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'It's a day we'll never forget - we were left with nothing'


Paddy Cassidy on the family farm in Athboy, Co Meath

Paddy Cassidy on the family farm in Athboy, Co Meath

Seamus Farrelly

Paddy Cassidy on the family farm in Athboy, Co Meath

Sis lorries came rolling into the yard of the Cassidy family's farm on a Sunday morning in 1998.

"It really was a day we'd never forget. We were left with nothing, only a dog around the place," explained Paddy Cassidy (70) of that terrible day.

It all started after the family, who were then milking 50 cows at their farm in Athboy, Co Meath, spotted a cow appearing to stagger in the yard.

"It was during the boom in BSE," he explained. "The vet was attending her for a fortnight before they came to the conclusion it was probably BSE."

It took 14 days for the tests to come back from the local laboratory, which at that time was in Abbotstown.

"It has big consequences to families, the stigma that they attached to it. The first thing that they tell you is not to tell anyone; you'd think you had the disease yourself and you caused it," the farmer said.

"It was a dirty thing to have around. With TB the same thing could happen, but you haven't the stigma attached to it."

Recollecting how difficult it was on both himself and his now late wife Eilish, who was at that time battling breast cancer, he said the impact of the loss of the 98 cows and calves hit the entire family and it left their yard a lonely place.

"It was a terrible blow to us at that time. I was after buying land and at that time they took the whole stock out and you were out for a whole six months. They paid you for the cattle, but you got no compensation for the time you were out. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

Mr Cassidy, an honorary secretary of the Meath branch of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, told how they were given compensation, around £950 per cow. However, they had two sons in college and no income for six months.

"We got out of cows and stayed out of them. We went into the drystock," he said, adding that a son had returned to milking in recent years.

"My heart goes out to those people in Louth. At least they are only losing one cow and the progeny calves. The stigma was nearly worse than the financial end," he said.

"We live fairly convenient to the local creamery and our dog was missing for two days. He left home when the cows left home; we found him howling under the creamery. It left the place so lonely."

Irish Independent