Postcards from the Edge: Willie Hanrahan – ‘We will value the company of others in a new light’
Social distancing and the closure of marts has been tough, and the drop in farm income is daunting, writes Doonbeg farmer Willie Hanrahan, but the pandemic has made us appreciate how fragile the humanity is and that we can survive without many of the excesses that had become normal
Since lockdown began, every morning starts the same. At 6:30 my son Liam (the farmer) leaves the house to start the morning milking. At 7 the rest of us make our appearance, and so the day begins. The major difference from other years is the fact that we have four of our five adult children back living with us. Two engineers and a Leaving Cert student. Makeshift offices with internet access have been installed.
In general the lockdown hasn’t affected our working day to any great extent – the work is the same, cows calving and calves to be fed and tended to, cows to be milked and grass to be managed. However, when we need supplies from the hardware and co-op shop we have to stand in line and socially distance, which is hard and strange as farming is a solitary life and we tend to embrace any bit of social interaction with enthusiasm.
The closure of the Mart has been one of the biggest losses to farmers as a means of selling animals and meeting likeminded people. This has been replaced with online bidding, but the social interaction is not the same. The bargaining and posturing are missing and the enjoyment of closing the deal is gone.
Online selling might be the future, but this lockdown has shown us that maybe we are not quite ready for that lack of human contact. Going to mass on Sunday morning made us stop for a while and put on the Sunday best – maybe not for the prayers but again to see a few familiar faces and catch up on the week’s gossip.
The drop in income in every sector is very concerning. Cattle and milk prices have taken a hammering and the uncertainty will have far-reaching consequences. There will be no on-farm investment this year which will have an effect on other businesses such as building and plant hire.
This lockdown has shown us that we can survive without a lot of the excesses that had become normal. Eating out, foreign holidays, leisure activities and running and racing to every cat-fight, wherever it was happening.
If there are positives in this it has to be that we will value the company of our neighbours and indeed family in a new light. Simple conversation and interaction on WhatsApp can be interesting. The Saturday night quiz has become the in thing at the moment.
The powers that be also thought the world would end if the M50 wasn’t jammed every morning and the sky wasn’t black with the congestion of planes in the sky. Everyone was looking for the soft target to blame for climate change, but now we hear the skies are clearer and the air is cleaner after just a couple of months of lockdown.
It’s time to stop blaming agriculture and the poor cow for all the problems of pollution. The whole aviation industry has to be looked at, and cleaner ways of transporting people and goods have to be found. Our whole mindset and ways of doing things have to be changed.
My chief concern for the future is not climate change, although that needs to be addressed in a common sense manner, but the realisation that we were so susceptible to a virus. Covid-19, although very serious, did not wipe out civilisation. If it were a virus like ebola or some even more serious illness, we would be in dire straights, especially if it was transmitted through the air we breathe. We as a human race are very fragile indeed.
On a lighter note it is time for a general election as Fine Gael is past its sell-by date. We have a Taoiseach who has lost touch with the people, doesn’t know where rural Ireland is or how it survives, and craves holding onto power to the extent that he would sell out rural Ireland and agriculture to keep himself in the limelight that he loves.
Willie Hanrahan is a former Chairman of Clare IFA. The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Clare PPN.
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