“The mart is a huge part of the community here, we are always looking for ways to strengthen the ties and to give back to the community,” says office administrator at Mountbellew mart, Brian McHale.

Mountbellew mart is the first livestock mart in the country to facilitate Farmer’s Yards; a social organisation for farmers, led by the Rural Studies Centre at University of Galway. Speaking to Irish Country Living after the inaugural event, Brian is delighted to report that the evening went above and beyond everyone’s expectations.

No matter what part of the country you are in, if you strike up a conversation with someone connected to rural life, the importance of the mart will come up. Those that go to the mart know it and those that work in the mart know it too.

Dr Shane Conway is credited with coming up with this scheme. In his research, he recognises the benefits of the established Men’s Shed movement and believes the Farmer’s Yards social organisation has just as much, if not more potential to succeed.

Writing to Irish Country Living, Dr Conway referred to recent calls made by the European Commission to help older farmers enhance their quality of life. With over one third of Irish farmers over the age of 65, the livestock mart is a familiar place, a focal point in the week of a farmer and so, is an ideal backdrop to host this initiative.

Farmer’s Yards is a way of bringing together everyone involved in farming in the form of a social hub. Bearing in mind the isolation many farmers and rural dwellers experience “as part of life,” it is hoped this organised get-together will promote social inclusion and in turn, a better sense of wellbeing.

This six-week pilot scheme is funded by University of Galway’s Illuminate Programme with support from St Jarlath’s Credit Union.

Listening to Brian, there was great support from the local area with people wanting this initiative to do well.

Alongside the bidding

Farmer’s Yards take place while the mart is on. Mountbellew have recently moved the cattle sale back to Friday evenings with gates open at four in the afternoon. Auctioneer Padraig Naughton commences the sale at six and people tend to gather from five to take a look at what stock is on offer. Sheep sales remain on a Saturday morning. For regulars at the mart, Farmer’s Yards are something novel and Brian reports there is a nice mix of attendees turning up, now that these social evenings are running.

Pictured from left to right: Niamh Nolan, University of Galway and Farmer’s Yards Facilitator; Rachel and Miriam Hastings, Farmers and Social Media Influencers; Brian McHale-Boyle, Mountbellew Mart; Dr Shane Conway, University of Galway and Farmer’s Yards Manager; Chris Daly, Irish Cattle Breeders Federation (ICBF).

“There is no hierarchy around here, everyone is one and the same which is great,” says Brian of the inclusive atmosphere around the event.

Local farmer and GAA legend, Tomás Mannion was kind enough to go along and be guest of honour on the first night. A stock judging competition will run each week, which created a bit of interest and people filter back to the canteen where the mart ring is on a big screen so they can stay in touch with the bidding while having a cuppa and a chat.

Every week there is a guest speaker that supports the interests and values of the farming community. On the first evening Chris Daly from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) gave a presentation on the Eurostar Breeding Index, which saw about 40 people settle in for this session. After an engaging Q&A, the first evening drew to a close with a sense of success for this new endeavour.

Last week, for the second evening in the series, the theme was “looking after your health and wellbeing”. The Galway GAA health and wellness committee shared tips and accessible ways of taking steps to “mind yourself”.

Coming up

Tomorrow, Friday, 31 March, will be the third evening and Galway-Roscommon Education and Training Board (GRETB) will provide technology mentoring for those who want to get a better understanding of how to use the online mart bidding websites and apps.

Week four, Croí, the west of Ireland heart and stroke charity will be giving a free health check. Land Mobility Ireland will discuss farm partnership and succession options on week five and week six will take a look at improving health and safety on the farm.

Attendees of the first Farmer’s Yard at Mountbellew mart listening to Chris Daly from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

Brian tells us that before Farmer’s Yards started, Mountbellew mart was getting phone calls from the farming community enquiring about the details of this initiative. After the first evening, the mart phone was ringing with people offering to appear at the Farmer’s Yards.

With strong interest from all sides, it is the intention of Mountbellew mart to continue this on a regular basis after the pilot scheme finishes. The Rural Studies Centre at University of Galway hopes that this initiative would showcase the potential for extending this initiative countrywide.

“Hopefully, other marts around the county and around the country will come on board too,” adds Brian.

The first evening worked out nicely as it coincided with the mart’s Spring Show and Sale, which featured steers, heifers, weanlings and cows. Brian tells us a judge was deciding on the best animal in the show which created a buzz.

“How he does that is beyond me because I am still fairly new to it all,” says the Dubliner.

About Brian McHale

After moving to Galway initially for a few weeks to escape the Dublin rental market, a few weeks turned into a few months and before long, a few years.

“I grew up in Clontarf, lived in the city centre for 15 years, so to then come down here was a big change,” he says.

“Mountbellew is a nicer pace of life, even in lockdown, there are beautiful forest walks around here. So, it was a much more relaxed lifestyle,” he adds.

After working in sales, he completed a post-grad in digital communications at the Innovation Academy in UCD.

In his downtime, he has always been into film, and has created a documentary that went around the world to different film festivals, picking up one or two awards. He currently has a film that was made in lockdown in post-production.

When not in the mart at weekends, he is gigging with his band “Chainsaw Angels”.

How would he describe “Chainsaw Angels”?

“Ahh! Chainsaw Angels have been described in lots of way but my favourite has to have been Guns’n’Roses meets A-ha,” he laughs.

How did he manage to adjust to mart terminology?

“I had a crash course in the mart counter lingo! The first couple of days, behind the desk, I had to do a double take and check with Oliver [Noone, the mart manager] but I’m picking up on the jargon slowly but surely!”

Read more

The mart: ‘It’s a day out, it’s like going to Kildare Village for some people’

Kerry Eco-Social Farming EIP launched