Farming

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Farming

Meet the surgeon shining a light on the lives of farming women

UK-based cardiologist Dr Des Sheridan is also a keen amateur photographer who has gone back to his Irish farming roots for a project on the ladies of the land

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Way of life: Alice Molloy, pictured on her suckler farm near Shillelagh, Co Wicklow, says of farming, 'it's a way of life that I won’t be stopping'

Way of life: Alice Molloy, pictured on her suckler farm near Shillelagh, Co Wicklow, says of farming, 'it's a way of life that I won’t be stopping'

Des Sheridan

Des Sheridan

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Way of life: Alice Molloy, pictured on her suckler farm near Shillelagh, Co Wicklow, says of farming, 'it's a way of life that I won’t be stopping'

UK-based cardiologist Dr Des Sheridan decided to go back to his roots last year when he embarked on a creative journey to capture the diverse range of images that represent female farmers.

The journey transported him to counties Carlow and Wicklow, a region he is well acquainted with having grown up in Baltinglass before his family moved to the UK after he started secondary school at Ballyfin Demesne in Co Laois. Des later studied medicine at Trinity College, where he met his wife Jacqueline.

While Des spent his working life in the UK, holding esteemed positions in the likes of St Mary's Hospital in London and Imperial College London, where he is emeritus professor of cardiology, he returned to Ireland often, meeting cousins who hailed from farming backgrounds.

Now retired, Des is a serious amateur photographer, and he decided to put together a photo series that would narrate the true story of female farmers.

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Des Sheridan

Des Sheridan

Des Sheridan

"A lot of the time women farmers aren't recognised for their work. I wanted to take pictures that help raise the profile of women farmers and show them at work with without any glamour," he says.

"It captures how they live and work on the farm and I hope it raises awareness of the importance of women farmers for human nutrition, health and welfare."

In an effort to source subjects for the photography series, Des's Irish cousins Bernie Morrow and Anna Mae Timmons,, asked a number of women who work the land in the area if they would be interested in going under the lens.

"Luckily a few women said yes to taking part. They were all so welcoming and I'm grateful to them. Every house I went to they gave me tea and biscuits," says Des, who lives in Thame, a market town in Oxfordshire.

'I could never have imagined myself doing anything else'

Alice Molloy has lived her entire life on the family suckler farm near Shillelagh, Co Wicklow and at 77 she has no plans to sell up or retire from rearing her mixed Charolais and Limousin herd.

"I could never have imagined myself doing anything else. I'm an outdoor type of person," she says. "I'll keep going for as long as I'm able. My walking isn't great but I get on with it. It's a way of life that I won't be stopping.

"I don't use the tractor any more, I have a neighbour and a helper who comes in to do all that, but tractor work used to be my favourite thing to do on the farm. You wouldn't have seen many women on tractors when I was a young woman. It wasn't common."

The farm had a Massey Ferguson when Alice was young and later upgraded to a Ford.

While Alice recognises that there are more women involved in farming, she is wary of recommending farming to any young person, male or female, unless they are aware of all the challenges involved as it isn't any easy life.

"I'd be slow to encourage any young person to farm. It's very hard to make any money and the work is hard. Suckler farming is more of a hobby these days and you have to love it," she says.

Alice has witnessed lots of changes in farming over the decades. She's not sure whether the rise in dairy farming is a good or bad thing for Irish agriculture as a whole.

"There's a lot of change, people are switching to dairy in a big way but there must be a lot of expense and people must be in debt. It's hard to know how it'll work out," she says.

In all her years farming, Alice had never seen protests of the scale that took place in August when beef farmers picketed factory gates around the country.

"I don't think the protests did anything good for prices or the sector," she says.

"Prices aren't going anywhere. There's a still a huge backlog in the factories because of the protests."

Alice's dedication and pride in her animals is evident in the fact that she won a prize at a show and sale at Tullow Mart last year for an 800kg Limousin bull that earned her €1,290 and a plaque.

"I was proud to get it because it's not often that locals near Tullow win these things. It gave me a real boost after all the work I'd put in."

Alice has lived alone on the farm since her grand-uncle passed away six years ago - her parents died in the early '90s.

She enjoys reading the paper and meeting her neighbours who she says are "the best of the best".

When she was contacted about taking part in the photo series she had no trouble saying yes.

"I had no objection. I was very open-minded."

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