely.

He was 37 at the time, married to Niamh with four young children - Sarah (16), Emma (8) and Chloe (7) and Daniel, then aged 13 months.

Richard was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury which, according to the doctors in Dublin, would probably leave him paralysed for the rest of his life.

That was never Richard's plan, however.

Richard O'Connell and Family
Richard O'Connell and Family

He had an off-farm job with a road construction company to supplement his income from the horse enterprise but everything changed that Wednesday when he was working "up country in Mayo".

"I fell off the lorry and rolls of wire mesh fell down on top of me, I had no feeling from the neck down. I was brought to the Mater where I was told I had the spinal cord injury," Richard recalls.

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"I spent a month in the Mater and nine months in the Dun Laoghaire rehabilitation hospital.

"After three months there I began to get some movement in my toes and with hard work and determination I got some movement in my legs. The help and motivation I got from the nurses and physios and from my family made me determined to walk again," he says.

Richard O'Connell
Richard O'Connell

After over a year in the Dublin hospitals where, apart from his spinal injury, he also suffered badly from depression, he was discharged in a wheelchair.

By 2010 Richard was continuing his recovery at home and in a private clinic in Limerick.

"I started with the private physio in October 2009 and the physio told me that I would be standing by Christmas."

Richard missed that deadline, but was on his feet by the following March when he took his first tentative steps to the partial mobility he has now regained.

"I gradually started getting better from then on and the only thing that stops me now is my spasm," he says.

"I did my test for driving a horse box when I came home full-time and last year I bought a modified John Deere for the farm.

"I never thought I would have a chance of driving a tractor again, but during this summer I did the mowing and baling - and drawing the bales on the farm - just like the old days.

"All my life I have been interested in horses and machinery and to this day I still am. I said 'never say never' and I can now drive my modified John Deere."

Looking ahead, he wants to improve the breeding lines of his hunters and jumpers with the recent introduction of two new stallions to his stable of 70 horses. "We'll know if the move has improved the stocks early next year and I am hopeful," he says.

Richard will be speaking at the Embrace Farm conference in the Midland Park Hotel, Portlaoise on Saturday, November 25

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