Darragh McCullough: 'One of Ireland's most capable dairy men has turned out to be a killer'
Convicted murderer Pat Quirke confirms our worst suspicions that Ireland's most ambitious dairy farmers are greedy so-and-sos that will stop at nothing in their thirst for more.
The fact that such a sweeping statement is ridiculous hyperbole won't stop this thought from seeding itself in the minds of many throughout the farming community as they digest the reports following the longest murder trial in the history of the State.
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If you were to fictionalise such a villain from the dairy sector, you could have been accused of over-egging the character.
The Tipperary dairy farmer was part of a very select elite in the dairy sector that were put up in lights to showcase the potential for the black and white cow to generate wealth far beyond the confines of a humble 67-acre farm.
Only a handful of farmers are selected every year for Nuffield scholarships that offer grants of over €10,000 for the brightest and best in the agriculture sector to broaden their perspectives by travelling the world, networking with other like-minded individuals, and coming home brimming with innovative ideas and research.
Despite securing one of the three scholarships awarded in 2001, neither Pat Quirke's subsequent study or photo are posted on the Nuffield website.
During this period he was also chairman of the IFA's dairy committee in his home county.
In 2005 he took the podium at the Positive Farmers Conference, advising the hundreds of dairy farmers that attend this annual event on how to leverage their farms for off-farm investments.
This was during the boom years when every farmer worth their salt was supposedly investing in property syndicates and the stock market.
So it was no surprise to learn that Quirke had over €500,000 tied up in various syndicates in Poland and Lithuania. Reports of a €840,000 punt on a contracts for difference gamble show the extent of the high-wire investments that the Tipperary farmer was prepared to make.
Losses from a combination of these off-farm and off-shore investments cost Quirke close to €300,000 - an amount that would sink most farmers that started out from a 67ac block.
This background gives Quirke's relationship with Mary Lowry a whole new importance. The lease he had on her farm effectively doubled the size of his original farm, and he was getting it for a song.
On top of the Single Farm Payment, Pat Quirke was only paying Ms Lowry an additional €25/acre for her 63ac holding.
He also tried to invoice Ms Lowry €20,000 for losses he incurred when there was a disease outbreak in his herd.
No wonder she was keen to get another tenant. The only wonder is how Quirke managed to hang in there as long as he did.
In the interim, and despite all his investment losses, Quirke still managed to squirrel away €150,000 in the bank, according to the latest accounts for his farm company, Breasha Farms.
I'm sure the cows kept the cashflow going - remember Quirke was at the top of his game with his herd ranked in the top 50 EBI herds in the country in recent years, and his Breanshmore herd producing the top ranked bull in the 2019 Eurogene catalogue.
It's worth stating a second time - other ambitious farmers shouldn't be suddenly ostracised just because it has turned out that one of Ireland's most capable dairy men has turned out to be a scheming, manipulating, cold-blooded killer who would let nothing or no one get in his way.
But it should give everyone pause for thought about priorities, perspective and what legacy they really want to leave behind. Ambition and hard work are to be admired and encouraged, but the skills to allow people to maintain balance in their lives must be championed too.
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