Meet the human rights lawyer who became a farmer in the West of Ireland


Bridget Murphy on her farm in Sligo
Bridget Murphy on her farm in Sligo

Ken Whelan

It took Bridget Murphy two years to re-acclimatise to the wet and windy hills of the West of Ireland when she arrived "home for a visit" from South Africa in 1998.

"I was going around the place in heavy fur-lined coats all the time. The locals must have been gob-smacked at seeing a woman in her 20s rambling about the place in such heavy clothes," she recalls.

She had come home to visit her parents, who had returned two years earlier to take care of two elderly relations who lived on the farm that has been in the family for nine generations.

As fortune would have it, her father "put his back out" during the visit and asked Bridget to extend her vacation to help out on the farm.

It was a big ask for a lawyer dealing with human rights and land tenancy issues during the final years of the South African apartheid regime but it was one she readily answered.

Today, Bridget runs a flock if 75 Cheviot sheep close to the Ox Mountains along with some hill ponies and a beehive enterprise.

6/4/2018 Bridget Murphy on her County Sligo farmer.
Photo Brian Farrell
6/4/2018 Bridget Murphy on her County Sligo farmer. Photo Brian Farrell

She has able assistance from her daughter Skye (24), a recent winner of the Farm Relief Services All-Ireland memorial scholarship.

Bridget is also applying her legal experience to land use, tenure and management issues.

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She has clear-cut views on land issues here and believes that farming should be carried out in tune with nature.

She feels that a regime has to be put in place which rewards sustainable rather than production-line farming, which she believes is creating serious problems, not least the potentially massive EU fines Ireland faces for failing to meet emissions targets.

She also says commonage rules and regulations will have to be reviewed in terms of sustainability and proper management.

And she also raises issues on agricultural grants, which she argues should be front-loaded to enable farmers minimise bank borrowings.

Back on the farm, she is practising sustainable models of production.

"My rams are sold before they leave the farm so I know where they are going and the ewes are sold through the local marts and factories," she explains. "But I would like to see the hill ponies being treated as a livestock number when it comes to the Farm Payment.

"The hill ponies here are like Welsh ponies but are not given the same status in terms of payments."

The bee-keeping, which Bridget sees as critical to sustainable hill farming, has seen some reverses this year, She had 14 hives at the beginning of this winter but six were frozen during 'the Beast From the East' storm.

"Overall, it has been a big change for me given my work in South Africa but it is a change that I totally embrace," she says.

And she adds that she does miss the deep-sea diving and snorkelling which she enjoyed so much when working as a lawyer in South Africa 20 years ago.

Indo Farming

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