I’m a secondary school teacher, teaching Leaving Certificate agricultural science and Junior Certificate science in Maynooth. My husband Henry is a forester, and we have a couple of acres outside of Clane, Co Kildare, where we’re currently lambing a few pedigree Beltex and figuring out creative names beginning with the letter F, like Frankie Dettori for the tiny single ram lamb born recently.
We also have an array of geriatric hens. We usually have pigs too, but even though African Swine Fever is very far away, we didn’t want to risk it.
We used to have two Angus heifers and two goats but neither suited us. The goats were much smarter than us – even with the best fencing, they could often be found tap-dancing on top of my car. The final straw was when they started hammering the trees – the forester said they had to go.
We have two girls, one in secondary school and the other in primary. They love being out with the animals. It’s a common interest amongst the four of us now.
I had a bit of an unorthodox start, I spent most of my childhood growing up abroad moving around with my dad’s job. My dad worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs. When I was nine we left Dublin, we spent time in Denmark, Luxemburg and then Greece.
The common denominator was science and I got interested in agriculture in the different countries and got to see how different it is in Denmark to say Greece.
For example, in Greece they don’t have the same emphasis on the dairy industry as Ireland does, their main production system would be olive oil. In Denmark there would be a huge focus on the pig industry.
When I came back home to Ireland it was ag science that I wanted to do. So I put it down. I got into ag in University College Dublin (UCD) and I picked animal and crop production. Myself and Henry met while studying in UCD. We started sheep-rearing as a hobby – very small, as small as can be. As time went on, we’ve grown it.
After I finished, I was going to study genetics but that didn’t work out. I then decided I was absolutely useless at using the computer, so I did a postgraduate in IT. I had no interest in IT jobs but to cut a long story short I ended up working for a bank in the IT section. I decided I would only stay there for two years, but 14 years later I was still there. I didn’t mind the job, I enjoyed it, I was writing code but I wished the subject matter was a bit more interesting, instead of being financial I wanted something ag related. With coding, there wasn’t much social interaction and I missed that.
Eventually, as my own children were growing up I found that I enjoyed explaining things to them. Kids are always asking “why” questions. I decided to give teaching a go and I did a Hibernia online course. I was still in the bank and I was studying while our youngest was still a toddler.
They said on the first day of the course, you could only do that course if you were absolutely doing it for yourself, you had to want to do it. I finished working in the bank on New Year’s Eve and I was in a school on 6 January.
It was very different from being in college and because it was online, you had to be at home to do the lectures and assignments. I think that’s where having done my job in the bank stood to me because you’re more efficient, your time is more valuable than when you’re an actual full-time student.
You get things done and you don’t procrastinate half as much as you do when you’re younger. When I was on teaching practice it was definitely the ag that I loved and I liked science too.
You have every variety of students, from those who definitely know more than me on certain areas of the curriculum to students who wouldn’t know one end of an animal to the other. It’s best when you bring in different breeds of hens, like ones with feathered feet and non-feathered feet, which matches up to a Leaving Certificate question and they can actually see the difference, that it does actually mean feathered feet versus non-feathered feet.
Or bringing in lambs and seeing the different breeds and types there are – you can’t beat it. I bring in my own animals and cause absolute consternation in the school.
A couple of years back we bought 25-day-old chicks that were flown in to Belfast from Scotland. Henry works up in Monaghan so I dispatched him to collect them. We expected that they wouldn’t all survive the travel, hence why we bought so many, but they were hardy and all survived bar one. That one unfortunately died because the power went out and when Henry went to fix it he tripped on the box and squashed it.