I remember in the early years of the Women & Agriculture conference, the then-editor Mairead Lavery would walk around the office muttering numbers.

“Thirty-seven,” she would randomly announce on a Monday morning. “One hundred and fifty-three,” you’d hear her shout after a phone call with the marketing department. As the weeks edged closer to the conference, the numbers would steadily increase. “219, 381, 501,” until we would get to that magic number - 600.

Six hundred was the cut-off point: a sold-out conference; a full room. We could relax - the women were coming.

Over the years, as the Women & Agriculture conference gained in popularity, the anxiety of selling tickets settled down, soon to be replaced by another stress - dealing with upset readers who had left it too late to get their ticket.

Editor of the Irish Country Living Mairead Lavery speaking at the Women and Agriculture conference in Kilkenny.

We quickly realised that, for the most part, the conference was not sold based on the upcoming line-up.

Instead, it is sold based on the success of the previous one. That, and the loyalty of our core, ‘Women and Ag-ers’, the women who return year-after-year and bring their warmth, support and enthusiasm every time.

Pictured at the Women and Agriculture conference 2009 at the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone, were Michele O'Brien, Irish Osteooporosis Society; Catherine O'Leary, Irish Farmers Journal; Declan McEvoy, IFAC Accountants; Neven Maguire, celebrity chef; and Helen Brophy, CEO, National Dairy Council.

The Women & Agriculture conference first launched in 2008, but it really found its formula in 2009. Two of the headline speakers that year included psychologist Maureen Gaffney and Australian succession expert Lyn Sykes.

Lyn Sykes speaking at the Women and Agriculture conference 2009 in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone.

Looking back on the archives of the Irish Examiner at that time, journalist Claire O’Brien wrote that Maureen Gaffney received a round of applause when she questioned if farm organisations like the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) have “a proper proportion of senior women at decision making level”.

“Unless you have it, you are absolutely not having the competitive advantage which you absolutely must have,” Maureen said.

Interestingly, it has taken 15 years for the first female deputy president of the IFA to be appointed, with Alice Doyle taking the position only this month.

26 October, 2017. Women and Agriculture conference, Mount Wolseley Hotel, Tullow, Co Carlow. Pictured are The Willoughby Brothers performing for the crowd. \ Barry Cronin

Claire also reported that Australian succession expert Lyn Sykes suggested that the best way for men to protect their farming business interests is to look after their wives.

“If a farmer’s wife leaves him, he stands to lose half of his enterprise,” she said. “Men should ask themselves whether they want to be sleeping with their prize sheep or their wives when the recession is over, and focus their energies accordingly.”

I remember standing at the back of the room and seeing one woman give a very definite nod of her head at that.

That first conference set the tone for many more to come - giving a voice to women on farms, not only acknowledging their contribution, but celebrating the important role they play in Irish agriculture.

This year, the Irish Country Living celebrated the 14th Women & Agriculture conference, taking into consideration a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this objective still remains at the core of every agenda we put together.

Women and Agriculture conference 2022. \ Philip Doyle

Agriculture is always a key focus during the morning of the conference and over the years, we have had informative and important speakers, such as the former Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the current Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue as well as former Ministers for Agriculture Michael Creed and Simon Coveney.

When Tara McCarthy was CEO of Bord Bia, she too took to the stage as well as renowned succession planning facilitator Sian Bushell.

The conference also focuses on family life, health and wellbeing. Similar to the content in Irish Country Living, it has an inspiring and encouraging tone.

In previous years, Majella O’Donnell spoke about living with depression, while Áine Lawlor and Evelyn O’Rourke, both of RTÉ, spoke separately on their journey overcoming breast cancer.

Breege O’Donoghue wowed the audience when she discussed her career in Penneys where the brand grew from a single store to over 300 outlets now in 11 countries, while David McWilliams had the crowd captivated with his take on Irish economics.

Another key highlight was in 2016 when Fionnuala O’Kelly, wife of Enda Kenny, entertained the room when she spoke candidly about what life is like when you’re married to the Taoiseach and their trips to the States for dinner with the Obamas.

Fionnuala O'Kelly, wife of An Taoiseach, speaking to over 600 women at the Women and Agriculture conference 2016 at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Rosses Point, Co Sligo.

However, the most memorable moment for me personally, was in 2019. Just two days before the conference, the then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar issued a national apology in the Dáil to the victims of the Cervical Cancer Scandal.

I remember standing on stage, saying, “There is no introduction that I could possibly give that is as powerful as this apology.” The Taoiseach’s announcement was then played on the big screens to 600 women, an announcement that took so long but meant so much.

Vicky Phelan at Women and Ag 2019 in the Radisson Blu, Rosses Point, Sligo.

As it finished, Vicky Phelan walked in from the back of the room and everyone took to their feet to give the most encouraging applause I have ever heard. In every single clap of those hands, there was support, encouragement and appreciation.

Vicky Phelan speaking at the Women and Ag conference 2019.

To this day, it gives me goosebumps and I remember thinking, "Wow, aren’t women amazing?" We remember Vicky and her courageous fight.

The success of this conference, though, has and always will be more than any one person or speaker. It is about every woman who attends - those that have been coming year after year with family or friends, or those that make the decision to purchase a ticket and go on their own for the first time.

At the Women and Agriculture conference 2009 in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone.

The original intent for the Women & Agriculture conference was to recognise and celebrate our readers, to provide a platform for conversation. What we didn’t anticipate is how much it would be embraced.

We’re at a point now where Irish Country Living hosts the conference each year, but it doesn’t belong to us anymore, it belongs to our women. CL

Women and Agriculture conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, 2018. \ Donal O'Leary

The Women and Agriculture conference 2023 in the Lyrath Hotel, Co Kilkenny. \ Philip Doyle

Jiving Juniors at Women and Ag 2019 in the Radisson Blu, Rosses Point, Co Sligo.

Women and Agriculture 2010.

At the Women and Agriculture conference 2009 in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone Helen Brophy, CEO at NDC, and Matt Dempsey, editor at the Irish Farmers Journal.

At the Women and Agriculture conference 2009 in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone.

At the Women and Agriculture conference 2009 in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone.

The Energy & Warming up at the Women and Agriculture conference 2010 at Kilkenny.

Speakers at the Women and Agriculture conference 2010 at Kilkenny were Maura Walsh, chief executive of IRD Duhallow; Margaret Healy, IFA Farm Family and Social Affairs chairwoman; Mairead Lavery, Editor of Irish Country Living; Katherine, Irish Country Living; Dr Maureen Gaffney, Adjunct Professor and Psychology and Society at UCD; and Dr Mary Flynn, Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

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