PROFILED: Gus O'Brien - honoured for his loyal service to local farmers and his community

November 14th, 2021 10:00 AM

By Emma Connolly

Gus has been manager of Shinagh Estates for the past fi ve years, which is where Carbery’s Farm Zero Carbon is being developed. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

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MENTION Gus O’Brien to most West Cork farmers and the name will mean something.

Whether it’s for his decades long involvement with Bandon Co-op, or more recently for his work at Shinagh Estate s, he’s a very well-known, but more importantly very well-liked figure in the region.

He’s been part of many significant developments over his career that have improved the lot of local farmers, and we’re delighted to announce him as the winner of our ‘Outstanding Contribution to West Cork Farming’ award.

Gus is also hugely involved in various community groups in his hometown of Bandon, as well as being a director of Local Link Cork.

He’s a perfect example of the saying that ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.’

Modest in the extreme, he’s not one to draw attention to any of his work and achievements, which, in our eyes, makes him an even more worthy recipient of this award.


Well-known and well-liked, Gus is a man of the people

WHEN Gus O’Brien embarked on his career, farmers were still bringing their milk to the creamery in churns.

He now manages Shinagh Estates, Bandon where among many other things, ground breaking work is taking place by Carbery and others to develop the world’s first zero emission dairy farm.

Suffice to say he’s been at the table for major changes in the agri-sector over the last five decades.

A Bandon man born and bred, and very proud of it, he lives not far from his home place at Knocknagallagh, on the Timoleague Road.

After attending national school in Crossmahon, and Hamilton High School, he went to UCC where he studied Dairy Science.

‘When I graduated in 1969 I went to the “university of life” and my first introduction to farmers was at Barryroe Coop,’ he said.

Gus managed a branch there for two years, before joining Bandon Co-op in 1971 where he had a long and illustrious career that saw him progress to CEO and secretary, before stepping down in 2015.

Not that he’s quick to draw attention to any of it – to say Gus is modest and unassuming is possibly the understatement of the year!

His flair for business and his natural work ethic made him a key player in improving the lot of farmers in West Cork.

He was involved in the purchase of a 26 acre site in Kilbrogan and a 26,000 square foot building from US Company, Jacobson Fasteners which allowed the co-op expand into grass seed, fertilisers, grain storage and grain drying.

He was also involved in setting up an agri-store at Kilbrogan in 1984, which was their first foray into retail activities with shops now in Kilbrogan, Kinsale and Enniskeane.

He was a key player behind the acquisition by Bandon, Barryroe and Lisavaird Coops of Clona Dairies in 1989, while a significant opportunity was the purchasing of the Express Dairies remaining interest in Carbery Food Products in 1991.

His time with Bandon Co-op also saw them firstly acquire Bandon Vale Cheese in 2009; followed by the assets of Henry Good Ltd in Kinsale in 2013.

Describing himself as a positive person he said his motivation was simply to ‘keep things moving forward.’

‘You have to be working to improve things, but then of course you get lucky from time to time too when opportunities present themselves,’ he said.

And he stresses that he couldn’t have achieved anything without a great team around him. Bringing people along, is something he feels strongly about.

He’s been manager of Shinagh Estates for the past five years. The estate comprises 300 acres and is home to two

dairy farms. One is run by the estate and comprises a 250 cow herd. The other provides a pathway to farmers who don’t have land, as Shinagh provide land, infrastructure and buildings.

‘There’s a cow herd of 110 there and we’re currently on our second shared farmer which is very positive,’ said Gus.

A typical day … well there isn’t one! He could be donning the wellingtons to deal with a farm related issue, or responding to one of the businesses who are based on the estate.

These include Munster Bovine, ICBF, Teagasc, AHLI, Capita Customer Solutions and others.

His flair for business, is matched by his passion for his community and he has never been found wanting when a position needed filling.

He was one of the founding members of Bandon Chamber of Commerce, and is hugely confident for the future of his home town. Over the years he’s also been part of Macra na Feirme, Bandon Scouts, chairman of Crossmahon NS and until last year was chairman of Hamilton High.

He’s a past president of Bandon Golf Club, where he says he continues to play badly!

He’s also a director of Local Link Cork, a registered charity and a not-for-profit organisation.

It is one of 15 Local Link companies nationally who oversee the implementation of rural and community transport on behalf of the National Transport Authority.

It will also be tasked with supporting the implementation of the recently announced Connecting Ireland project. LLC has a voluntary board of 15 members. It also supports Cancer Connect, Community Call and driver CPC training as part of its operations and has offices in Bantry and Fermoy.

All things combined, it’s not surprising that this isn’t the first time Gus has been recognised, and he’s a past recipient of the Plunkett Award for Co-operative Endeavour from the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society. It’s the industry’s highest honour.

Married to Margaret from Enniskeane, they are parents to Kieran, a partner with KPMG, and Daragh, a psychologist with the Department of Education. They both live in Dublin, and Gus is a proud grandad of five.

Gus has a great sense of gratitude for his lot in life and it’s heartening to hear from someone of his ilk, that he’s confident for the future of farming.

He remembers the ‘golden years’ from the 70s to 1983 when expansion had no restrictions; but equally he recalls the downturn when quotas were introduced.

‘There will always be challenges but with challenges come opportunities. What we need to focus on now is finding ways to reduce our emissions from all sectors including agriculture. There is a yearning for knowledge among farmers and we see that from people visiting Farm Zero Carbon (FZC) here on the estate, they’re eager for information.’

Crucially he feels that co-ops will play a vital role in helping farmers navigate the changes coming.

‘The co-op movement is as important now as it was when it was founded by Horace Plunkett and it will help members find a way through the climate challenges.’

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