Eanna Canavan is a suckler farmer near Doolin in Co Clare and his farm has the rare distinction of featuring in a song well embedded in the national repertoire.

“Our address isn’t Lisdoonvarna, but from 1979 to 1983 the Lisdoonvarna folk festival was held on the farm. The venue the first year didn’t suit so the organisers approached my parents who were friends of theirs and they agreed to host it. Unfortunately it was finished before my own time but anytime I have any machine in doing work, we still find bottles and remnants from the festival.”

Cows now graze the fields where 40 years ago “the multitudes, they flocked in throngs, to hear the music and the songs” but Eanna would love to see it return in some form at least. “A dream of mine would be to hold a concert on the farm again or some sort of an event, maybe not the scale as of the festival though, that had up to 50,000 people.”


The festival wasn’t the first event to draw a crowd to the farm. The hill behind where the main stage was, is called Cnoc na Crochaire, and local lore says sailors of the Spanish armada ships were brought ashore and hanged here. While Eanna’s a little sceptical of that, he confirms it was used as the location for executing criminals in the locality in the past.

Back to the present and like many young farmers Eanna would rather spend more time on the farm but economic necessity means he has to work off farm.

“I’d love to be farming full-time, I genuinely believe there’s nothing more satisfying as something going right on a farm such a calf being born. I don’t think you could get satisfaction like that in any other type of job.”


Work is in Shannon, a two-hour round trip, so simplicity is key when it comes to farming.

“I need my farming system to be as simple as possible because help is hard got. I’m lucky as all the ground is in one block and I don’t have to cross any road so that makes it easy. My father used to keep stock until they were 18 months but I sell the weanlings in order to simplify things. I’m understocked but that’s in part to get a handle on organics so I could up numbers a bit as I become more used to it.”

Organics wasn’t pushed much when Eanna joined back in 2018, so what inspired the move?

“At the time I was spraying very little, used very little fertiliser and I had a shed with a creep area so I didn’t have to invest too much structurally. That made it an easier decision. I worked out the figures and said I’d go for it. You have to be genuinely interested in organics, it’s not like any other scheme you sign up for and just let it off. You definitely look at farming from a different angle in the way you do things as well. One example would be, simple stuff like changing grazing rotations around parasite life cycles.”

That idea stemmed from the herd health plan compiled by his vets as part of entry to organics.

The herd

Running about 25 cows, calving begins at the start of February and is wrapped up seven weeks later. Limousin and Charolais-cross cows form the backbone of the herd but an interest in rare breeds saw Eanna change direction a little over two years ago when he purchased a pair of Droimeann heifers and a bull.

“I’d like to do my bit to preserve rare breeds in Ireland, it’s an interest, maybe to a fault, but they suit the ground here. I could have three continental cows running where I could have five Droimeann. Those heifers are second calvers now and I couldn’t get over the amount of milk they had to rear a calf and there’s been no issues with calving difficulty. I’ve six Droimeann heifers put in calf for next year. There’s a lot of variety in terms of colour too particularly with crossing them with continental cows.”

While a few heifers have been sold privately, most weanlings are mainly sold conventionally in Ennis Mart. That’s an opportunity lost according to Eanna.

“There aren’t enough specialised organic sales so those animals are leaving the organic system. That’s a gap in the market. There aren’t many organic finishers. Finishing wouldn’t be something I’d know enough to go into blindly so I’ll stick at the weanlings for now.”


The more he looks into ACRES the more put off he is by the new flagship environmental scheme.

“You’re giving organic farmers priority access to it but not practical options to choose from. It seems like its shooting yourself in the foot. I was in GLAS before organics and had 10ha in low-input permanent pasture (LIPP). The GLAS payment overrides the organic payment, so I’m not getting organic payment on those 10ha but I’ve no issue there as the GLAS payment was higher. There’s a similar measure in ACRES but it’s scored now. As organic payments are coupled, it means the payment rate for LIPP is lower, it’s €150/ha and in order to get that I need a score of 10 out of 10 in a field, if you get less than eight you get zero. Even though I’m organic, I don’t think the variety of grasses they’re looking for will be here. So there’s no incentive for me to choose that measure, picking it and then not getting paid for it makes no sense.”

Working off farm means Eanna’s time is at a premium when he’s on farm and when it comes to ACRES, that’s something he must factor in when choosing his actions.

“I considered planting 0.5ha of trees but getting the time to do it wouldn’t be easy. If you can’t get the time to plant yourself, you have to pay someone to do it and there’s not much money left after. Then you’re paying your adviser up to €800 too when most people are savvy enough to use agfood.ie themselves. The payments are pretty miniscule when you consider the work that has to go in. I’ve been chatting to some farmers and they say it might be easier to buy a few extra cattle instead. Every scheme has difficulties when they start off but for people to find actions that suit them, ACRES seems a different level altogether. The fact it’s scored too, it’s like you’re being inspected and that puts people off as well. I’d have another concern with the scoring too. If advisers are scoring farmers and the plots don’t score high enough, then it could lead to disputes between farmers and advisers.”