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So here's to our volunteers, the heart and soul of rural Ireland

I've read a number of studies lately that conclude that wealth creation of rural areas and regions is undervalued by society and governments. Isn't this the case in Ireland as well?

Without getting a complex about it, I suspect that the inhabitants of Dublin 4 rate themselves in a different league to the farmers of Mayo or Monaghan, or even Carlow.

The farmers might even be regarded as being 'carried' by the citizens of the capital. Let's look a little closer to see who is carrying whom.

The highly paid professionals in Dublin 4 -- the lawyers, the accountants, the bankers the civil servants, the university lecturers, the medics, even the politicians -- may all enjoy the fruits of considerable wealth. But the small farmer with the few suckler cows is actually creating more net wealth for the country than his urban cousins.

Even the Single Farm Payment adds to the net wealth of Ireland Inc. And while the vast bulk of the farmer euros are spent locally, creating jobs in the local community, the Dublin 4 euro is more likely to be spent on a new car or a foreign holiday.

However, maybe the message of the importance of the regions to Ireland's recovery is getting through. Last week it was great to see the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award being won by Edmond Harty of Dairymaster in north Kerry. Not alone is his company creating wealth by exporting milking machines across the world, it is also creating a buzz in the local community.

In a former life, I travelled extensively throughout rural France, visiting farms in search of AI bulls. I was amazed at the deadness of the areas. Good quality land was going cheap. Villages were half boarded up. Nothing was being built. I remember one village south of Limoges where the population had fallen from over 1,000 to about 100 in 60 years and the village church held Mass only four times a year.

The contrast with rural Ireland at the time --it was during the Celtic Tiger era -- could hardly have been greater. Why the difference in rural vitality?

One great attribute of rural Ireland sprung to mind -- volunteerism. The voluntary efforts of sporting people, especially the GAA and Community Games, the volunteers from the farm organisations, amateur theatre groups, youth groups, summer camps, charities, all enrich rural Ireland and make it a better place for its citizens.

I was reminded of this at the recent Paddy Fitzgerald Memorial Award ceremony, organised by John Dillon and his colleagues in Limerick IFA and co-sponsored by FBD.

IFA stalwart Paddy Fitzgerald, who passed away in the 1980s, was the ultimate volunteer in that he didn't even claim travelling expenses.

At the ceremony, each of Munster's nine county executives nominated a person for a county award and from these nine, an overall winner was chosen. This year's overall winner was Josie Ahern, from Croagh, Co Limerick, who has delivered more than two decades of fundraising.

This began in 1989 when, travelling by bicycle, she raised £2,000 for a school for dyslexic children in Limerick. More recently, she helped raise €11,000 for children in Belarus and is doing massive work for the elderly in her community.

The citations for the other eight were equally impressive.

Any one would have made a worthy overall winner. They were: John O'Mahony, from Tallow, Co Waterford, former chairman of the IFA grain committee; Mary Lanigan-Ryan of Borrisoleigh, Tipp North; Mary Slattery, Clonoulty, Tipp South; Denis Regan, Cork West; Richie O'Connor, Cork Central; Denis O'Brien, Cork North; Richard Harnett of Castleisland Mart in Kerry; and Michael Lynch from Magowna, Co Clare.

Michael is a former Bord Bia Beef Farmer Of The Year and has represented his county at national level for nigh on 40 years.

Knowing him, he would never have sought the posts but was too much of a gentleman to say no when asked to serve.

I inquired if these IFA nominees had spent so much time away from home that family and farms had suffered, but I was assured that nothing could be further from the truth.

Rather they were the living proof of the proverb: "if you want a job done ask a busy volunteer".

Long may the volunteers of rural Ireland continue in their work. Ireland needs you. You make a difference.

Indo Farming