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Monday 16 July 2018

'I am one of the lucky ones -I'm still here' - An accident on his farm left this farmer with horrific injuries

Clive Williamson suffered a double fracture to his leg and broken collarbone and ribs after being trampled by a bullock
Clive Williamson suffered a double fracture to his leg and broken collarbone and ribs after being trampled by a bullock
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

While many of his friends were out enjoying themselves on New Year's Eve in 2016, west Wicklow dairy farmer Clive Williamson was thanking his lucky stars to be alive after a close encounter with a bullock left him nursing several broken bones in a hospital bed as the clock struck midnight.

It is a day, and night, he will never forget.

"It was about 4pm that day and we were moving cows getting ready for AI," he recalls.

"A bullock somehow got mixed up in the middle of them, so I separated them and was trying to move him elsewhere. Suddenly he turned and started coming towards me. He wasn't attacking me as such - he just wasn't going where I wanted him to go and unfortunately I got in the way."

As the bullock gathered speed, Clive attempted to jump into one of the nearby cubicles to protect himself, but in the process, the bullock trampled his right leg and shoulder. Having volunteered with the Glen of Imaal Irish Red Cross Mountain Rescue Team for over 12 years, straight away he knew he was in trouble.

"I remember I was semi-conscious and my brother Henry rushed over and asked if I was okay," he says. "All he had to do was take one look at my leg to know it was serious - my wellington was going in the opposite direction to my ankle."

As a valued member of the team Clive has 24-hour access to the first response vehicle and it was sheer luck that it was parked in the farmyard.

"We carry a full emergency kit, so I told Henry to grab the Entonox cylinder for some gas and air. I will never forget it - I was in so much pain."

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In the meantime, Clive's farrier wife Sarah was attending to her two young children, son Kinkade and daughter Voirrey, in the house. Voirrey was just weeks old so when Henry called for help, panic ensued.

Within 20 minutes of the first call-out, several of Clive's team members had arrived to assist. A short time later, an ambulance was on site.

"We have about 35 people on the team and several live nearby in the Dunlavin area," he says. "Once they got the call, they rushed over. They were fantastic."

Clive especially credits his good friend Robert Farrelly for his input on the day.

"As team members, we all have an instinct to quickly kick into action - Robert just took over."

Clive was first transferred by ambulance to Naas Hospital where X-rays confirmed breaks in both his tibia and fibula in his right leg, as well as a broken collarbone and three broken ribs.

From there he was brought to Tallaght Hospital where he underwent surgery. He remained there for over a week to start rehabilitation. However, it was the following weeks and months that proved to be most challenging as he attempted to recover from his injuries.

He and his brother Henry run a busy farm milking 120 cows, as well as finishing a good number of beef each year. In the past few years they have been using pedigree Belted Galloway bulls on their herd, which is proving popular with processors.

The siblings took over the running of the farm as young men when their father died suddenly at the age of 52. This has been Clive's life ever since.

Together with his involvement with the mountain rescue team and other outdoor pursuits, it's fair to say he is not one for sitting around, so the recuperation was frustrating.

"Our house has a stairs so I had to move in with my mother Dora next door which has a ground floor apartment," he says. "It was tough going but we managed to get full-time help on the farm and I did some of the paperwork to keep myself busy."

Clive also kept in touch with the team and was able to assist with the call-out service from home.

Over the next four months he slowly began to regain mobility and get back to working on the farm, although he says the leg injury still affects his day-to-day life. He is now considering having further surgery to remove the bar that was keeping his bones in place.

"I suppose though I am one of the lucky ones," he says. "I am still here. It was bad at the time but when you see the amount of fatalities on farms each year, it would make you sit up and think.

"And then there's all of those left with life-changing and debilitating injuries. There are so many more stories that we never hear about."

Volunteers putting their lives on the line

Clive Williamson is currently the only full-time farmer volunteering with the Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue Team. Since joining in 2006 he has overseen hundreds of rescue operations across west Wicklow.

As assistant team leader, he is a key member of a group comprising some 35 volunteers.

All make themselves available on rotation to assist with any emergency - from leg injuries in falls on a mountain to missing persons and rescues in bad weather.

The team train at their base in Laragh once a week, and each member could assist with a rescue at least once a month.

"Many of the members work full-time and help at weekends, while those who are self-employed are a little more flexible. Everyone plays their part, though, and we are always looking for new people to come on board," says Clive.

This past winter was particularly tough as they were involved with several rescues on the Wicklow Mountains when cars became stuck in snow drifts. Signs are placed to close roads, but these are often ignored, meaning the rescue team have to put their own lives at risk. In all cases, the recovery of the vehicle is left for another day, and at the owner's expense.

Another incident during the heavy snow saw the team come to the aid of an elderly man on an isolated farm. With the help of some locals they managed to clear the roadway to get him to hospital, where he made a good recovery.

The rescue team was formed in 1983 and since 1990 the operational call-outs have steadily increased. In 2017 they responded to over 73 incidents. In most cases, they work closely with the Dublin/Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team and the Irish Coast Guard Helicopter.

It costs on average €60,000 a year to run the rescue team and they regularly have fundraising activities to cover the purchase of new vehicles and equipment. In 2015 they purchased a minibus to transport first responders, and in 2016 and 2017 they acquired two new four-wheel drive jeeps thanks to generous donations from the Froud Foundation of Bristol and grants from the Department of Community & Rural Affairs.

As part of their ongoing fundraising, on November 24 they will run the ninth annual Moonlight Challenge. Each year it moves location throughout Wicklow, but on average attracts some 700 hillwalkers and covers up to 27km.

"Last year, we raised approximately €50,000. It gets bigger and better each year, so hopefully in 2018 we will have an even bigger gathering," says Clive.


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