As Gabriel the Owl took flight last Friday night, over 1.7million people were on the couch watching the The Late Late Toy Show. Instead of being in my pyjamas however, I was dressed in a ballgown for the bi-annual Michael Dillon Memorial lecture, hosted by the Guild of Agricultural Journalists.

Guest speaker, European Commissioner Mairéad McGuinness was quick to draw the similarities to the man being remembered. Streaming services have brought such a level of choice that nowadays, there are only a handful of shows that can hold the attention of the masses. Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, Michael Dillon didn’t have that level of competition but he was considered unmissable television for many.

“Growing up, watching Michael Dillon present ‘Mart and Market’ on television, we were glued to it as a farming family,” Mairéad said. “In our house, it was a time for silence. When I became a journalist myself, meeting Michael Dillon was a wow moment, on par with meeting Gay Byrne for the first time.”

Although I am too young myself to remember ‘Mart and Market’, I’ve heard many stories about Michael Dillon over the years-the importance of the five-minute round up of livestock prices, how his bald head earned him the nickname ‘cowjack’ and around the halls of the office, his legacy writing in the Farmers Journal.

“Times have changed,” continued Mairéad. “I am married to a man that livestreams livestock marts all around Ireland and he will swear that the prices in the west are higher than on the east coast. I wonder what Michael Dillon would think of this incredible access,” she said.

Safe to say he would be signed up to our MartBids app.

Mairéad may have been focused on her late mentor but throughout her speech, you couldn’t help but draw comparisons between them. We are so used to seeing Mairéad on the political stage that we sometimes forget that as the first presenter of Ear to the Ground, she gave Irish farming and rural issues a completely new and unique platform. Thirty years later, it is the longest running factual TV show in Europe and has given a voice to thousands of farming families. She also worked in radio and print, including on the news desk of the Irish Farmers Journal, some 25 years in journalism. Not surprisingly, she could address half the room by name, “a gathering of colleagues and friends,” she said.

Gingerbread farm

This night of networking always leads to great chats, and often ideas for articles. In fact, it was at another work night that the idea for the front cover of Irish Country Living Food came about, inserted in this week’s paper. After a long day at the Ploughing Championships, some of the team were chatting over dinner, discussing a gingerbread house for the Christmas cover. It was an idea that grew legs, and wheels as the conversation progressed. Suddenly the house became a farmhouse, and, “let’s add some sheds and a tractor”. Soon a slurry and silage pit were on the list, over peals of laughter. Ideas can stay just that, ideas, if it isn’t for a talented team and hard work. So don’t miss our farming food project that all the family can get involved in.

My favourite touch is the ‘tyres’ for the silage pit, made from Party Rings biscuits dipped in melted black candy melts. Led by Janine Kennedy, the team had such fun putting this together in the office with Christmas music playing under the glow of fairy lights. So if you as a family create your own gingerbread farm this Christmas, please send us your pictures.