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‘As long as people need food, we need farmers’

April 3rd, 2024 9:00 AM

By Helen Riddell

Catherine and other delegates at the branch AGM in Dunmanway recently at which the new committee was elected. New IFA president, Francie Gorman (centre with red tie) attended the meeting also. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

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Catherine O’Sullivan, the recently-appointed West Cork IFA secretary, speaks to HELEN RIDDELL about the role of women in the sector and why she’s feeling confident for the future.

Just over two months into her role as secretary with West Cork IFA, Catherine O’Sullivan, says she is looking forward to her time in office and was honoured to be appointed to the committee.

West Cork IFA secretary, Catherine O’Sullivan.


Originally from Enniskeane, Catherine has lived in Rosscarbery since 1987 where she and her husband Finbarr breed pedigree Angus cattle.

The couple have five adult children and also run a popular farmhouse B&B. Farming has always been part of her life, ‘my father was a farmer, I grew up on a farm and I married a farmer.’

As a member of the IFA, Catherine felt it was the right to become more involved in the organisation.

‘I have been a member of the IFA and various other organisations over the years. I was the female delegate for county meetings from our local Rosscarbery branch of the IFA, and I feel it is important to be involved in an organisation that speaks for the people on the ground.’

She was appointed secretary at the AGM of the West Cork IFA which was held in January, ‘I’m honoured to be given the role in the organisation and will give it my best and I was delighted to receive such a great reception on the night of the AGM.’

Catherine has also been a member of many local community groups over the years, including school organisations when her children were younger, and is also involved in local tourism from her role in running a B&B, she has also been involved with Macra, all of which she feels will help her in her new role.

‘I’m still on a learning curve with my appointment as secretary of West Cork IFA, but I hope to draw on my past experience from other local groups and I have been speaking to the outgoing officers and our current chairman, who have all been very supportive. The IFA is a very well-structured organisation and gives good support and backup.’

Having herself run a farmhouse B&B for over thirty years, along with jointly operating a busy farm, Catherine is confident that women’s role in agriculture is finally being recognised.

‘Farming is a family business, wives, partners, and daughters have always had an important role although it might not always have been seen or heard. This has definitely changed in the last number of years, and women are now more actively involved and recognised for the work they do.”

With remote working now common place in Ireland, Catherine feels it is of particular benefit to women involved in farming.

‘When women were mainly working outside the home, and the farmer was on his own, it was hard, but now that more and more women have the opportunity of working from home, they’re able to be more involved in the farm, and their local community which is bringing life back to rural communities.

Catherine feels that women coming to the forefront in agriculture is also being mirrored in farming organisations.

‘We now have Alice Doyle as deputy President of the IFA, a lady president in Macra, the Irish Farm Families and Social Affairs just elected a new lady chairperson in January and the IFA actively promote women in agriculture so women’s role is definitely recognised at organisational level.’

A long-time supporter of Macra, Catherine credits the organisation with its support of young people in farming,

‘Macra is hugely important for getting young people involved, and it is a great step on the ladder of getting them into farming organisations, like the IFA. The camaraderie of Macra is a great support to rural communities as social life has changed hugely in rural areas and Macra fills that void.’

With farmers facing a number of challenges in recent years, including the pandemic, Brexit and climate change Catherine stresses that there is a future for agriculture, particularly in West Cork. ‘As long as people need food we need farmers, West Cork is ideally suited for all types of food production, we can produce and process food here but we need to protect our producers, our farmers, and we need to ensure they’re rewarded for their work.’

Agri-tourism, she says, is also a big attraction for the West Cork region. ‘Speaking from a B&B perspective, agriculture and tourism, especially in West Cork have always worked well together.

So many of our guests over the years have commented on how beautiful West Cork is, the food, the landscape, it all helps to encourage more visitors.

What has come to the fore these last few years is the importance of the outdoors, it’s so important for people to experience the countryside and rural life.’

Catherine is adamant that agriculture and protecting the environment should go hand in hand, ‘no farmer is out to destroy their environment, farmers have always been at one with the land and I feel this should be acknowledged in any discussion about changes. We all need to work together.’

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