There have been laughing faces, serious faces, faces with tears, sometimes faces of shock but always faces with smiles at the Women & Ag Conference.

This is the second year that our conference has been put on hold. As it takes months to co-ordinate, there was too much uncertainty earlier this year to start planning, but we will be together again.

Anne Marie McHugh of the National Ploughing Association.

Next year, we will sing and dance, talk about the opportunities that lie ahead for women farming and the barriers that together we will overcome. We will talk about succession plans for our families and how to broach those difficult subjects at home, we will talk candidly about women’s health-both physical and mental and we will recharge our batteries through chats, laughter, honesty and cups of tea.

Singer Frances Black.

We are already thinking about our next Women & Ag Conference, what that will look like and the speakers that we will put on stage.

Tears and goosebumps

It seems fitting that the very last speaker we put on stage at our conference before the pandemic was Vicky Phelan.

Vicky Phelan.

In our 12 years of conferences, her speech was one of the most honest and powerful talks, teaching us to be brave and courageous. When we played then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s apology for the failures of the CervicalCheck – which had been given to Vicky in the Dáil just two days before the conference – she walked into a standing ovation of 600 women. There were tears in our eyes and goosebumps on our arms. We continue to wish her well in her treatment and know she treasures every day with her children Amelia and Darragh.

Ann Kehoe, Tipperary; Katherine O'Leary, Cork; Therese Campbell, Donegal; Geraldine O'Donnell, Roscommon; and Mary Irwin, Limerick at the 2016 Women & Ag Conference.

Over the last few weeks, we have profiled other speakers from throughout the years – Evelyn O’Rourke who was diagnosed with breast cancer four days after finding out she was pregnant and now 10 years later, is happy, healthy and campaigning for more clinical trials.

Susan O’Sullivan, who overcame severe financial difficulties during the 2010 recession to open one of Dublin’s most popular farm-to-fork eateries (featuring local produce and ingredients grown on her Co Kildare farm), the Farmhouse Café.

The ladies of Sherry Fitzgerald Auctioneers at the 2017 conference.

There are so many other speakers that we could have filled the pages with. David McWilliams who puts the economy of our nation into hilarious but comprehendible language; Fionnuala O’Kelly who spoke about life as the wife of a Taoiseach and raising a family in and out of the spotlight; and Mairead McGuinness who chatted as easily about life as a politician in Brussels as she did about filling in gaps on the farm.

Lifestyle and entertainment at Women & Ag Conferences

We had many ministers who set out their agricultural policies and plans and we gave advice on finances, pensions, succession and health insurance.

Psychotherapist Dr Eddie Murphy.

Psychologists such as Dr Maureen Gaffney and Dr Eddie Murphy gave us food for thought while chefs such as Neven Maguire, Paul Flynn and Jess Murphy put food on our plates, celebrating the Irish ingredients that farmers in the audience worked hard at producing.

Chefs Paul Flynn and Jess Murphy delivering a cooking demo at Women & Ag.

Of course, there was also the many entertainers. Frances Black, the Willoughby Brothers, Oliver Callan and Mike Denver, to name but a few. These are the people who have invigorated, informed and entertained us.

Oliver Callan kept the laughs coming after dinner at the conference in 2017.

We will be back and our conference will continue to go from strength to strength. But we are also seeing this break as an opportunity to re-invent our conference, to plan for new speakers who are relevant and informative about the issues that now affect women, both young and old.

Have your say

What does that event, series or campaign celebrating Women & Ag look like to you in 2022?

ICL editor Amii McKeever at the 2019 Women & Ag Conference in the Radisson Blu, Rosses Point, Sligo.

Would you like the conference to remain as an autumn event or would you prefer to travel on spring or summer days? Given the pandemic, would you prefer a series of small conferences or are you looking forward to everyone being together again?

We want our planning to be driven by you, our readers. We have opened a forum below and would love to hear from you.

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