Ciara Leahy

Ciara Leahy at Women and Ag 2019 in the Radisson Blu, Rosses Point, Co Sligo.

“There is always a moment. Every year, there is a moment that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, a tear in the corner of my eye or a belly laugh, the kind that fills up your cup. That is the power of the Women & Agriculture conference.

“A standout moment was when Vicky Phelan received a standing ovation before she even did her keynote address. There was support, appreciation and encouragement in every clap. It still gives me goosebumps.

“Just before Trisha Lewis went on stage to talk about her weight loss journey, she said to me, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ Slightly panicked, I reassured her she would do great, that this is such a supportive audience. She went on stage, legs shaking and nervously cracked a joke. The whole room laughed and I saw her take a moment to visibly relax, she was in a safe space to share her story and she kept everyone laughing.

“And there was the moment Diane Banville spoke about losing her husband in a farm accident, with two small children at home. You could hear a pin drop, the room was there with her in the moment and women dabbed their eyes, knowing they would hug their loved ones that bit closer.

“However, the most powerful moments are with our audience, ‘our women’ as we affectionately call you all. It’s the hugs as we exclaim it’s like having an annual family wedding, it’s the catch up on how the family is, how life is on the farm. It’s the very honest post-mortem when we reflect on the most powerful messages of the day and it’s the genuine well wishes until we see each other again. Those are the moments I enjoy most and I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing you all again in October.”

Mairead Lavery

Mairead Lavery following her retirement from Irish Country Living in Nov 2020. \ Philip Doyle

“When we established the Women & Agriculture conference, one of the first things we did was to welcome every woman as they came through the doors. It was our way of thanking them for making the effort to attend. Over the years those handshakes became hugs and strangers became friends.

“I love the speakers who have lots of practical information to share. I also so admire the farm women who’ve never stood in front of such an audience and, shaking like a leaf, tell their story. Invariably they receive a sustained standing ovation that invigorates every woman in the room.

“One year I met a young woman who made a last minute decision to attend. She wasn’t sure why she came, but at the time she was struggling to cope with a child with special needs.

“She ended up sitting beside two women, both of whom had young children with special needs. They eased her fears and when the conference ended, she came to me with tears in her eyes. ‘Now I know why I had to come today.’ It’s a memory I will always carry with me.”

Maria Moynihan

Maria Moynihan.

“On Women & Agriculture days, I often fill the role as a ‘runner’. In the past, I’ve found myself doing everything from tying colour coded ribbons onto the backs of the seats and selling magazine subscriptions in the trade stand area (while terrified of the card machine!) to packing heavy tins of porridge into goodie bags. It’s a jam-packed, ‘all hands on deck’ type of event and I enjoy getting stuck in.

“Last year, however, I had the opportunity to chair the panel on women’s health and what really struck me was how Women & Agriculture has become a safe, trusted- and maybe even sacred- space for our readers to discuss topics that are not always openly aired. I think that this year’s theme, Finding The Balance, is something we all struggle with; and need to strike.

“What I most look forward to, however, is seeing the smiling faces of our regulars; and those hugs.”

Sarah McIntosh

Sarah McIntosh.

“Being a young woman in the early stages of my career and life, I attended my first Women & Agriculture conference last year. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it was the biggest day in the Irish Country Living calendar and I was looking forward to assisting the team.

“I could never have imagined the impact it was going to have on me both personally and professionally. It was not only humbling to meet the hundreds of women who travel across Ireland to this conference year after year, but it was extremely inspiring as the newest member of the team to see the impact our publication has across rural Ireland.

“The empowering and united feeling in the room is something that cannot be described, I would encourage everyone to join us this October and experience it yourself. I look forward to listening, learning and taking it all in again this year as we try to find the balance in all aspects of life.”

Dee Laffan

Dee Laffan.

“This is my first Women & Agriculture Conference and I am super excited for it. I’m so proud to be a part of the ICL team surrounded by women who inspire me on a daily basis. Women who are constantly challenged to find balance in their lives between having a career, all while striving for success in their personal lives also.

“They inspire me to challenge myself and to connect with women who are equally as passionate in agriculture and beyond. To help to tell their stories in my work, share their successes, challenges and inspire others in doing so.

“I look forward to meeting these women in person at the conference in October and sharing in this challenge of finding the balance in our lives; and hopefully, together, taking a step closer to achieving it.”

Katherine O’Leary

Katherine O’Leary speaking at last year's conference.

“The Women & Agriculture conference has grown into an assembly of rural and farming women that share agriculture in its many forms as the connecting force. Each year, I look forward to the gathering of the women who bring their experience, goodwill and good humour to the conference.

“This, the 14th conference, will be a special one for me. By then I will have completed cancer treatment and I hope fervently that I will be able to attend. I find each conference is completely different.

“I get inspired to take a piece of my life in hand and make some changes. I also feel validated for who we are as women in farming and for the huge contribution we make. The conference is a welcome day or two away from the day job and a time to be a little pampered. It is an opportunity to learn and laugh and I just love it.”

Margaret Leahy

Margaret Leahy.

“The first time I went to the Women & Agriculture conference, I was quite nervous as I was on my own and had put the farm up for sale, so I wondered if I even belonged there. Would I have anything in common with the other women? Would I find anyone to talk to? Well, half a dozen conferences later, I can’t wait for next month’s conference.

“There is always someone to chat to, have a laugh with and sometimes share a story with. I’ve met women from every county, small farmers, big farmers and non-farmers. I’ve met women who are single, married, divorced, widowed, with friends and attending solo.

“We are all very different, but what we have in common is a love of the country, an interest in agriculture and a desire to see women’s contribution to the sector acknowledged.

“This year, as in the past few years, I’m going with my friend, Breege, who was on the phone in jig time to book our rooms the minute the dates were announced.

“I’m looking forward to seeing you all in Kilkenny very soon.”

Clodagh Carey

Clodagh Carey.

“Empowering, motivational and educational are just some of the words that spring to mind when I think of what the annual Women & Agriculture conference means to me. It fills me with great pride to know that I am involved in such an event that allows women from all over Ireland to gather with a common goal. Having grown up on a dairy farm in Cork, it is an event that I have shared with my own mother and sisters over the years.

“I find it heartening to hear stories from delegates about life, love, loss, education, barriers, careers, family and much more. As the years go by, I can see friendships strengthening as delegates treat it as their getaway of the season. It humbles me to be part of the team that delivers such a strong conference programme with themes, speakers and discussions that feed into the wider agricultural sector and help sustain rural Ireland for generations to come.

“Championing equality for farming women, acknowledging and appreciating all they do to keep farms functioning well and giving women the confidence to expect and request that they be treated as equals.

“That’s what springs to mind when I think about the Women & Agriculture conferences. No more big meetings just for male farmers. At last women have their own gathering to highlight issues close to their hearts and lived lives. A conference that they can go home from with knowledge upped, a spring in their step, new ideas and also the breath of fresh air through the brain that comes from having had a good day out.

“This year’s theme is ‘Finding The Balance’. Balance – it’s a word with a lovely ring to it, isn’t it? Like equality. Two words that feed into one another, are each other’s backbone.”

Margaret Hawkins

Margaret Hawkins

“Championing equality for farming women, acknowledging and appreciating all they do to keep farms functioning well and giving women the confidence to expect and request that they be treated as equals in their marriages, their homes and in the world.

“That’s what springs to mind when I think about Irish Country Living’s Women & Agriculture Conferences. No more big meetings just for male farmers. At last, women have their own gathering, their own platform to highlight issues close to their hearts and their lived lives.

"A conference that they can go home from with knowledge upped, a spring in their step, new ideas and also the breath of fresh air through the brain that comes from having had a good day out.

“There is nothing like sharing experience, too, as a pathway to threshing out problems and finding solutions. Six-hundred women in a room is one hell of a powerhouse of experience and ability.

“I come from an era where callers to the yard constantly looked for ‘the bossman’ while ‘the missus’ (who may even have brought the land to the relationship) was considered less important, despite, in many cases having the main hand on the financial, administrative and child-rearing tiller of the farm.

"I’m glad we’ve moved on. Equality – it’s a wonderful word. No second-class citizens. No second-class treatment anymore, born of sexism and generational conditioning that even we women were once too accepting of.

“This year we’ll have another conference where we learn, engage, laugh, sing, cry perhaps, get ideas and go home more rounded, more grounded people than before from this annual, rural, shot in the arm that, this year, has as its theme ‘Finding The Balance’. Balance – it’s a word with a lovely ring to it, isn’t it? Like equality. Two words that feed into one another, are each other’s backbone.”

About the conference

This year’s Women and Agriculture conference is taking place in the Lyrath Estate in Kilkenny on Wednesday, 25 October.

Tickets for this one-day conference are €70 and can be purchased online at or through a Postal Order/Cheque.

Send your name, address and phone number to: Customer Service Department, Irish Farmers Journal, Irish Farm Centre, Bluebell, Dublin 12.

Call our team on 01 4199505 or 014199525 between 9:30am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

Supported by FBD Insurance.

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