I was living in Cashel for about 16 years, but we moved back [to Goatenbridge] recently. We have a small family farm, so we said we’d move back to build the house here. We’re down the foot of the mountains there, in Goatenbridge. The brother’s on the farm and I work with AA breakdown service as a patrol assistant. I was in the fire service in Cashel, but I had to leave that as we couldn’t buy a house there. I basically do breakdowns – wheel changes and flat batteries; small bits like that. I was in the fire service for six years as a retained firefighter. For that job, you have to be within 2.5km of the station – but housing issues meant I had to give that up.

As a firefighter, you could be called up to anything from car accidents to house fires to hay barn fires, shed fires - basically anything. Every call that came in was different. We covered a lot of the rural area around the town of Cashel, as far as Ballingarry and Killenaule and back down towards Cahir or over towards Tipp town; it was a big enough chunk of the county to cover.

We’re plastering the new house at the moment and are hoping to be finished at the end of August or early September. I’m married with two kids; my wife, Corinna, is German. We have two boys, Senan and Fiacre. We love our new home - when you look out the back door, you’re looking at the Knockmealdown Mountains – ‘tis lovely.

I’ve been doing Civil Defence work for over 20 years. It started with some first aid courses and from there I just got involved more and more with the search and rescue side of it. Originally, I was involved in the local Scouts group and saw the Civil Defence were teaching the course. That one course led on to another one, and I just kind of stuck with it. I’m based out of Clonmel for [my Civil Defence] work. I look after the dog unit. We have a search and rescue dog unit; I’ve been doing that for the past 10 years.

We have a dog called Scooby; he’s a golden Labrador. He’s actually coming up to retirement this year. We approached the local Civil Defence officer about getting a dog and she gave us the full support - we had the backing of the local Civil Defence branch, as well. They supplied us with some funding to look after the dog, take care of his training and have a vehicle for him to travel around in.

Scooby has his own little harness when he’s working, but he works off-lead all the time. His training ensures he won’t go chasing livestock or anything; he just ignores them completely. We could go into a field of sheep and he’d pay no attention to them. It’s a very important part of the training and assessment when it’s done – if the dog shows any interest in livestock, we can’t use him. We don’t want to be going into farmland – especially in the mountains – and worry the dog might take off after livestock; it just can’t be done.

Scooby lives with us; he’s the family pet when he’s at home, and then he goes into work mode when we get a call. We originally got him to train as a search and rescue dog and it’s just luck that he made the grade – not every dog will make the grade. I got a second dog who had the same parents as Scooby and he didn’t make it, so I kept him as a pet! His name is Shaggy. The boys are mad about the dogs; being Labs as well they’re just really good with the kids.

For this kind of training, you try and get a dog that will have a good play drive and you work him from there. I spent a lot of time with Shaggy training him and, at the end of the day, he just didn’t work out. Scooby, from the start, had a really strong play drive and he took to the training really well; he really worked out for us. I neutered Shaggy after he failed the assessments but it didn’t do him any good [in terms of calming him down]!

We kept Scooby intact and it’s kept his work and play drive really strong. He’s 13 now, and he’s still loves the game. He’s a lot slower than he used to be and doesn’t cover the ground as well as he normally would, but he still loves to be out working. He and Shaggy are brothers but from separate litters – Shaggy is two years younger, so 11 years old.

We have a new pup coming on board, hopefully, towards the end of the year. He’s a springer spaniel.

The Civil Defence is all voluntary. We’d have different training classes every few weeks to keep up first aid skills and that, but with the dog it’s every day - because he has to be exercised every day. For those who don’t work with the dogs, it might just be a weekly or fortnightly basis - whenever you can give your couple of hours to it. They cover a lot of community duties - like the Clonmel Show. We cover all of that, the show-jumping side of it. Then we’d cover your family fun days at community centres; different bits like that.

We’d often do emergency service days where there would be a full display of all the emergency services and I’d go into those with Scooby, just for the meet and greet. I’ve done visits with Scouts and different schools and stuff like that. It’s a great hobby and you’re giving something back to the community. People often ask: why do we do [the Civil Defence]? We might say, ‘Well, why do other lads kick a ball around a field?’ It’s just different people have different interests. If anyone is interested in signing up, you can contact your local officer through the local authority; they are always more than happy to go through the recruitment process.”

Read more

Meet Ultan Conlon: the singer-songwriter at home in east Galway

Stone Masonry in west Wicklow: meet Petra O’Flaherty