For the second consecutive year and the third time in four years, a farming family has won the RTÉ programme Ireland’s Fittest Family.
In a pulsating, energy-sapping and traumatic final (and that was just for the viewers), the Beirne family from Mohill in Co Leitrim had a narrow victory over the O’Connor family from Co Wexford on Sunday evening.
The Beirnes are made up of father Michael (55), his sons Jonathan (24) and Keith (20) and his daughter Dearbhaile (18).
The price has been pretty good all year, you can’t really complain about that
“Look, it was tough. Very tough. We are very proud and very satisfied of our achievement. It was great to compete as a family and win as a family,” Michael told the Irish Farmers Journal on Monday.
The show ran over the course of eight weeks during the summer and Dearbhaile said it was hard to keep the win a secret.
“It was getting tough there for a while, definitely towards the end of the programme. The last couple of weeks, people were coming up to you wanting to know if you had won.
“All we could do was tell the mother [Mai] and our other sister [Michelle] … There is such a bond with the family after winning. It really means so such much to us to win as a family,” she said.
It was a case of second time lucky for the Beirne family. Two years ago, they were knocked out in the first round.
After a year away from the competition, they were invited back to participate in this year’s show and they were determined to improve.
“We were disappointed to go out then. We didn’t expect it to be honest. We regrouped and we reorganised and went again. We were invited back on the show this year and we went about getting ready for it,” Dearbhaile said.
Michael explained that the family were determined to improve on their showing in 2015.
“We built a wall at home to be able practise. You had to practise, if you didn’t then you weren’t at the races at all. The rest of the family were doing their own sporting stuff so it was up to me to get ready.
“I had to go out and do a bit of running so that I was up to speed and I was able to compete to the best of my ability. It was hard fitting in the training with the farming but we had to make those sacrifices.”
For Dearbhaile, strategy and tactics were crucial.
“We had everything planned the whole way though. We knew who was lifting who at the high walls. Dad always went over first. I’d boost up Keith, so that would leave Keith and Jonathan at the top of the wall to pull me across. You had to have that level of detail to win.”
Sporting tradition runs through the family.
Michael played football in his younger days while Jonathan, Keith and Dearbhaile all have played at a competitive level.
Keith has played the last two seasons with the Leitrim senior footballers and has played for Longford Town underage where he picked up the under-19 player of the year award.
Dearbhaile has represented the Ireland soccer team at under 15, under 16, under 17 and under 19 levels as well as making a few training camps for the senior team.
Michael is a well-known farmer and buyer of cows in the area. He runs a suckler, drystock and beef operation.
“Sure, I’d be killing 200 cattle in the year. The cows go to Liffey Meats there in Ballyjamesduff in Co Cavan. I do most of the buying in Mohill Mart.
“The price has been pretty good all year, you can’t really complain about that,” he said, but added that the weather is something you can complain about.
“The weather has been horrid tough all year … and I think it’s getting worse. It makes the whole thing very hard. I’ve a bit of land over in Strokestown (Co Roscommon) too and it was hard there as well. It’s just difficult to make a few pound from the land in the heavy areas nowadays.”
And the plan for the €15,000 winnings?
“Not a clue. Mairead [Farrell, the presenter of the programme] asked us that straight away after we won and we didn’t know and a few months on, we still don’t know. It’ll go to a good home anyway,” Dearbhaile joked.
The Beirne family is the third farming family to win the competition.