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Women Drive Tractors Too
18 True Stories of Irish Women
By Author Mary Carroll
A Collection of biographic stories of
Irish Women in Agriculture
Sponsored by ACC Bank
In Association with
Meath Leader & Laois Leader
Visit main website: www.womendrivetractorstoo.com
About the Author: Mary Carroll
Mary Carroll is former Equality Office with the Irish Farmers Association and is now working as a consultant in the area of communications, training and equality, including a part-time position with Concern.
She produces and presents a weekly evening show on local radio station Tipp FM and manages editorial content for special supplements with a variety of newspapers.
Mary qualified with a BSc in Zoology and a MSC in Environmental Science. She also holds qualifications in legal studies and PR.
Mary continues to live in her home town of Ballyroan, Co. Laois.
About the Book: Women Drive Tractors Too
Mary Carroll presents 18 biographical, true life stories of Irish Women in Agriculture. Each woman has an individual story to tell, and all personally inspired Mary during her period as Equality Officer at the Irish Farmers Association.
This book is a lasting legacy from the IFA Equality Project, but, more importantly, it allows these 18 remarkable women to each tell her own story and share the trials and tribulations of living and working in rural Ireland in 2005.
Making a unique and forceful statement about the current state of agriculture, Women Drive Tractors Too is a powerful tale of the indomitable spirit of our rural women.
Synopsis: Meet the Women
One of the most amazing women in agriculture, who, although the desire to embrace farming causes was not immediately apparent, overcame intense opposition when she successfully tackled the widespread illegal smuggling of lambs. After many years as “the sheep woman” of the IFA, she has now moved into new political pastures with the Environment Protection Agency and the Grassland Association.
A passionate, feisty and independent young lady, who, after working for a few years in the UK, Canada and the USA, committed herself to farming full-time, acquiring an intimate and absolute knowledge of dairying, and was the only woman to drive a tractor in the Tullamore Tractorcade. Being fascinated by how children’s minds can be moulded by contact with nature and animals, she gained a Montessori Diploma, and gave presentations to schoolchildren as part of the Agri-Aware scheme. She continues to express her firm views on inheritance, with equal opportunity her mantra.
Her young life was beset by tragedy, losing both her father and mother within 3 years of each other, during her years at boarding school. A supporting role on her family’s farm, and in the IFA, led her to be one of the few women to drive a tractor in the 2002 Tractorcade. She is adamant that farmers can and must change with the times – “Instead of seeing the rug being pulled from under us, we must learn to dance on a shifting carpet”.
The youngest woman in the book, and the youngest ever County Secretary of the IFA (at 19); who simply had to learn the practical skills of farming as she was an only child growing up on her parent’s farm. In the tragedy of losing her mother to cancer shortly after her 21st birthday, she was greatly supported by her fellow IFA members. She has proved by example that, as long as you can do a job well, gender or age should make no difference, and as she continues to punch way beyond her weight, she is making an impact in the IFA far beyond her years.
A strong, confident, outspoken woman, with a bohemian attitude to farming, and an unmistakable Scottish accent. She trained as nurse in Scotland, but returned with her family to Ireland when her parents retired. When her Irish speaking husband spent time in the USA, she took over the running of their sheep farm (which included training their sheepdog to be bi-lingual!), and consequently she is now an acknowledged sheep expert in her own right, remaining passionate about farming and the future.
Born in the USA, and diagnosed as dyslexic, she was determined to help others avoid the frustration and humiliation she suffered as a child. She became a Language Disability Therapist, studied at 3 colleges achieving 3 Degrees, one of which is Master’s, then moved to Ireland to set up a teaching practice for dyslexics. Having married a farmer, bought her own farm and started a family, she then wrote her first of three children’s books. Although now recovering from cancer, she continues to rear quality prize-winning cattle and horses, and has an unfailing love of the land and fascination with nature.
Brought up in a close knit farming family, she originally trained as a book-keeper, but took over running the family farm, when her husband’s parents retired. Tragedy hit when her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 38. As she nursed him through his illness, she had to return to work, and run the farm, but he finally succumbed to the tumour at the age of 45. Less than a year later her cows were tested positive for TB. The loss of the herd forced hard decisions to be made, and after much soul-searching she decided to continue farming. Membership of the IFA supported her both practically and socially, and so she constantly encourages women to be involved in professional farming organisations to gain the recognition they deserve. Her fortitude in the face of adversity is inspirational.
MARGARET A GILL
Although the oldest woman featured in this book, this sprightly 70 year old grandmother is definitely one of the youngest at heart, with her positive spark and no-nonsense liberal approach to life. Originally from Dublin, she was regarded as a ‘blow-in’ and city girl when she married her farmer husband, but she bought a calf (making her a stakeholder in her husband’s farm), and enrolled on a course to learn the basics of running a home. As her five children grew up, she became a founder member of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association; completed a Diploma in Physical Therapy and subsequently taught keep fit ‘to practically every farm woman in the county’; gained a Diploma in Psychology and Assertiveness; and took up swimming and walking. Because she is a stakeholder in the family farm, she has a full pension, unlike most other farm women – one of many farming issues she feels very strongly about.
An amazingly strong woman, who believes that every event in her life has moulded her in some way. Her father died before she was old enough to know him, and her mother subsequently happily re-married. In time, she married a dairy farmer, and they were carefree and happy, until the arrival of their first child. Their daughter was born prematurely and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Three years later their first son was born, with a hole in his heart, bladder extrophy and Downs syndrome. Ever since, she has fought for better services for the disabled, both from a personal viewpoint and nationally, but at what cost to her own family, especially the two healthy sons born subsequently. She has been, and still is, active in many organisations linked to farming, and believes that she could not have won recognition without enduring her own personal battles.
A powerful and positive rock to lean on, who took the saying “It’s never too late to learn” quite literally, by starting her third level education whilst she was pregnant with her eighth child. The course helped her to reflect on her life experiences through her large family; working on and off the farm; the loss of her father; a visit to Kenya and Tanzania; and fund raising for children with cerebral palsy. Inspired by the IFA Equality initiative, organising the ‘Women in Agriculture’ conference, and consequent return visit to Australia, she is determined to encourage rural women to embrace change, and make a positive, and visible, contribution to their homes, community and country. To “Blossom where you grow”.
DENISE O’SULLIVAN BREEN
One of five girls in a farming family, originally she did not show any inclination to follow her parents into farming and went to university. But after a dramatic change of heart, she completed her farming certificate and took over the operation of the family farm. She is the first to admit that women are not as physically strong as their male counterparts, so she systematically introduced mechanised farming practices to replace manual work. Contracting on other farms brought her up against the prejudice that a woman could not operate or farm independently, which was made worse when the comment came from a woman. Although she has since completed a Masters Degree in Women’s Studies, she remains passionate about farming, and considers herself to be, first and foremost, a farmer.
Behind her quiet exterior, lies a strong, dynamic and fiercely independent woman. She started work as a medical secretary, but with the sudden death of her father, she had to take full responsibility for running the farm. Now a farmer, she joined the IFA and became politically active, organising, canvassing and even protesting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. But on a more local level, she has also voiced her strong concerns about the reluctance to support farmers through stressful times. Her experiences have helped her to learn the value of listening, the importance of achieving consensus, and that “You shouldn’t judge a man until you have walked the length of a moon in his shoes”.
A woman who’s outsize personality, lovely warm smile, wonderful sense of place, great attachment to country life and openness to change, are infectious. Although born into a farming background, and having married a farmer, she only left office work relatively recently, to devote more time to her family and the farm. As soon as she joined the IFA she became actively involved, handling county members, organising support during protests, liaising between factory owners and farmers, and canvassing in the IFA Presidential Elections. After the experience of losing of herd due to Brucellosis, she put herself forward to be the County Animal Health Representative, and has since been elected to the IFA National Animal Health Management Committee. She is proud to have been part of the steering group that hosted the ‘Women in Agriculture’ conference, and consequent trip to Australia.
A strong, determined woman, a brilliant listener, full of encouragement, but also with a great sense of fun. From an early age, she felt a sense of injustice at the greater status given to those who owned land as opposed to those who did not, and the discrimination between rich and poor, even within the church. Unhappy school years, and a nursing career thwarted by chronic back pain, led to depression, but meeting her farmer husband helped her realise her true potential. Through him, she became actively involved in the IFA, believing that equality is an absolute right, and that women should be more proactive, and less afraid of their own shadow. As a determined survivor she is on a continuous quest for self-empowerment, and would love nothing more than to be known as a woman who did it her way.
Desperate shyness in her early years, had been so successfully overcome by helping out at the local Credit Union, that in her first job as a clerk in an assurance company, she started taking an active part in trade union affairs, challenging the existing marriage and equal pay bars. Within the first year, this city girl, with no farming background, had met her future husband – a farmer. After the birth of their first child, she devoted her time to the family and the farm, enrolled on a farming course, and consequently developed a real interest in agriculture. The sense of empowerment from that course made her become actively involved in the IFA, organising training courses in self-improvement and confidence building, and more recently being integral to the organisation of the ‘Women in Agriculture’ conference, and trip to Australia. She has become a knowledge-hungry woman, presently contemplating whether to complete a Masters Degree in Women’s Studies.
An exceptionally hard working farm woman whose knowledge of pedigree cattle is amazing. She is truly an expert, and could easily become an international advisor on the subject. She started farming at the age of 12, after the untimely death of her father, which left her, with her mother, to run the farm, and look after the 2 youngest children. Despite the disapproval of her family, she married at 17, and started a farm with her husband. Celebration and tragedy came to be repeated, at the time of the births of their fourth and fifth children, her mother had a stroke, and they lost both his mother and step-father. Despite the increased pressures, she started breeding prize-winning pedigree cattle, and running the farm single-handed. Recognition for her work and ceaseless efforts came when she won the All Ireland Farm Woman contest.
An energetic and fiercely independent woman whose strength is an example to us all. Not only did she lose both parents within days of each other at the age of 19, but her husband was killed in a tragic accident when she was in her mid-thirties, leaving her with a baby girl and 2 teenage sons. She found herself at the helm of a farm, with no special training, and little idea of what she should do – but quitting was never an option. She took advice, made sound business decisions, and overcame TB and BVD, with grit and determination. Not content with running the farm and raising her family, she began a programme of study and self-improvement, which has taken her to many parts of the world. Her acute business acumen, her ambition, and her foresight in developing her skills through constant education and training, won her the coveted National Farm Woman of the Year Award.
A woman with strong opinions, strategic skills, and the determination to change things. Although from a farming background, she initially went into administrative work, where she excelled, but when she married her dairy farmer husband, she gave up her highly enjoyable and high profile job, and accepted her new status as ‘blow in’. The first five years were difficult, she lost both her parents, and a stillborn child, but, as result of completing an intensive farming business course, and studying a low-cost dairy production model in New Zealand, they were able to introduce radical changes. Success encouraged her to apply for, and win, an Irish Nuffield Farming Scholarship, which funded her for a year to study farming practices and techniques anywhere in the world. Her report highlighted that in other parts of the world, full recognition is given to farm women, in contrast to the experience in Ireland. But she does admit that not all Irish farm women share her passion to address women’s issues in farming, and some actively seek to keep other women down. She does not believe that women need special treatment; they should just be truly equal in thought and deed.
“In October 2003 there was a National Conference of Farm Women in Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The numbers participating, the constructive discussions and proposals as well as the sheer determination and intelligence of the huge attendance meant that farm women were never going to be isolated again. In this collection of stories Mary has demonstrated what makes farm women tick and how they make a difference, not only to their own farm and family but to their locality, organisation and country. It’s an inspirational read. My hope is that it will further enhance the international network of farm women that has the potential to enrich so many lives.”
Matt Dempsey, Editor Irish Farmers Journal
“In almost 25 years in agricultural journalism, finding women to interview on farms proved difficult. Women did farm, but were usually in the background and tended to shy away from public comment in favour of letting himself have his say. This book serves to redress that imbalance giving women a platform to tell their stories and for that it is most welcome. Maybe it is the start of a trend in farming where we will see more women at the wheel of the tractor. If it is, let’s hope there is a future for them in farming, that it gives them a viable living in a profession which is, sadly, held in less regard than it should be.”
Mairead McGuinness, MEP, former editor Farming Independent and presenter of RTE’s Ear to the Ground
“’Women Drive Tractors Too’ is a must read for every woman working on the farm. This collection of stories, honestly told, presents a remarkable picture of life in rural Ireland today. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Miriam O’Callaghan, journalist and broadcaster
“Mary Carroll is an inspiration for all women in agriculture. She has a great ability to capture the stories of the ordinary and yet extraordinary lives of women and their families. This book will be eagerly read in Australia. It will inspire and motivate all women who dream of an international network of women in agriculture where women's work is universally acknowledged and our work counted."
Cathy McGowan, Past President Australian Women in Agriculture, Officer in the Order of Australia