Four female farmers are the focus of a new four-part Irish language series on TG4, Mná na Talún. It follows them on their farms across a whole year, with an episode devoted to each of the seasons.

All of the women operate different enterprises on varying landscapes across the country.

Úna Ní Bhroin has spent 20 years building up Beechlawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe alongside her husband Pádraig. Hannah Doherty is a young, enterprising sheep farmer from Co Donegal.

Bríd Ní hIcí aims to be as self-sufficient as possible, growing vegetables and keeping pigs and goats on her small-holding in Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal. Clíona Ní Conghaile is a suckler farmer on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. Irish Country Living caught up with two of these farmers to chat about themselves and their farms. DON’T MISS Mná na Talún starts 23 November on TG4.

Úna Ní Bhroin

Úna Ní Bhrion runs Beechlawn Organic Farm alongside her husband Pádraig in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.

Úna Ní Bhrion runs Beechlawn Organic Farm alongside her husband Pádraig in Ballinasloe, Co Galway. Úna is originally from Dublin. Her parents grew up on farms in Meath and Roscommon speaking English. They both became interested in the revival of the Irish language and met through Conradh na Gaeilge in Dublin. They raised their children through Irish and sent them to Irish speaking schools.

At the age of 18 Úna wanted to be an actor. She went to university and studied Irish and English. By the time she had finished her degree, she had completely changed her mind on career choice. Úna started getting interested in organic vegetable growing and environmental sustainability.

“I started buying organic vegetables in Dublin Food Co-op. I absolutely loved the veg I bought and from there I met organic growers.

“Then I started to get to know the people and occasionally they’d have events there where I’d meet people involved in the environmental movement. I got involved in a few environmental campaigns through that too.”

Úna went on tours of some organic farms. She fell in love with the practice and decided to follow that path. She went to do a course in organic horticulture in the Organic College in Dromcollogher, Co Limerick.

It was there she met Pádraig and the pair subsequently moved to his homeplace in Ballinasloe, where their organic vegetable business blossomed.

They started off growing a half-acre of vegetables in 2001. The following year they grew an acre of veg and officially registered Beechlawn Organic Farm as a company.

Last year they managed 64 acres of veg, growing over 30 different varieties. They employ 20 staff year-round.

They have a farm shop that opens from 12pm to 2pm on Saturday. They supply Total Produce, who in turn sell their veg under the Total Produce brand. Úna and Pádraig also sell to independent supermarkets and some Supervalu and Tesco stores under their own brand.

Hannah Doherty

Hannah Doherty has been working with sheep her whole life.

Hannah Doherty has been working with sheep her whole life. From Gleann Cholm Cille in the south-west of Co Donegal, she grew up on a sheep farm. Her family operated a hill system with primarily Blackface sheep, alongside a small suckler herd. She and her husband Tommy now farm in Burt, Co Donegal. Sheep, however, are still the order of the day on the far side of the county.

“It would be a very different system in terms of the horned sheep on the hill being lower maintenance,” Hannah says. “You’d be happy enough if you were weaning one lamb to the ewe. Here in Burt, it’s much more of a lowland system; trying to maximise your lambs per ewe, scanning a lot higher and all of that.”

Hannah and Tommy recently added a new string to their bow on the farm, poultry. They keep hens, selling free-range eggs at the farm gate via an honesty box system. At the moment the birds are housed due to avian flu.

“Since filming the show last year we’ve significantly grown that side of it. We’re looking at going up in numbers now. We’re in the process of putting up a second hen house and we’ve had a very successful year in terms of selling at the farm gate. We’re just really looking at moving the thing on and we’ve a nice customer base built up. It’s going very well. I’m very happy with it.”

Hannah farms part-time alongside Tommy, but her day job is also agriculture related. She has a degree in animal science from University College Dublin (UCD) and a master’s in business in agri-food from Queen’s University Belfast. She now works as a sheep, suckler and beef advisor with CAFRE (the College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise) in Northern Ireland.

On the Gaeilge side of things, Gleann Cholm Cille is in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Although Hannah’s family don’t speak Irish at home, there was lots of Irish spoken in the vicinity.

“All our school, primary and secondary, would have had a very heavy Irish language influence. English is my first language. We spoke English at home in my home house, but in the area there would be a lot of houses that would speak Irish at home and that would be their first language.

“I always just liked the language and kept it with me. It wouldn’t be as prominent on this side of the county, so that was one of the things I really enjoyed about being part of the show; it gave me the chance to speak fluently in Irish for the first time in a long time.”

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