BY EMMA CONNOLLY
AN Innishannon farmer co-ordinated a rescue response that saw 1,200 cows from nine herds milked by the evening after Storm Ophelia, which had left scores of local famers in dire straits.
Donal Kiely from Rathnarougha secured a generator at 10pm on Monday last and, by Tuesday evening, had helped organise the milking of nine herds in his area – some of them twice.
Getting only around two and a half hours sleep from Monday morning to Tuesday night, he was one of many farmers throughout West Cork who put their shoulder to the wheel, got organised and came to the aid of the hundreds left without power after the tropical storm caused mass power outage.
Donal explained how his friend, local businessman Barry O’Sullivan of Centra, Innishannon, had hired a generator the day before the storm from Tossie Hayes in anticipation of what lay ahead. ‘Barry fed half of Innishannon and then his power came back, so I got the generator.’
Worth €30,000 he was naturally keen to ensure both its safe keeping, and its safe use, so along with neighbour Ciaran O’Sullivan, they coordinated a plan and drove from farm to farm to help out those in need, along the way securing the use of a second generator.
Donal, who milks a herd of 250 himself, crucially organised for two local electricians – Keith Boyd and Michael O’Brien – to come on board the team to ensure the safety of the operation.
Along with Donal, they worked through the night, and were running on empty to get the mission accomplished. ‘Farming has got very mechanised over the last decade and, as a result, is very dependent on electricity. On my farm electricity milks the cows, cleans the cow houses, cools the milk, feeds the cows, pumps water to animals and controls the fencer.
‘Farmers were taken by surprise. We are so used to a secure power supply,’ he said.
Donal singled out local co-op milk lorry drivers for their flexible approach to collecting milk which could not be cooled.
‘We had to take generators from yards before milk was cooled as the priority was to get cows milked, but drivers were on 24/7.’
And, he was also fulsome in his praise of Tossie Hayes, of Hayes Cabin and Caravan Services in Owenahincha, whose generators, he said, helped milk some 3,000 cows in West Cork in the days after the storm. ‘It is his business, but he said it wasn’t about the money – more about helping people out,’ said Donal.
‘My father, who is 88, started milked in 1965 and we have never not milked since then. But we never lost power for more than nine hours or so – this time it was three and a half days,’ said Donal who has already a generator sourced for himself in the event of this happening again.
However, he emphasised to others who are keen to do the same that the ‘wrong generator is worse than none at all.’
‘A lot of damage was done to equipment after the storm due to faulty generators supplying the incorrect voltage. All farmers should concentrate on getting an electrician to install a changeover switch and a proper heavy-duty cable to attach to the generator.
‘The generator I got from Tossie Hayes was top-of-the-range with its own engine and supplied the correct voltage in every farm. I was using three phase current and most of the other farms were on single phase and no equipment was damaged,’ he said.
Tossie said he and his two sons, David and Eamon, had hardly been to bed in the week after the storm and said his 26 generators ‘hadn’t stopped’ going from farm to farm.
We’ve been up as far as Dungarvan and down as far as Skibbereen – we’ve seen a lot of cows milked this week. It was far worse than Storm Darwin,’ he said. ‘But we saw real comradership out there – that’s what makes West Cork special.’
However, he also emphasised the need to be mindful of safety when using a generator.
‘All the farms we went to had a changeover switch so it was just a matter of “plug and play” – we are very health and safety conscious,’ he added saying it was important that farmers got themselves storm proofed.
‘I would advise farmers to get an electrician on board to make sure their set-ups are compatible for the type of generator their operation will need.’
He said farmers could expect to pay in the region of €7,000 for a covered-in insulated generator, and if making the investment they seek advice on where to store it away from dampness and condensation.
Corney Buckley chairman of the IFA in West Cork also praised the spirit of cooperation which he said was very much evident on the ground. ‘Talking to people, it was very obvious that some people went very much out of their way to help others out of serious trouble and it was very much appreciated. Co-ops also helped out and got people over the line.’
The greater Clonakilty area was an area without power for a long period and farmers there didn’t leave their neighbours wanting either. Tadgh Healy, who farms near the GAA complex, was without power until Thursday evening. He has a generator and made it available to neighbours and said local agricultural contractors also rowed in.
Cha Holmes from a battered Lough Hyne miraculously didn’t lose power, and has a generator since 2004, which he didn’t hesitate in lending to neighbours.
And, in Mid Cork, in Donoughmore, Liam Burke was being hailed a hero after he travelled to 11 farmyards with his generator on Tuesday, while on Wednesday he milked seven herds.