I didn’t like it. It was hard to get me out of the gate,” laughs Colm Conlan as he candidly tells Irish Country Living about his childhood growing up on a farm in Clogherinkoe, Co Kildare.
Like many LGBTQ+ young people, Colm felt he had to move to the city after school in order to find acceptance.
However, in 2016, after a series of deaths in his family, he moved home as a pro-active step for his mental health and to help his father run their suckler farm. He has since found a new appreciation for agriculture.
Now in a successful farm partnership with his father, Colm talks about settling back in to farming life. Laughing, he says: “At the start, I was so useless!”
He describes how relearning farming from his uncle and father has helped him “find that grá for farming. My childhood was more ‘stand-in-the-gap’ farming.”
A shift in lifestyle
Changing from working in a wine bar and as a musician to working on the farm was undoubtedly a massive change in lifestyle, but Colm has taken it in his stride.
“I just really started to enjoy farming; it’s such a different pace of life from Dublin.”
An accomplished singer and pianist, moving home has also given Colm more time to focus on his music career. Colm’s debut single Man of the Hour will be released later this year under his artist name Púca.
“I loved what I was doing in Dublin, but music totally went on the back burner,” he explains. “Thankfully, my dad loves to hear me play.”
The farm has also proved to be a useful source of income during the COVID-19 pandemic, which – with gigs, events and concerts being cancelled – was catastrophic for many musicians.
Life on the farm
Right now, Colm and his father are finishing up calving season. Colm laughs; explaining that he and his father have not yet started silage.
Commenting on the “joys” of agriculture, Colm outlines what he calls the three paradigms of farming:
“Complaining about fencing – because everyone hates it; the excitement of silage (and the quality of it); and then the madness of lambing or calving.”
Colm is passionate about silage “despite having hay fever”.
He believes the simple pleasure of making silage can be therapeutic for many farmers. For Colm, working the land brings a feeling of intergenerational connection with his family.
“We have an old tractor; it’s a universal tractor which we recently got done up to reflect how it originally looked,” he says. “It has the old hay rowing machine and, when the weather’s good, we make hay with it. My granddad used to do the same thing – it’s the exact same equipment he used. It’s one of those things where you feel really close to your ancestors.”
Discussing the strong connection between farmers and the land, Colm shares a quote from Michael Harding of The Irish Times used during his uncle’s funeral: “To celebrate a quiet man who walked deeply on the earth and loved its colours.”
Colm says that, for many farming people (himself included), there’s a genuine love and pride for the land, as well as for the animals.
“I’m actually a vegetarian,” he laughs. Although being a vegetarian beef farmer may seem like an oxymoron, Colm explains he tries to be socially conscious and sustainable on the farm by taking good care of the land and the animals.
The grá for the work, the grá for the land and the grá for the animals is the driving force
He describes his sexuality and experience as a farmer as completely intersectional, adding: “It doesn’t affect my ability to farm, if anyone ever thought that.”
Although lifestyles may differ, farmers are connected through their love for their work – or, as Colm puts it: “The grá for the work, the grá for the land and the grá for the animals is the driving force.”
He now splits his time between farming and visiting his partner and friends in Dublin. Discussing what it’s like as a farmer when talking to city-dwelling friends, Colm jokes, “They always just say two words: road frontage. And I’m like, ‘You know what that means?’”
Colm indicates that, growing up LGBTQ+ in rural Ireland, you often feel you have to leave the countryside to find yourself.
“We’re almost conditioned to believe that, as a young queer person, you have to go to a city because that is the only way you will meet your kind – your chosen family.”
The big smoke
Coming from a rural setting and moving into the city was beneficial for Colm, though – there was a lot to learn from the greater LGBTQ+ community.
While Colm was living in Dublin, the 2015 Marriage Referendum occurred. He canvassed for the Yes vote in his local village, where he received a positive response.
“After the first two doors, I realised that the reception was – wholly and warmly – very positive,” he recalls. “It’s amazing just how much has changed in a short space of years.”
Colm also recalls the pride he felt upon hearing RTÉ announce that his local village had voted 70% in favour of marriage equality – which was higher than the national average.
Blazing a trail
Speaking on Pride month, Colm says an increased emphasis has been placed on the progress the older generation of the Irish LGBTQ+ community made to pave the way for the younger generation. He mentions the podcast Invisible Threads which discusses the often-overlooked older generation of LGBTQ+ people.
“I think it’s the most inspiring thing I’ve ever listened to,” he says. “It’s voices from an older generation of great people; whose work is the reason we now get to exist openly, and without persecution.”
The last decade has been a tumultuous period for the Irish LGBTQ+ community, with big changes and continued challenges springing from the marriage referendum. Colm described his personal experience as no different.
“It was a very whirlwind few years in terms of finding my identity,” he admits.
Having come out in sixth year, Colm was invited back to his school to speak in 2018. Colm found the experience very positive and was impressed by the students’ interest and curiosity.
“Generation Z are great – they’re so open-minded.”
He laughingly notes the difference in these pupils from when he was in school.
“Then, there would have been no questions after,” he says. “I wouldn’t have asked a question because I’d be worried, ‘Oh, what if people know I’m gay?’ But that was pretty obvious anyway!”
Colm describes the experience of going back to his school and talking about his experience as an LGBTQ+ person as “extremely liberating”. Although he was already comfortable with his sexuality in his home town, the experience was “like another rung on the ladder of self-acceptance.”
“No one here ever really gave a crap,” he says. “They were happy when I came out because they were like, ‘He’s happy.’”
He also had strong relationships with some of his teachers.
“They still encourage me,” he smiles. “Whenever they see me in something, they write to me, saying ‘You’re doing great.’”
Colm and several other LGBTQ+ farmers, who met online, have created a small community where they chat and share experiences.
“We just talk, we ask questions, and we show pictures of the calves to each other… it’s just nice to have that kind of extra kinship,” he explains.
Colm maintains that, although much positive change has been made for LGBTQ+ people in Ireland, a lot still hasn’t changed and everyone’s situation differs.
“Everyone’s personal situation is different in terms of where they are at the stage of accepting themselves.”
He highlights the internet as an important tool for young LGBTQ+ people to access guidance. Colm regularly uses his social media accounts to say he is available if anybody is looking for advice. Although, today, most people are open-minded and accepting, “many still have residual phobias as a symptom of the very oppressive society we once lived in”.
Colm stresses the importance of safe spaces and advice for LGBTQ+ youth. He speaks on the value of organisations, such as Macra Na Feirme, for genuinely respecting Pride month – rather than using it as a box to be ticked on the diversity and inclusion agenda.
Young farmers need a voice
Colm also mentions the importance of young agricultural voices in politics.
“We need younger voices in farming; there is a bit of a panic about the future of agriculture in Ireland,” he says. “I am one of those that has come back to farming, but most don’t as they can’t afford it. There’s an entire generation of young people who have been locked out of farming.” He says he sometimes feels doubly forgotten, first as a farmer and, secondly, a musician.
“It’s [an expectation] of Irish artists that we thrive in times of strife.”
Although Colm stresses that moving home to farm has been a positive experience, he also acknowledges that it can be lonely. However, this loneliness can lead to creative spells.
“A lot of what I create as a singer are quite tied to my experience as a queer person – and a rural person,” he smiles. “I went from writing pure pop to Irish folk-inspired pop music.”
For any readers looking for guidance or someone to talk to, Colm is always available to chat via Twitter @cp_conlan.