‘Still we have too many accidents and still there are too many people taking chances. I’ve learned to take nothing for granted — with every job you do you have to be that one bit more careful than we are being’
Twelve weeks ago Eddie Downey was going about “business as usual” on his family’s busy dairy and poultry enterprise in Slane, Co Meath.
The former IFA president has always taken precautions when working at heights — he has a box on the front of their teleporter and rarely uses ladders.
Yet despite his safety-conscious attitude, Eddie still managed to fall from 12ft.
“It happened in less than a second — my first accident, I’d never broken a bone in my body before,” he says.
“I broke my pelvis, damaged my bladder and broke a bone in my wrist. I was extremely lucky.
“My injuries were substantial. I spent three weeks in hospital, four weeks in a wheelchair, then on to crutches. I’m hopeful I will make a full recovery over the next month.
“I have to give praise to the hospitals, the staff, everyone I met along the road was just brilliant at Drogheda, Beaumont and Tallaght.”
Eddie says the incident was “a major wake-up call”.
“It just shakes you — until you experience an accident like that, you don’t really know how it is going to affect you,” he says.
“All plans just stopped; from my point of view, everything stood still. My concentration just became totally back to me and getting myself better, concentrating on what is wrong, how to fix it and what is the right thing to do.
“I see it as a major wake-up call. I’m 60 years of age now, I have to be careful and while it is difficult to say, I just can’t do what I could a few years ago. The recovery period is a lot slower because you’re older.”
While Eddie focused on his rehabilitation, his son Patrick and wife Mary, who he farms in partnership with, looked after the business of the farm.
“I’m lucky in that Patrick is here farming with me; I can see the farm moving forward,” he says.
“We’re working away together and that gives you a reason to get up and get back at it, but I’m not sure you would have the same enthusiasm if you didn’t have those people around you.
“It certainly would be a sea change in terms of your attitude to it and whether you could keep going in the direction or not.”
In terms of his recovery, Eddie says his general health and fitness have played a vital role.
“I was mobile even though I was laid up — I could do the exercises even when I was in difficulty and when it was painful.
“I wasn’t carrying weight either, which was a huge help, and every doctor said the fact that I don’t smoke was a huge help in aiding my recovery too.”
Eddie has really enjoyed being back out on the farm in recent weeks. The Downeys, who milk 180 cows, are currently pregnancy-testing and getting ready for the winter. On the chicken side, they are three-quarters of the way through their flock of hatching eggs.
“I’m supervising things. I’m probably in the way most of the time but it’s great to be back,” Eddie laughs. “I’m still getting physio to get my hand back to where it should be and to rebuild the strength in my body that I lost.
“My family have been brilliant: they’ve pushed me to do things and move forward and told me to take it easy and not put pressure on myself at the same time.”
He now also sees potential hazards that he wants to address.
“When I look around farms, the difference in awareness of health and safety in the last 20 years is phenomenal in terms of what farmers are doing, the equipment they’re using. The attitude is a lot better.
“But still we have too many accidents and still there are too many people taking chances. I’ve learned to take nothing for granted — with every job you do you have to be that one bit more careful than we are being.
“I can see things around the farm that I want to change now as regards safety — railings, little things that might seem small but they can trip you up and cause you to fall.
“You just never know, you have to think twice and be extra, extra careful about every move you make.
“I missed farming — that was the most frustrating thing of all, not being there doing what I normally do, but it has allowed me to delegate responsibility and look at it differently, which is good.
“We’ve had phenomenal weather and an easy back-end, which has put less pressure on farms all over the country, and prices have been reasonably good.
“Things are reasonably relaxed now and I’m looking forward being back to myself.”