Farm Ireland

Friday 20 April 2018

Straight from the horse's mouth

Gordon isn't one to sit on his laurels and keeps a watchful eye on the horses.
Gordon isn't one to sit on his laurels and keeps a watchful eye on the horses.
Gordon Bradley's wife Vivienne with their 1991 RDS Champion Hard Silver.

There's an old adage that says farmers never really retire. They just keep going as long as their energy and health allows.

For Gordon Bradley, he has never really been a man to sit on his laurels, and at the age of 81 has a Curriculum Vitae longer than your arm.

A farmer for much of his life at home in Ballycoolan, Co Laois, with so many other achievements to his credit it is a wonder he ever had time to build up a successful enterprise before taking early retirement at the age of 57. The farm is now run by his son, Philip.

Gordon was typical of a child growing up in the 1930s and spent his early days on the family farm before being sent off to boarding school post-war. He spent just three years at Kings Hospital before returning home when his father Herbert took ill, but as he says it was good timing to escape the school, which at the time had "bad heating and even worse food".

Gurteen Agricultural College was only in its third year of operation in 1949 when Gordon was sent there to learn the basic skills of farming, but in its infancy the course offered much more than just practical farming applications.

"The course back then was excellent as we studied veterinary as part of the syllabus which also included agricultural science, botany and horticulture."

A decade earlier Gordon had seen the arrival of the first tractor on the farm, and for the young apprentice it was the start of a new era.

"Up to then Dad used horses for everything so I remember it well. The first was a Utility Fordson, and after that my father bought me a Ferguson 20. Dad always worked the horses at home but he also had a few mares and supplied some of the horses used up at the Guinness factory."

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From there Gordon formed a love for Irish Draughts, but it was only after he met his future wife Vivienne, at a fancy dress party in 1958 that he got more involved in showing.

"I always joked with Vivienne that I knew more about horses than she did, but that's not really the case. She has been involved in them all her life too and has so many successes over the years."


It was during this time that Gordon was also deeply involved in the Macra movement and is a founding member of the Portlaoise branch, while also being involved in the construction of the Macra Hall in the early 1960s.

As a young father of four children - two sons and two daughters - Gordon worked hard to make ends meet.

"When I took over the farm from my father I decided to get into the dairy end of it but that was such hard work. We milked up to 75 cows at one stage, but I was bringing people in to work for me, and it was nothing but heartache. I remember an advisor coming to look at the farm and telling me to give it up. I was in my late 40s at the time and decided then to get into beef instead." It proved a wise decision and from then on, the farm prospered.

Long before that, however, Gordon had found a hobby that was later to become a lucrative business on the side. "As a young teenager I used to lamp rabbits and one day I met a guy called TC Kelly from Portlaoise. He used to do the amplification for shows and sporting events and got me interested. It took off from there really."

In the years that followed Gordon took on more and more work, including Rás Tailteann, but it was only when he was appointed to look after the sound system for the National Ploughing Championships that his voice became so distinctive.

For 35 years he oversaw all the amplification at the annual event, before being succeeded by Mongey Communications, but to this day Gordon is still a popular voice at Europe's largest agricultural event.

"My father before me used to compete at the ploughing and I've enjoyed it ever since.

"I've always had a mischievous side doing commentary and a few years ago I remember announcing that a sheepdog had gone missing. The next day I was back announcing that the dog had actually been arrested and was in Garda custody. It was all over the papers!" he laughed.

Aside from the Ploughing, Gordon's voice is also regularly heard at the Stradbally Steam Rally, while his sound systems are in regular use at numerous point-to-points as well as shows at Tullamore, Tullow and Tinahely.

Gordon also attended the Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Show in Punchestown earlier this year where he and Vivienne met their old friend Ken Bryan. "Ken has shown horses for us for many years and we've had some wonderful days in his company," he said.

These days their broodmare herd is reduced but they still have a few on the farm which are also enjoyed by their youngest son, Leslie. Disabled from birth, the 39-year-old is fortunate to have had such wonderful parents who have dedicated their lives to fund-raising for those in need.

While Leslie was still an infant Gordon was instrumental in the community raising £150,000 to build the Kolbe Centre in Portlaoise.


Leslie spent some of his childhood here before moving to Dove House in Abbeyleix where he now spends much of his weekdays.

Leslie has also inherited his love for horses from his parents and has enjoyed spending time with the Riding for the Disabled. Both his sisters Pamela and Linda, meanwhile, live in England where they are pursuing successful careers in science.

With his wife Vivienne currently in hospital recovering from pleurisy Gordon is hoping that she will be well enough to return home in plenty of time for Christmas.

"Sadly the girls won't make it back this year, but hopefully Vivienne will be home soon," he said.

A master of many trades, Gordon Bradley has often made his voice heard at events, writes

Indo Farming