Calving is in full swing on James and Thomas Clarke’s farm in Kilgobbin, Adare, Co Limerick, where the father-and-son duo work in tandem to manage the 150ac farm.
James was paralysed in a farm accident on December 1991 but milks the cows every day from his wheelchair.
“I was felling a tree. The trunk was secured with a wire rope between the limbs. But as the tree fell, it swivelled, the rope went slack and the trunk swung like a pendulum. The tree hit me, like a whiplash, and I was knocked out.”
The diagnosis by the consultant was both rapid and direct at University Hospital Limerick. “He told me within five minutes that I would never walk again.”
James was 40 at the time, married to Meriel and with three children Thomas (six), Rosemary (four) and Roger (18 months). “My two youngest don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in a wheelchair,” he says.
At the time, James was milking 38 cows and rearing 55 calves to beef at two years old, as well as running a 60-ewe flock. “There was work on the farm for one and a half people at that time. I used to take on Green Cert students to help me,” he recalls. “After the accident, I was fortunate enough to be able to employ someone full-time and I became the half-man.
“It took me 12 months to find my feet, so to speak. I changed the tractor and, got a winch on it, so I could get into the cab. In the milking parlour, I put a lift in so that I could get down into the pit. “I classify myself as pretty independent. I drive the tractor, herd cows using the quad bike out around the farm and, when we were buying calves, I would head into the mart in Rathkeale myself.’’
Not everyone agreed with James’s decision to keep farming.
“I got plenty of advice about what to do but all I ever wanted was to farm. This is my father’s land and his father’s before him,” he says. “Now that I have my son at home farming, it was all worth it.”
His son Thomas has switched the farm’s focus more towards dairying and increasing cow numbers to 65.
The sheep flock has been cut to just 10 ewes, but he also rears calves to two-year-old beef.
“From now until mid-May, I milk the cows and Thomas feeds the calves and then he switches back to milking.”
On farm safety, James is acutely conscious of how quickly things can go wrong. “You are more aware of the possibilities and what could go wrong. If I had a second chance, to go back to that day, of course my accident wouldn’t happen but hindsight is terrific. The repercussions of the accident are with me 24 hours of every day. But it’s not just me, it’s my family too.”