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Pat Carty - captain of the Irish Wheelchair Hurling team: "He said, 'you can't stand or walk', but I got the highest price for my cattle"

Pat Carty (51) is a farmer, a sales rep, captain of the Irish Wheelchair Hurling team and chair of Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland. He lives in Sligo with his wife, Edel


Sligo farmer Pat Carty

Sligo farmer Pat Carty

Sligo farmer Pat Carty

Most mornings I wake before 6am. I might listen to a podcast - Teagasc or Farmer's Journal. My wife, Edel, goes for a walk before work. She is a pharmacy technician in Sligo General Hospital.

I'm a sales representative for Frames Direct. We make and supply trade frames for PVC windows, patios and doors. I'm not on the road at the moment, but I'm on the phone to customers every day. I also have a farm. I inherited the family farm.

It's very peaceful living on the farm. The lovely thing about it is that the cows come up to the window. I have a suckler farm which means it is for cows that produce calves. We bring the calves to six months old and sell them. A few weeks ago, I bought heifers and hopefully they will enter the suckler herd early next year. I have them beside the house so l can keep an eye on them to see when they are in heat and so it's fierce handy when they come up to the window. Sometimes we buy in older cattle to feed up and then bring to slaughter later on for meat production.

Normally the marts are full of people standing around the ring bidding. With Covid-19, the mart was closed in the beginning but then they started online sales. So, I had cattle in the mart again. You backed in, gave the cart to one of the mart attendants and he unloaded them and put the tags on the back. Then I went home, logged in online and watched the cattle being sold. An hour later, the mart rang up, went through the lot numbers and asked if I was happy to sell.

It was never in my portfolio to be in a wheelchair. Farming was number one and working in a bakery was my second job.

After I finished school, I went to agricultural college and then I started in the bakery. One Friday, driving home from the bakery at 1am, I fell asleep, turned over the car and crashed it into a pole. I was overtired. I had been out doing farm work for two days before that. I broke my back and then I had major surgery where they put pins in. I was 20 years old. A few weeks after, I got a bill for the telegraph pole I broke.

The aftermath was more frightening than the accident. I remember coming home and crying. My father had been dead since I was two, and my uncle and cousin had been doing the cattle. I remember telling them to get rid of everything, but in fairness, they didn't. We had to pull back cattle numbers a bit but I was lucky that I was young and strong. I carried on farming.

I remember one time a girl from the Department of Agriculture came to test cattle and I was in the pen in the wheelchair with cattle and bullocks, which were about 600kg. And she said, 'Pat, do you have a death wish?' But the cattle got to know me. I wouldn't be belting them with a stick and I took my time with them.

I have no power in my legs. Roughly from waist level, I am paralysed. It's 30-odd years now but I genuinely don't see myself as someone in a wheelchair. I actually forget I'm in a wheelchair.

Last year I was up in the mart selling cattle and this fella came up to me. He said, 'You're in a wheelchair. Do you farm?' I told him that I did a bit, nothing too serious though. Then he asked me if I could stand up. He quizzed me for 10 minutes.

In the end, he said, 'You can't stand up and walk, you're not a farmer at all'. But on that day we probably got the highest price for cattle, so I only laughed at him. I told a few people afterwards and they were very angry. I just thought it was funny, the way we categorise people into boxes and assume so much.

I have a car, a Jeep Land Cruiser for the farm, and a tractor.  The car and Jeep are both automatic and the tractor is auto power. Yes, they are higher up, but cars aren't great for going through the fields. I just open the door, put one leg in with one hand on the seat and whoosh myself in. Then I pull the two wheels off the wheelchair and throw them in behind.

When I am travelling for work, I mostly use the car, as the Jeep is too expensive for fuel.

My mother is 90 and the other week, she was cleaning out the silage pit. She kicks ass and she will not tolerate laziness.

Back in 1992, she sent me packing to do a computer course in Ballindine with Ability Enterprises and then I later went back to work for the bakery, doing orders and the production list.

Ability Enterprises is linked to the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland (DDAI), which was set up by disabled people for disabled people. The DDAI are celebrating 50 years and I am the chair.

They are a great support for disabled drivers and they lobby for them. They manage the EU parking badges and they have a specialist driving school.

I am very competitive person. On the farm, I like pushing things to the limit, and I also play wheelchair hurling. It's people with physical disabilities tearing around the floor with a rubber-end hurley, hitting a soft sponge sliotar. I love it. I'm the captain of the team.

I met Edel when I was in a wheelchair, so she doesn't know me any different. Before we got married, I'd do farming at 5am before work and then after work, until 1am. So that had to stop. In the evenings, I try to be in for 8.30pm. I go over to the recliner chair and I sit in it and I say, 'That's so good. It's the first time I sat down all day.' That's our little joke.



In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

DDAI manages EU parking cards (blue badge) and the Shopmobility scheme

Sunday Independent