We’ve a beef farm in Ballinspittle, Co Cork. It’s all drystock, mainly Angus and Hereford, but we’ve a few continentals too.

I’m going into my second year studying biological sciences in Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). I work part time as a waitress as well.

My dad Jimmy works for a local ready-mix company and my mam Rose is a healthcare worker. So whenever they’re not around, myself, my brother and my sister, we can do the jobs around here. I’m 19, Noel is 18 and Deirdre is 16.

Ellen Nyhan at work.

We all try and do our bit helping out. We were taught the correct and safe way to go about things. There wouldn’t be huge machinery here, it’s kind of a handy-size farm. We’ve 40-plus cattle, so there wouldn’t be any huge maintenance. But it’s great the way we’re trusted to do the work here at home when they’re not around.

I play traditional music, the concertina. I’ve competed at the Fleadh Cheoils at both Munster and All-Ireland level. We’re a very musical family. Mam and Dad sing and Noel and Deirdre play instruments too.

Match days

Ploughing runs in our blood. Dad’s been ploughing years, he won an All-Ireland at the National Ploughing Championships back in 2007, the three-furrow conventional. The house was electric here when he won.

My mam got into it then and she came second twice above in the All-Ireland. Seeing a woman ploughing is what drew my attention to it. My mam doing it, that’s what drove me to want to give it a go as well.

Ellen Nyhan ploughing.

Going to the local matches we used to always be seeing older men ploughing, you’d have never really seen young people ploughing either. It’s only really the last couple of years that young people are starting to get into it, I think.

We were reared at ploughing matches, watching Mam and Dad plough. We treat the All-Ireland as a little family holiday and we always look forward to going.

I’ve competed at the All-Ireland twice. Last year in Carlow was my first year in the farmerette class and I came third. This year I was to be competing in the farmerette class again. My brother was to be competing in the novice class, which I did my first year in 2018 in Tullamore and I came second that time.

We don’t know now what the story is this year, obviously the stalls and everything are cancelled, but regarding competition we haven’t gotten a definite answer as to what’s happening yet. But I know Anna May and her team are going to put a lot of thought into it and take everyone’s safety into consideration.

Hard work

Our ploughing division is west Cork, the Kilbrittain Club. There’s a good strong tradition of ploughing down here. My very first match actually was an east Cork match in November 2017. I’d never ploughed a furrow in my life. My dad just said: “You’re ploughing today.” I’d never done any of the controls or pulled any of the levers. I’d no clue what was going on with the plough.

I will never forget it, I got 115 marks at that match. It made me go on to do a novice match about two or three weeks later. I ended up winning that. So I suppose I took to it really. It was a case of being thrown in the deep end. That’s what Dad has a tendency of doing, throwing us in the deep end.

Ellen Nyhan with her brother Noel.

Dad really knows his stuff. He coaches myself and Noel. Deirdre will be coming up to a match soon enough too I’d say. It’s cool to see both a father-daughter and a father-son dynamic.

I plough with a New Holland 4835 and a two-furrow Kverneland competition plough. That’s what Dad used and he knows that really well.

My mam always tells me, sweat now and shine later

It’s very technical, ploughing. I will say it’s not an easy thing to do. You’ve a half an hour at the start to do your split out, which is your first two runs. After that you have nearly two hours to finish out. So then it’s just constant running up and down off the tractor with the spanner in your hand making adjustments; lowering the plough, constantly measuring. You’d be in and out of the tractor over 100 times. You’d be absolutely bate out after it!

Ellen Nyhan making adjusments while ploughing a bank.

My mam always tells me, sweat now and shine later. A few people have told me that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I have to compare myself to the lads, I’m just as good as them. Whatever about anyone else, it’s just me, Dad, the tractor, the plough and the bank I’ve to plough. That’s all I focus on. Whoever’s beside me, don’t mind them, it’s whatever is in front of me.

I love it. Being brought up around it, watching it, it’s phenomenal how it’s actually done. We consider ploughing to be an art.

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