“I had been working with horses after school and I wanted to get the lorry license for what I thought was going to be a horse lorry. I needed to get road experience so Dad [Tommy O’Brien] got me into his lorry; sitting in with him, doing short runs, then they got longer, next thing I was helping him and then I ended up working for him! That was nearly ten years ago and to be honest, I haven’t looked back since. Dad started the business over 40 years ago and when I sit down and think about it, it makes sense. I did the rigid test in Waterford and then I went on a year later and did the artic test, which gave me the trailer license.
Years ago, when I was small, we had Hinos. I think everyone in the country had a Hino at the time. We’re on our third Scania now, a rigid R450. We bought her in ’21. She has a 26-foot body on her and then we pull a trailer with another 26-foot body behind. They’re hard to beat; they suit the job. Generally speaking, they are very comfortable to drive, repairs and stuff like are minimal. They’re a real workhorse. We also have a single lorry to do smaller runs and to pick up the slack when things are busy. It’s primarily all cattle we carry.
Around the country
Between the two of us, we cover a lot of the marts and factories around the country. New Ross is our local mart on a Saturday, which is a blessing – we don’t have too far to go! We’d be in Bandon and Fermoy marts in Cork. Then up to Ballinasloe and Roscommon marts in the west, maybe Mohill in Leitrim and Ballymote, Sligo once or twice a year and sometimes over to Ennis aswell.
Factory runs take me to Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Laois, Liffey Meats in Hackettstown, Carlow or up to Dawn Slane in Co Meath. I have never really minded the longer runs. Roscommon is a good aul haul, usually a late one!
It’s nice on these drives because I see things other drivers don’t get to see, there’s a nice view from the cab. I’d be thinking ‘This is a lovely spot we must come back here’ but sure you might never get back! It is nice to drive along the quieter roads. You definitely don’t want to be on the motorway every day. I have to take it handy when I have a load on board so it is a great way of seeing the countryside.
I check the cattle a couple of times on any journey. It means having to climb up on top of the trailers. I make sure they are all standing, that none of them are down. I’d probably check cows a bit more; they tend to like their space. You’d even see them when loading, they’ll always go up the ramp the same side they go in to be milked. There’d be about 32 factory fit bullocks or heifers and probably 30 cows in the double, 15 head per trailer. The first couple of times I got up to check them it was fairly nerve wracking, but after that you just get up without thinking. The catwalks are nice and wide on her and there is a good ladder too.
A switch off
My husband, Derek went out on his own as a HGV [Heavy Goods Vehicle] mechanic so that has made us extra busy. I do the book-keeping for that, mostly on a Sunday night. Then we have a two-year-old, Connell, he keeps us really busy and I still keep up the horses. That gives us a chance to switch off.
We both hunt with the West Wexford Harriers. From November to March, we hunt most Saturdays. As the hunting season is coming to an end, the phone calls are coming in: ‘Are you finished yet?’ ‘Will you come back because the marts are getting busier!’ I try to do a few runs in to the mart in Ross on a Saturday morning before we head out. That is when I am organised, it doesn’t happen every week!
Between Dad and myself we just work it out. I might meet him somewhere along the road so I take over and work later into the night or vice versa; I might go load up somewhere and then he could take over. If we have a busy day where the two of us are gone, my mam, Ber, will mind my little lad, Connell.
You need to have people around you who understand this job. I can’t say I’ll be home at two o’clock today because the next thing is the phone goes and there’s another drop to go for. My mam understands it, my husband gets it. We all work together so one of us is always with Connell.
On Saturdays, Connell is sitting up in the jeep with Mam and Derek’s mam following us on the hunt. Once there is something going on, he just wants to be in the thick of it!