I MET Deirdre O’Leary on a beautiful sunny morning at her family farm high up on a hill behind Goleen with the most amazing views of the countryside below and out to the Atlantic beyond.
Having coffee and a chat in her home just down the road, which she shares with her two sons, Ciarán, 8, and Ronan, 6, I am struck by her strength of character and determination in dealing with some difficult obstacles and also by her admiration for the farm her dad, Dermot, has created and her desire to help maintain and develop that into the future. ‘I felt one of us should take up the helm from Dad at some point. With all the work I’ve seen put into it, I would hate to see it gone.’
Deirdre was always interested in farming and involved from a young age. She was four when the family moved from Co Kildare to take over from her grandfather. While she was growing up, they farmed up to 400 sheep and, although the idea of boarding school appealed as a break from the busy farm, Deirdre did not follow her three siblings away and went to secondary school locally.
However, her great love of and talent for sport growing up, took her away to university in Luton to study Sports Science where she also had the chance to play soccer in a league there. After completing her degree, Deirdre decided to return to Cork to further her studies with a diploma in Sports Injury and Sports Massage.
It was during this time that she was involved in a serious car accident that resulted in a hangman’s injury to her neck with only a hair’s breath between recovery and complete spinal injury.
Deirdre was walking before she left the hospital and proceeded to farm her way through recovery, but it was the secondary injuries that have proved the most problematic and, despite more surgery, pain management treatment and physiotherapy, pain is something that Deirdre lives with daily compounded by an allergy to codeine and the intolerance she has developed to IV anti-inflammatory medication.
She remains philosophical: ‘I just try to forget about the pain, you can get really wrapped up in it, you just have to get on with it. It’s mind over matter, you have to train yourself.’
Dad Dermot had, by the late 1990s, got out of sheep farming and moved into keeping suckler cows and calves and also some beef, converting all the sheep sheds in the process. They now have three farm blocks and some land rented, all close together and about 200 suckler cows and calves.
Dermot and Deirdre also do contracting work in the summer: ‘We do baling and wrapping. I’m the wrapper.’
Having been drawn back to college in 2006 to study Sports Injuries and Rehabilitation in Carlow, Deirdre commenced the course and then found she was expecting Ciarán, which also brought her back to farming. When Ronan followed two years later, she assessed where she was and, by 2011, she had decided to buy her house and commit to farming. ‘Buying the house gave me some security and something for the boys if anything happened to me.’
Farming with her dad also gives her flexibility with the boys and in turn allows him and wife, Ellie, the freedom to travel. ‘I love being outdoors, there is a great sense of achievement as you watch animals grow and develop. It is difficult in winter and losing animals is the worst thing, but for me, it’s ten times better than sitting in an office.’
And, on the day we met, it was certainly difficult to disagree.