Elaine Houlihan will shortly succeed John Keane to take her place at the helm of the young farmers’ organisation. As the only ratified candidate, the 27-year-old will be elected unopposed next month.

“I’m from a small village in Limerick called Athlacca (about 10 km north of Kilmallock). I come from a beef farm, we were dairy but were depopulated with foot-and-mouth disease so we turned our hand to sucklers. The family also run our own engineering company,” she tells the Irish Farmers Journal.

“I’m working as a physio as well. I went away and studied abroad for four years in the Netherlands. I’ve a lot of travelling done. I might be bringing a different dynamic to Macra as a result.

“I’m currently working two days a week, and am pretty hands-on on the farm. As a part-time farmer, it wouldn’t be viable to give up the job, and I‘m hoping to keep the two days up during my presidency. I’m lucky, it’s quite flexible.”


The family has two farms.

“I’m going into partnership with my mother, and my brother James is going into partnership with my father. It’s pretty hands-on, because the engineering business [which specialises in milking parlours, handling units and agri work] has really taken off and Dad and James are off the farm.

“I often have to look after the feeding and sorting out the calves. We have an automatic calf feeder now, which releases the pressure when we’re bringing in calves. We’re decreasing the suckler herd and are buying in more calves to rear calf-to-beef.”

Elaine will be meeting with politicians as Macra president, but she has also worked for one, Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue.

Elaine Houlihan will soon become the 39th Macra na Feirme president. \ Odhran Ducie

“At the start of the pandemic, as a physio, it was hard to get a job. I was at a loose end, and Richard offered me the chance to work in his office. I loved every single bit of it, but I went to college to train as a physio, so the time came post-lockdown to use my training and qualifications.

“I think lobby organisations are vital. Having worked with a TD, I know the ins and outs of how the system works, and I hope to use that to Macra’s advantage during my presidency. We need to get more TDs acting on our issues – they all listen, but I will be holding them to account.”


Elaine will become only the second woman to be president of Macra in its 85-year history, but thinks women have been progressing in Macra in recent years.

“Currently, all three vice-presidents in Macra are actually women. For females [it’s important] to see you can go for those bigger roles, and it’s true across farming, you have the McHughs in the NPA, Tara McCarthy led Bord Bia, things are definitely changing.”

Elaine acknowldeges that Macra suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic’s lockdowns, but is re-emerging.

“People have never needed Macra more than they do now, to re-connect. We must play to our strengths, and build active membership through the huge range of activities.

“I’m hugely positive for Macra’s future, and I’ll be leading a strong and determined team.

“On farming issues, it’s not just about the president’s opinion. The agricultural affairs committee develops policies, and I will be working closely with them. Many of the big policy decisions were made during John Keane’s presidency, CAP, climate targets, nitrates among them.

“We now need to build on the commitments that are there for young farmers, with effective policy instruments.”

Why did you join Macra?

“I’m in Macra nine years. Like so many people, I joined for the member benefits. I never thought Macra had anything to give me, I thought I was fairly independent, that I didn’t need Macra. I went away at 17-18, thinking “there’s nothing here for me”.

“There’s something that I feel nobody really talks about – when you return from being away, you feel like you don’t fully belong. The community has moved on, your friends have moved on, you’ve missed out on family events. It becomes about trying to fit back into your community and make new connections, and that’s where Macra helped me enormously.

“My home club, Kilmallock, was closing its doors, they couldn’t get people in. It’s the lifecycle of every Macra club, it hits that age where you need to bring new blood in. I said I’d give it a go, and I helped drive on the club to what it is today. I honestly don’t know if I can put into words how much Macra has given me as a person.”

How would you sell Macra to a potential member?

“It’s about seeing all the different aspects of Macra, from policy work to just pure craic. It’s an organisation for everyone, we have more non-farmers than farmers.

“There are competitions that bring new skills, there is drama, debating, sports, stockjudging. There is a huge social side too, and a lot of community involvement. It’s a rural youth organisation along with having an extremely strong voice within the agricultural sector.”