Journalists, we’re nosey by nature. Some say it is an essential characteristic, and one I’m afraid I most definitely possess. Over the years, I’ve interviewed my fair share of characters, but some of the interviews I’ve enjoyed most have been with couples, many of whom are farming together, or running a business in rural Ireland.
Whether I plan it or not, there is always one question that weaves its way into the conversation — how do you make it work? How do you keep the spark alive while simultaneously working together? Over time, I’ve amassed a few nuggets of wisdom that are relevant to this Valentine’s Day issue.
I remember a good few years ago being in Sligo interviewing Mark and Kira Walton, who run the successful Voya seaweed skincare company. “So, how do you make it work?” I asked. They both started laughing, and said, almost in unison, “No pillow talk.” After the giggling died down, Kira clarified their position. “We don’t talk about the business in the bedroom. In fact, we are very strict that our home is our home and obviously, the business comes up in conversation but there has to be a certain level of separation.”
Irish Country Living chef Neven Maguire and his wife, Amelda, run MacNean House in Co Cavan and say what works for them is having very clearly divided roles. Neven says, “Amelda looks after the breakfast team and guests. Then, when I do dinner service, Amelda is home looking after the twins. If I am away filming a TV series or something, Amelda is always there to meet the guests. We always have each other’s back.”
David and Maria Flynn run Ballymakenny Farm in Co Louth and I remember Maria speaking so passionately about how David supported her innovative ideas for their farm.
“David was the farmer,” she says. “When I married him, my background was in finance, not farming. But I looked at the farm with a different angle — how we could diversify our product and try something new to bring a different income stream to the business. He could very easily have said, ‘sure what would you know about growing potatoes?’ But he didn’t, he valued my contribution.” Now their business is completely focused on heritage potatoes and vegetables, supplying top restaurants around the country.
“My mad yoke of a husband is always trying to make different machines or build things while I am off doing yoga and growing vegetables. Combine that with a daily dose of realism to keep any notions at bay and you have our success story.”
Then of course, there’s our Irish Country Living columnists — Desperate Farmwife and Desperate Farmhusband, who run a dairy farm. “We support each other’s passions outside the farm and encourage each other to do different things which interest us,” says Desperate Farmwife. “My mad yoke of a husband is always trying to make different machines or build things while I am off doing yoga and growing vegetables. Combine that with a daily dose of realism to keep any notions at bay and you have our success story.”
Of course, her husband took a more agricultural approach. “To keep a farm relationship going, you need to run it like a tractor battery,” says Desperate Farmhusband, wisely. “Someone needs to be the positive charge and someone needs to be the negative. One person doesn’t always have to be the positive but there always needs to be that balance. To keep it all running, you need a good starter and plenty of diesel.”
For more sage advice on how couples in business make it work, check out our cover feature, written by Dee Laffan and Sarah McIntosh.
Saying all that, Valentine’s Day can be a lonely day for people, especially those missing someone or looking for love. Claire Lyons Forde has good advice for those dreading the day, while Grace Hanna has a piece on combating loneliness amongst the elderly through age-friendly groups.