Padraig Walshe was unusual. He combined enormous capacity, excellent judgement with integrity and courage. It wasn’t surprising that he became President of Macra na Feirme. However it was well after that when he applied for the first Nuffield Foundation scholarships for Irish farmers.
In those days, the interviews were held in London and the two awards went to Padraig and Jim McCarthy who went on to farm internationally in Argentina and now in Romania.
Padraig’s study was on dairying and after visits to the US, New Zealand and other countries, he was in no doubt that the grass-based system was the more appropriate for Ireland.
Enough said, he won the Irish Farmers Journal / Irish Dairy Board dairy farmer of the year and built up a successful dairy farming business at home in Durrow.
His IFA presidency was during a particularly turbulent period. The Irish beef industry faced effectively uncontrolled imports, produced to much lower standards, from Brazil.
Padraig with the general secretary, Michael Berkery and the Irish Farmers Journal arranged a mission to Brazil. The IFA’s John Bryan, Kevin Kinsella and the Irish Farmers Journal livestock editor Justin McCarthy made two trips and after addressing both the Scottish assembly and the European Parliament, the conditions around Brazilian beef imports were changed.
But there was also a financial crisis in Government. Milk prices sank to less than 20c/l, farm debt reached over €5.5 billion. Padraig held IFA and COPA presidencies. He also became chairman of FBD plc (the old FBD co-op).
Here he showed how he regarded the role of farmers in business.
The FBD insurance company had suffered serious losses and needed cash. Padraig backed the proposal that the farmers’ group should buy the hotels from the quoted insurance company and even though he faced opposition at the time, the brave decision taken in the depths of the 2010 financial crises turned out to be both ethically and financially completely correct.
Both FBD entities have gone on to prosper.
During his IFA presidency Padraig had to secure the best outcome possible to an extraordinary dioxin crisis in the pig sector, the closure of the Irish Sugar Company, a collapse in grain prices as well as a severe cutback in Government spending due to the financial crises as well as the prospect of a damaging WTO international trade deal.
By the time his presidency ended, the worst was over and a new understanding reached with government that agriculture in Ireland mattered.
The huge turnout at his funeral was a clear indication of the enormous respect in which he was held by the industry and by individual farmers.
The eulogy in the Church was delivered by his long term friend and IFA general secretary Michael Berkery and the graveside oration by IFA president Tim Cullinan in a scene reminiscent of Daniel O Connell’s enormous public gatherings.
He was laid to rest in Durrow cemetery. His wife Ella’s brother was the principal celebrant and President Higgins was represented by his aide de camp. To his wife Ella and four children, we offer our deepest sympathy. May he rest in peace.