Nollaig na mBan or Women's Christmas on 6 January is a traditional day of rest and relaxation for the woman of the house, after the cooking and cleaning involved in a family Christmas.

It also marks the last day of the Christmas period with the Feast of the Epiphany, and the arrival of the three wise and weary men to that little town of Bethlehem.

Its roots are closely linked with the rural landscape.

The tradition has always been stronger in the south and west of Ireland in rural communities, but variations of Nollaig na mBan can be found in Scotland, the Isle of Man and Scandinavia.

Although it's difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the female celebration, its roots are closely linked with the rural landscape.

It's been suggested that generations ago, farmers' wives who raised and killed geese or turkeys to sell at Christmas would use some of the money they'd saved to spend on themselves on Nollaig na mBan.

Women remain an integral part of the agricultural community.

This year marks 100 years since Irish women were given the right to vote and, although the days of farm wives raising fowl might have disappeared, women remain an integral part of the agricultural community.

We hear from some of the women who are at the forefront of representing women in agriculture in Ireland.

Imelda Walsh

Imelda Walsh will shortly be taking up the position of Tipperary North IFA chair. She runs a dairy farm with her husband.

I come from a non-farming background and I’m married to my husband for the last 31 years.

I had a job prior to getting married but I made the decision to give it up because I wanted to be part of the farm family business.

We milk 120 British Friesian cows on 200ac.

I’ve never been treated any differently to my husband on the farm

People's attitudes have changed a lot over the last 31 years.

I know we’ve had a lot of debate about the role of women on farms recently, but I’ve never been treated any differently to my husband on the farm or by any members within the IFA.

People appreciate that I’m a hands-on farmer and I'm involved with milking cows, scraping yards and taking care of the paperwork.


It’s a very challenging time for farming with Brexit, and agriculture is of huge importance to this country and the economy.

Mercosur is still a threat and the last thing we want to see is the livestock industry sacrificed.

The tillage sector has also had it very tough over the last couple of years, with bad prices compounded by bad weather.

You know you’ll be fighting the hard battles in the IFA and trying to get the best deal for our farmers.

The least we should be able to expect is a decent return for our work.

Nollaig na mBan

I’m going to have an extremely nice Women's Christmas this year. We’re starting to calve on the 17 January, so before that we’re going to have a little bit of luxury and go out with my daughter and her mother-in-law on Saturday.

I’m going to have one little taste of glamour before the madness of the calving season starts and the sleeves have to be rolled up.

But, while there may be challenges, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Roberta McDonald

Nuffield Scholar and Ceres Network founding member Roberta McDonald gives her thoughts on the role of women in agriculture and agribusiness.

I’m from a farm and my parents are managing a dairy farm in the midlands. Everyone was always treated equally whether you were a boy or a girl when we were growing up.

I always found agriculture really interesting, and in college I met some interesting people in Moorepark and wanted to continue studying it.

They are a critical part to decision making on farms.

I haven’t come across many farms that don’t involve women, they are a critical part to decision making on farms.

I’m involved in the Ceres Network, which is trying to promote female leadership in the agriculture industry.

The Ceres Network is about promoting women, building confidence and believing in ourselves.

I would say that we have some extremely strong female leaders in the agriculture industry, but are they being promoted?

And are they being promoted as role models for younger women that are coming through college?

Whether it’s in agriculture or any industry, there are unconscious biases that exist, whether it’s about age, gender or even sexual preferences.

Nollaig na mBan

I’ll be heading out with a couple of friends on Saturday but not specifically for Nollaig na mBan.

My mam always acknowledges it but we celebrate it in a small way up here.

Sr Lily Scullion

Sr Lily Scullion is a member of the Cistercian order at St Mary's Abbey, Glencairn, Co Waterford and manages their 200ac farm.

I was born on a small farm with a few milking cows, then we had some sucklers and we grazed sheep for another farmer as well.

I grew potatoes on the farm and sold them to shops and hospitals.

I was the first full-time female youth worker in an area of Belfast 45 years ago.

I didn’t realise I was walking into a man's world and they had to employ a woman even though they didn't want to. It wasn’t a nice experience.

No one has ever put me down for being a woman.

As regards to farmers now, no one has ever put me down for being a woman. I always enjoyed the bit of banter with other farmers when I was buying and selling cattle.

At the moment I’m doing bed and breakfast for another farmer's cows.

I keep 21 ewes that are lambing soon and 25 hoggets that are a lowland cross, and I’ll either sell them or keep them for breeding.

I like the sheep because they’re a very gentle animal and quite biblical.

I planted an energy crop, miscanthus, some years ago because we were all told to do it.

But there was no market for the miscanthus and we were told we could plough it out, which I didn’t think was very responsible after getting a 50% grant for planting it, so we use it to keep our own burner in the Abbey going.

Nollaig na mBan

The local choir comes and sings after Vespers on the 6 January and our liturgy is very rich. We’ll probably get a big dinner as well, which will be nice.

Martina Calvey

Martina, Grainne and Helen Calvey of Achill Mountain Lamb. Martina is the commercial director of the family business.

I grew up on a farm, we’re hill sheep farmers and when I was younger my father had a herd of cattle as well.

We have an abbatoir and a butchers and we had a restaurant for nealy 50 years, then sometime in the mid-90’s one of our farms on Achill got an organic certification.

Family business

Achill Mountain Lamb is what we’ve been doing since 1962. Then, a couple of years ago, we repositioned and updated the brand, and made it more relevant by tapping into social media and new markets.

We have such unique product, and we say we’re hilltop to tabletop. We run our own abattoir and our own farm.

Your business is actually like one of your family members – you’re invested financially as well as emotionally in it.

Failure was never an option; it just meant you had to work twice as hard and run twice as quick.

We don’t see any difference between us and the males in the family.

Even for family weddings, someone always has to stay at home for the business and the farm.

Even though we’re predominantly women that are doing the business, we don’t see any difference between us and the males in the family.

West Women in Farming

I think it’s important to promote female representation in agriculture. Women themselves shouldn’t feel threatened by other women trying to get ahead, other women should be able to see that and be inspired by that themselves.

Women need to get behind each other

With West Women it’s not about women versus men, it’s about reaching out to other women and to encouraging them.

Women need to get behind each other, they shouldn’t begrudge each other for doing well. Attitudes need to change and they should take inspiration from each other.

A lot to women engage too much in gossiping and that needs to be wiped out.

Nollaig na mBan

I’ve three events on today and I’m going to make all three. I’m thrilled, honoured and delighted and what I’ll be saying is the same thing, that women should promote each other and get rid of all the back-stabbing.

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