Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Ann Fitzgerald: Rural community is not without some of its own good news tales

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

I switched on the radio while driving the girls to school last week. Ray D'Arcy on Today FM was going through the papers and every item was bad or sad, stories of greed and violence, atrocities and suffering, further tightening of the financial screws, bullet after bullet of unrelenting misery. I turned it off.

While I know it's supposed to be bad news that sells, to my mind what people really want to read about is humanity. Or, voyeuristically, the lack it. OK, I know that means I won't be called upon to write a lead story anytime soon; and call me a romantic if you like but there has to be a role for telling some of the good stuff that is happening in our world today -- many of those stories of unselfish and unsolicited acts of kindness.

Speaking of schools, shortfall in funding is a universal problem and fundraising is pretty much an integral part of the life of every school. Parents at our children's school have been undertaking bag-packing in supermarkets in Portlaoise over the past two weekends and these have raised almost €2,500. Well done and heartfelt thanks to the shoppers of Portlaoise.

Not all help and not always the most important help is financial. I lost my mobile phone last week. I never missed it, but the man who found it handed it into a nearby shop and the staff went to the bother of ringing the last few numbers dialled on it until they got to my dear husband, which eventually led to us being reunited (my phone and me that is, not my husband).

Or think of the generosity of GAA football pundit Joe Brolly donating a kidney to a man he scarcely knew. And this past year, the entire country was moved by Kerry teenager Donal Walsh as he selflessly implored young people to fight to stay alive, even as his own life was being eroded away by cancer.

There was not a dry eye in the house when Elma Walsh, Donal's mother, spoke at a women in agriculture conference in Killarney last month. I had a stand at the conference, with A Year on our Farm, and my next door neighbours were two lovely ladies from Duhallow Community Food Services, Rose Drew and Eileen Murphy.

This is a fantastic group, which, this year, will provide a massive 28,000 meals on wheels to the needy in north-west Cork and south-east Kerry; an increase of 4,500 over last year. This is funded by a commercial catering enterprise and a baking enterprise supplying local retail outlets. As I was packing to leave, Rose and Eileen loaded me up with some delicious apple strudel and other goodies, "for the road home". It may not have cost a lot of money but it genuinely meant a lot to me. Yes, I could have afforded to pay for them but it was a simple, warm, homely gesture -- traditional qualities at the heart of Irish society.

For those of you who have stuck with me this far and have begun to wonder if I was ever going to get to make some farming or even vaguely rural point, well, the time has come.

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For the past several weeks in Cork, Laois, Meath and Wexford, carloads of farmers have been taking to the country's few highways and many more by-ways bidding to get their candidate elected for either IFA president (Jer Bergin and Eddie Downey) or deputy president (JJ Kavanagh and Tim O'Leary).

Even politicians at EU or national level only have to canvass their own constituencies and then they would mainly meet people who come to them but anyone running for high office in the IFA has, with the exception of their opponent's home county, to canvass its 88,000 members in 946 branches from Malin Head to Mizen Head, from Dunmore Head to Wicklow Head; the underlying premise being the highly admirable one that every man (and woman) is entitled to be asked for their vote.

These campaigns are planned with military precision and while most candidates may have political leanings, their foot soldiers are ordinary farmers. I'm sure the livestock in the relevant counties are wondering what is going on these past weeks; they never see their farmers during daylight, as they squeeze their work in either before or after canvassing. These campaigns are run on a shoestring and the teams of canvassers cover their own expenses.

One man I know is over and back to Mayo and it takes him at least three and a half hours before he gets to call to his first farm. Another spoke of meeting a man from Timbuktu (yes, it really does exist, on the southern edge of the Sahara) and there are probably plenty of phone calls like the one a woman received when she was several hours from home about her weanlings being up on the silage.

While the elections themselves are the public face of selecting a farm leader, in reality most of the candidates will have given upwards of 20 years voluntary work behind the scenes to get to where they are now, attending meetings week in week out all around the country, wind and rain, day and night, distance no object, with their absolute conviction to the cause of fighting for the farmer.

With all its flaws, the IFA is a good organisation and farmers are lucky to have it. But you could also say that the IFA and the broader rural society is lucky to have farmers.

Ann Fitzgerald is co-author of A Year on our Farm. She can be contacted at

Irish Independent