When Lisa Keenan spoke at the Women & Ag Conference in 2013, she was no stranger to being behind the mic. However, as an auctioneer she was used to selling cattle by the ring at the mart. Not speaking to hundreds of women.
The auctioneering definitely stood to Lisa though, as she captivated the audience telling her story of growing up on the farm and in the mart, going on to become the mart manager herself at Kingscourt Mart, Co Cavan.
Interestingly, Lisa uses the same phrase to describe both speaking at the conference and auctioneering at the mart: it’s a “buzz”, she says.
Working at the mart, Lisa explains, is addictive. She sees it with younger people who come to work with them. They get hooked on it.
“There’s something about it, it’s different to nearly everything else out there,” Lisa explains. “A cattle mart on sale day – there’s an energy, there’s a great buzz, there’s a great atmosphere.
“We had a very big sale a couple of weeks ago, we had two rings going. There was myself; Nigel Gilmer, the other auctioneer that sells here all the time and a relief auctioneer as well.
There was any amount of lads around at half six rearing to go
Between the three of us we kept all the selling going. I sat in to clerk for one of the lads a few times and I was just like, ‘Oh wow, this is what it’s all about.’”
A sale day for Lisa means getting up at “ridiculous o’clock” to be in the mart sometime after six in the morning, ready for numbering at seven. However, she wasn’t alone at this hour.
“There was any amount of lads around at half six rearing to go,” she laughs.
The social element of the mart, Lisa feels, is very important.
“There was a gang of farmers there waiting for the gates to open from half six/seven. They were all standing around chatting. Everyone is standing around having the banter.”
Behind the mic
Lisa is from the Meath/Cavan border. The mart is on the Cavan side and the suckler farm in on the Meath side.
Kingscourt Mart is very much a family affair. Lisa’s father JH “Jim” Keenan bought the mart in 1973. Growing up, herself and her siblings – Áine, Kiera and Donal – were all involved in the mart. Donal is now in property auctioneering, Lisa’s mother Mary works in the mart and Áine, a solicitor, helps out on sale days.
“At some stage all of us would have had a bit of an interest in the mart. I started taking it seriously when I started secondary school,” Lisa recalls. “We used to have weanling sales on a Wednesday evening then, so I used to be able to go to the sales on a Wednesday evening even when I was at school. From there it took off. I got really into it.
I did three years in Dublin studying auctioneering and a year in England
Previously, they ran another smaller mart in Co Fermanagh, which they made the difficult decision to come away from almost ten years ago to focus on Kingscourt. It was at the age of 16 in Garrison, Co Fermanagh, that Lisa first took to the mic selling cattle. Then she began auctioneering in Kingscourt and after school she studied auctioneering in college.
“I did three years in Dublin studying auctioneering and a year in England. I came back and started working full time here then. In that course there wasn’t much emphasis on livestock marts, it was more property based auctioneering, but I had to get the letters after my name and get my licence for auctioneering.”
From a farm point of view, things have changed a small bit for Lisa since she spoke at Women & Ag in 2013. Back then they were doing all the farm work themselves. With the growth of the mart business over the last number of years they had to make the decision to get someone in to help.
“It was like we were spreading ourselves too thin and we didn’t want the farm to suffer,” Lisa says. “It’s the same for a lot of part-time farmers – for them to keep on the farm, keep everything running the way that they want and to actually go out and do a full-time job as well, you have to pay someone to come in and look after things.
“So it has diverted a wee bit from the full-time farming. Obviously a few times a week we try to get around the cattle. Then obviously around calving time we’d be doing a lot of farming then. Different times of the year you have to prioritise different things.”
An awful lot of cattle are bought online at the moment, but look, you need the ringside too
Like most, Lisa has also seen an online selling and bidding element come into marts in recent years, most prominently since the beginning of the pandemic. She feels taking their time in establishing online has stood to them, as online sales are going very well. But still, you need the ring too, she feels.
“An awful lot of cattle are bought online at the moment, but look, you need the ringside too. You need the balance. Towards the backend of last year we were doing sales for a while that were solely online. It was very hard work on the auctioneer just grinding away and waiting for the bids to come in. Absolutely no atmosphere around the ring, you need a bit of both.”