My Little Pony

 

Gianni Matera is a man who knows what he wants – three or four ponies would suit him very nicely thank you. Only he is not speaking of our four legged friends but of startups valued at between $10million and $100million. The term ‘pony’ was coined by US money man Dave McClure of 500startups fame back in 2015. Ponies grow up to be Centaurs, valued between $100million and $1billion and then a lucky few make it to the Unicorn stage of $1billion plus.

Matera, an Italian entrepreneur successfully sold his last company, DigiTouch, in 2007 for €44million and decided to look for a life and career outside of Italy. He chose Ireland as his new home because of the ease with which he fitted into Irish society, the support of Enterprise Ireland (EI) and the close business connections to the US.

 

For the past two years he has operated as a Super Angel Investor in Ireland through his fund Growing Capital. He has invested a total of €4.8 million in 14 startups of which €2.2 million came from his own personal wealth; €1.5 million came from EI (HPSU Fund) and the remaining €1.1 million from the European Angel Fund.

Actually Matera is EI’s biggest fan.  He points to its very successful engagement, especially at seed and pre-seed level. Reports demonstrate that EI on average does 100 deals per annum in seed funding. This compares very favourably with a cumulative total for the whole of Europe for similar deals resting around the 1000 to 1500 mark

Matera chose Ireland also because he could see better value than in the neighbouring UK. ‘It’s like real estate, I could buy better property for less money here than in London for example,’ he says.

He also believes that Ireland is closer to the US than other European countries. ‘There are many connections with the US and a willingness for founders and their startups to move stateside,’ he says. ‘It’s a no brainer – by moving to the US, startups can avail of more capital, under better conditions and earlier in their journey.’

Matera has learnt a lot in the past two years:  ‘I have learnt to refine my decisions on how I invest. It is a tough road, as much for the founders as for the angel investor.’

Sleepless nights and a war zone are words that he uses to describe his journey. He was motivated to want to give back some of his success but he is now content to wait out the exit rewards that should come to him hopefully in the next three to five years. ‘From around 2020 to 2022 I shall know if I have been successful,’ he says. ‘Just getting my money back would be a failure, doubling my investment is okay but in reality a return of between seven and 10 million euro would make me very happy.’

Part of his journey has been to shift the percentages of investment. ‘When I first began I invested 50-50 with EI,’ says Matera. ‘However for the second tranche of my investments I linked up with a new initiative called the European Angels Fund (EAF). That allowed me to bring in another pot of money reducing my input down to a more manageable quarter.’

EAF is an initiative advised by the European Investment Fund (EIF) which provides equity to Business Angels and other non-institutional investors for the financing of innovative companies in the form of co-investments.

The EAF conducted vigorous due diligence on Matera personally. After that, they took his advice on the target startups without having to evaluate his choices.

‘I learnt to be ruthless too,’ says Matera. ‘There is a culture in the US that only allows one round of investment at each stage. They call companies that fail to make the next level the walking dead and faced with that stagnation it’s a simple up-and-out for investors.’

In Ireland, this ruthlessness is less evident. Startups can return to the well for increments to get them up to the next level. This is fostered in part by various tax schemes which allow family and friends to lend money and avail of serious tax respites.

‘This abundance is good for entrepreneurs who are looking at lifestyle choices especially if they are working in industries that tend to scale slowly such as food, makeup or fashion,’ he says. ‘However, when I hear a pitch that stresses the positive social impact or employment then I am out the door. For an Angel Investor the best number of employees is zero on a scalable business.’

There are a number of key attributes that he looks for in his founders and their startups. First he demands the startup must already be viable and showing a minimum of €5,000 per month in revenue.

‘I want to identify a founder who has already seen a problem, has found a solution to it and also has customers paying for it.’

The business has to be scalable quickly, preferably within 18 months to target revenues of €50,000 per month making it Series A investment-ready.

‘My founders must have a clear vision on how to make money,’ says Matera. ‘I have no use for dreamers. I want to see the spread sheet already populated.’

Matera also favours founders with good social capital. ‘If you are on Linkedin with five friends then forget it.’

Balance is another important feature. ‘A founder must be visionary but also coachable. He must be optimistic, a risk taker and be able to manage ambiguity,’ he says.

With regard to his role with his startups Matera does not believe in being on the board. ‘So I sit on the board and meet twice a year, what good is that? If I can make changes by doing just that then there is something wrong in the leadership and strategy of the company. ‘

Matera has stopped investing now. The companies that survive and grow will need future funding. He may dilute his equity or part-invest on a case by case basis.

‘The common advice is to invest 10% of your net worth and then stop,’ he says. ‘I have gone a bit above that so I am not looking at any more new startups.’

Matera is relieved the two years are up. ‘It was a steep learning curve and a number of my investments have failed already and that is difficult as it is my own money.’

‘Actually,’ he corrects himself, ‘it is not my money but my daughter’s inheritance and I have spent enough already.’

While Matera is stepping back from investing his next roles are to be cofounder to a number of businesses. There are three currently ranging from financial services, energy efficiency and trading. He found these businesses in his investor search and in each case felt he would offer better value as a co-founder rather than a money man.

‘Up to a point, I enjoyed my two year odyssey,’ he says. ‘I met a lot of interesting people and viewed many fascinating ideas. I am happy with my decision to pursue this route but you’ll have to wait until 2022 before I will tell you just how happy I am.’

An Open Letter to Bray Wanderers FC

Dear Management of Bray Wanderers,

I write to you today with genuine sadness, some bewilderment and above all deep embarrassment at your recent statements, press releases and actions.

The final straw was discovering that I had been personally blocked from the official Bray Wanderers Twitter Account. That action has directly forced me into responding publicly today.

Let me explain firstly who I am. I was taken on last year, in August 2016, as media liaisons officer for the club. Three years ago I had met with a Bray club think-tank headed up by prior chairman Philip Hannigan, and had submitted a proposal as a public relations consultant. Nothing came of that and so I was surprised to be approached last summer by the then chairman Denis O’Connor. We had many talks over the following weeks and finally I submitted a detailed brief of work and my services were retained.

It was a steep learning curve. I was unfamiliar with the world of soccer in general and of League of Ireland in particular.  However, I found myself falling head over heels in love with the club. I became a defacto Seagulls Supporter. I met fans, old and new. I worked with sponsors. I grew to know and respect the sports media. I worked with the nominated charities to promote them. I laughed and joked with the hard working and good natured stewards on match day. I found great friendship with the grounds man and general factotum, the mascot and his children, the DJ, the tea ladies, the head of security, the FAS workers, volunteers and most people attached to the club. I met with the previous chairmen to learn from their experiences. I also discovered the gentleman that is Harry Kenny – as well as his brothers who were active in both running the U19s and supporting the club. And I really, really enjoyed meeting and interviewing the players who were polite and mannerly to a fault with all my requests.

However, some four months ago the then chairman and I had a major disagreement. I stuck to my guns – it was on a point of principle, humanity and also corporate sensitivity. As a result he swore never to speak with me again, an order repeated in person the following week by his brother, the general manager.  Accordingly I worked closely with the wonderful, unsung hero Mick Duffy to continue my work which included producing weekly media briefings, weekly digital newsletters, ongoing media relations and match day programmes. It was a strange time but I persevered.

More recently in June I attended official FAI training along with the other media officers from the Premier Division. I learnt vast amounts and enjoyed meeting my fellow media officers. As the workshop emphasised – we may all be competitors on the field but we can cooperate and help each other off the field.

Then the week of the Dundalk match (June 30th) I received communications from the chairman again, after a three month period of silence. I was asked to report back from the FAI workshop and there followed a barrage of nearly 20 emails in less than 24 hours badgering me as to what I personally was going to do about the gate. These aggressive emails were copied to all management in the club. I replied (repeatedly) that my role was media relations and not commercial, however I said that I would research the matter further.

Moreover, the final order from the chairman in this upsetting email chain was that I was not on any account to go near the press box at the Dundalk match on Friday night nor was I to speak with any member of the press.

I confess I did not follow that order. Every home match I meet with a local journalist in a personal capacity and assist him by carrying his laptop to the press box. I did this at the Dundalk match as normal. However, seconds after my returning to my usual match viewing position outside the club shop I was accosted by the general manager. In front of witnesses he shouted at me, inches from my face, that on no account was I to visit the press box again as ‘things were happening’, ‘things that were nothing to do with me.’  The following week my services were no longer required.

We all know the ‘things’ that happened afterwards. The half time press release, the recorded RTE interview, the players being told to go, the players being told they could not go, the investment promised, the investment not appearing, the FAI not getting involved, the PFAI getting involved, the players attempting to be available for transfer and the resignation of the chairman.

Then the two last press releases were issued that captured the attention of not only League of Ireland fans, but people across the country and indeed has garnered interest on an international scale – and not in a good way.

Although I must say there was some very fine humour on social media as a result, overall the response was one of astonishment, ridicule, hurt and upset.

The reason therefore for my writing this open letter was fostered in my treatment up to my being let go and my subsequent blocking from Bray on social media. I understand, although this has not been officially communicated to me, that complaints have also been made to the FAI about my sharing the subsequent social media. #WeAreNorthKorea

The reason for my writing this letter is that, as a PR professional retained by the club, had I been allowed to do my job, this painful month of communications would not have got past the thought stage.  We would not have become the laughing stock of the League of Ireland and beyond.

The reason for writing this letter is for the many fans who have been let down.

The reason for writing this letter is for Harry, his management team and the players.  They had no choice in the content of the press releases. They had no part in the games being played off the field. They had no choice even in being able to confirm that their jobs were safe. How could they play football in such horrible conditions?

The reason for writing this letter is to express the opinion that just because the management of Bray Wanderers could release such statements, does not mean that they should.

Without social media these ridiculous and rambling notions would not have seen the light of day. No journalist worth his or her salt would have reprinted them in their news outlet. Without social media, this would not have happened.

Just because Donald Trump chooses to tweet fake news and incendiary comments via Twitter does not mean League of Ireland clubs should follow suit.

Where is the dignity? Where is the respect for the Fans? Where is the respect for the Manager? Where is the respect for the Players?

For the love of League of Ireland would such statements be abolished and forbidden in future club communication or clubs risk having their licences revoked for untrustworthy, hate-speak and irresponsible communications.

All clubs should sign up to publish only truthful and accurate reporting. We should not condone ‘trash talk’ in the League. In fact, we should not tolerate what looks like the drunken rants of an unhinged and vindictive person or persons unknown.

We can all learn from mistakes. Let the lessons learnt from this catalogue of fiascos be that clubs should not have the right to publish anything they want. Let there be a code of ethics, a filter if you will, on what clubs may report on.

Today, the target has been the fans, the local councillors, the general naysayers. Tomorrow the target may be minorities, the vulnerable and even individuals. Cyber bullying is well documented. This should not be condoned in the League of Ireland.

I ask Bray Management to desist from any further intemperate, crazed and hate-filled rhetoric

I call upon the FAI to enshrine in its licence a code of ethics on club communication – with appropriate sanctions when clubs step out of line.

Yours Sincerely

A Seagulls Fan

Jillian Godsil

Please find enclosed my detailed job description. It was unfortunate I was not allowed to fulfil the final skill set. The irony is not lost on me.

Roles:

  1. Media Liaison Officer

Point of contact for key media relations in particular East Coast FM and local papers. Meetings with local media to confirm content and frequency of updates. Ensuring content is provided on a timely basis such as schedules, changes to same, regular radio appearances, news and other information. Contact with wider media as a backup to current Club contacts.

  1. Content Generator

Content and news generator for all non-mainstream sports updates. Content includes player news, family days, mascot updates and any activities. Generation of content to final signoff from the club. Provision of photography where appropriate also.

  1. Community Liaison PR Officer

Linking with Community to provide promotion of local events, including activities such as Halloween, family days and other local promotions.

  1. Team Promotion

Working with key players / management to build awareness of players and their personalities. Developing content for use in the programme, on the Facebook, website and with the media.

  1. Schools Programme PR

Working with Dermot and the schools’ programme to ensure promotion of educational activities.

  1. Newsletter

Once lists are managed and divided then I can set up newsletters for the different stakeholders. Currently these are season ticket holders, general fans and junior supporters. Once we look at the different target audiences we can decide if the newsletters need to be separate or can be combined – either way content can be shared across audiences.

  1. Crisis Management

Advice on managing difficult or tricky situations – providing clean media statements where required and handling media resolutions

 

ends

 

First Bonded Whiskey warehouse on Clare Farm

The lost art of whiskey bonding has been restored to Ireland once again after being neglected for almost a century.  Clare-born Louise McGuane returned to the family farm after an international career in the drinks industry to set up a new bonded whiskey warehouse on the farm, on a site nestled between the Shannon Estuary and the Atlantic. This unique micro climate will be used to create a very special flavour of whiskey – the first bottles of which will be available in five years’ time.

Louise has come full circle. She remembers growing up when the local creamery was still operational. ‘We bought the bulk milk tank down to the creamery using the tractor very day. I even remember the pails before that,’ she says. ‘Naturally, those are in the past but the community has retained its rural bearing.’

Now she is reviving another ancient tradition of bonding that had all but died out in Ireland. ‘Back in the last century many local grocers or pubs would also be bonded agents and blend or mature their own brands of whiskey. They bought the plain spirit off a main distiller and then matured it in casks for a number of years before blending their own whiskey.

‘Most local communities had their own whiskeys – all with their own unique flavour,’ she says.

Each whiskey derives the majority of its flavour, some 80%, from the cask or container in which it matures and in the local climate where it resides.

Back in 1930s Ireland, the main distillers began creating brands – such as Jamieson and Powers – and were reluctant to release whiskey to local blenders and so the local versions died out.

Louise has also bought in limited number of litres of aged whiskeys and employs a Master Blender. She will use these matured whiskeys to have her first ‘pilot’ whiskeys ready in September. ‘This is to create a path to market,’ she explains.

It will take at least five years to produce her own whiskey and she needs an active sales channel once the product is ready.

‘Of course, we don’t really know what it will taste like,’ she says. ‘But we do know it will be unique. Our coastal micro climate will influence the flavour, plus we have built a traditional warehouse leaving mud as the foundation. This will both moderate the temperature and humidity as well as ensure no other whiskey will taste the same.’

Louise’s inspiration comes from local Kilrush grocery and bonded whiskey maker JJ Corry. ‘We discovered that he matured his own whiskey locally and sold it in the community. He died in 1930 and I have visited his grave. I also discovered his shop was dismantled and removed to Bunratty Castle where it is now a tourist feature.

‘There was a lot of paperwork remaining in his shop, details about his whiskeys and their names, and so I decided to reclaim his brands. I trademarked them and now we are in production,’ she says. ‘It is wonderful to not only rejuvenate an old tradition but also to rejuvenate his original brands.’

Louise is very happy to be home and on a mission. In the twenty odd years she was away she worked at the top of her profession in sales and marketing for some of the biggest luxury names in drinks. She worked in the US, the UK and Paris France. Her contacts and experience are invaluable. While away, she and her husband saved up to renovate her grandmother’s house on the farm. Initially it was intended to be a holiday home but she realised in recent years that her career would keep her an international nomad and she wanted to come home.

‘There is something very satisfying to return home to a project like this,’ says Louise. ‘I looked at a number of possible projects but this one felt right. The barn, which currently holds 24,000 litres of maturing whiskey, looks as though it has always been there. That continuity is important to me.’

Louise initially crowdfunded to finance the proof of concept raising €45,000 through KickStarter. ‘That came mostly from the US and was without the sniff of a whiskey product. I knew we were onto a winner at that stage.’

She is currently working with a number of private investors and may turn to the EIIS tax relief scheme. Right now her project is eating money as the whiskey quietly matures on the farm. Down the line, Louise has plans to integrate tourism into her project, handling small tour groups before moving them off to the local pub for food and refreshment. In time too she is looking at parenting with a local brewing company.

‘I love being home on the farm,’ says Louise. ‘My parents are still going strong, farming beef and diary, and I love being part of the lifestyle and community.  While our first blends will be available in less than six months we will spend the next five years watching our whiskey, opening the casks and checking on the maturation process, helping it where needed and finally creating our final taste. It is a long, gentle process but I am excited already about the final product.’

Louise will have to patient. Her whiskey will mature all in its own good time, and not a moment sooner, surrounded by her parent’s inquisitive dairy herd and the every present flocks of seagulls.

First printed in Farm Ireland July 2, 2017

 

 

 

Snail Success in Ireland

Eva Milka came to Ireland by accident in the middle of a tourism degree in her native Poland when her then boyfriend suggested she join him in a job interview for the newly opened Lyrath hotel in Kilkenny.  She got the job while he did not, and so she cast aside her degree to work in Ireland much to her parent’s disappointment.

‘It just felt it was the right thing to do,’ says Eva. ‘ We moved over and settled into Ireland but the one delicacy we could not find was escargot snails – so we set up a mini breeding farm using plastic containers in our one bedroom apartment in Kilkenny.’

The love of snails only grew and now Eva is looking for other pioneering spirits to join her in the growing snail business.

‘Four years ago my partner and I decided to look at farming snails professionally,’ says Eva. ‘We took one year to conduct research and development, the second to set up our infrastructure and for the last two years we have streamlined snail production, found distributors and are now looking at value added products through a processing plant in Greece.’

‘There are no facilities to do it here in Ireland,’ she explains. ‘In fact, we had to learn everything from scratch in Ireland as nobody had done it successfully before.’

Eva and her partner Eoin are now on a mission to help other would-be farmers setup their own snail farms. ‘We have done the hard work and can now provide a step by step guide for other people wishing to enter this industry,’ she says.

Diversification in farming is the way forward. A recent Teagas report from 2016 offers stark reading when it comes to viable farming incomes. There are 130,000 registered farmers of which 50,000 do not even make €8,000 a year.

‘An acre will raise a cow,’ says Eva. ‘But that same acre can raise 10 tonnes of snails at a market value of approximately €40,000. It is not a difficult sell.’

‘We have learnt the hard way what it takes to produce a quality Irish snail product,’ says Eva. ‘Even down to selecting the best snail species; Helix Aspersa Muller. We have tried other variants including the closely related Helix Aspersa Maxima but it was not as successful.’

Eva stresses that they had to learn how best to suit the snail to the Irish climate. ‘In Poland and France they have four defined seasons with plenty of warm nights – essential for the nocturnal animals. Here in Ireland we tend to oscillate between Spring and Autumn so it was harder to plan the maturation cycle at first.’

There are four main stages to snail production. The first is the mating and production of eggs. Start-up snail farmers can skip this bit in the first year if they prefer, making their baptism into snail farming easier and go directly to the purchase of the baby snails.

The snails mate in a warm chamber before being encouraged to lay their eggs through the introduction of soil. Each snail may lay up to 150 eggs. These are gathered manually using a plastic spoon and placed in the incubation chamber. This is a small area where the stacked boxes of snails are kept at 20 C where they hatch after 15 days.

At stage three the tiny snails are placed in a poly tunnel to fatten. They will stay here for eight weeks.

Stage four is where the snails are moved into the field. Just one acre can accommodate 1.2 million snails and produce 10 tonnes of snail meat. The acre is laid out with tilted wooden supports, like pallets propped up, which both protect the snails from adverse weather and allow dry food to be place on top for when they come up to feed at night.

Netting covers the entire area and galvanised sheets primed with an electric fence on the border prevent the snails from escaping and birds and rats from entering.

Harvesting is done by hand and is, Eva admits, labour intensive. The snails are then purged, netted and exported. Breeding adults will be selected from the acre and placed in a hibernation room where they will sleep over winter until they woken in December to mate, beginning the cycle once more.

Eva has learnt the hard way in the past four years how to successfully farm snails and then to finding distribution to the untapped and huge demand on the continent. She wants to teach other farmers on small holdings to do the same and runs regular workshops to teach people everything she had learnt. These are run three times a month, cost €250 and last from 10am until 4pm. People attending the workshops are also encouraged to come and help as interns at critical times of the production.

She explains that the initial investment costs for 10tons production is approximately €24,000, of which baby snails account for €7,500. Year two these costs are eliminated as the farmer will now have their own breeding snails (approximately 25% of stock). Annual costs include feed, electricity, labour and maintenance and can be in the region of €17,000.

Baby snails cost 11 cent per thousand while mature breeding adults cost between 10 and15 cent per animal. Between 25 and 30 thousand breeders are required to populate an acre.

Sales of 10 tonnes of snails can achieve approximately 40,000 giving a net gross profit of €20,000.

The big distributors of snails on the continent are not interested in individual farms – they want to buy in bulk and this is where Eva is driving her business model – to create a Central Producer Hub of indigenous Irish snail farmers. She plans to keep Garryhill where the first farm is located as a research and development centre and move production to a joint venture in Kildare. She is also exploring the added value side of things creating products for wholesale and eventually direct to the public.

Snail meat is very versatile, high in protein, low in fat and yet has high reserves of calcium and iron. It also has a very low carbon footprint making it a very attractive food source for the future.

‘Ten years ago no body ate avocados in Ireland,’ says Eva. ‘And now they are ubiquitous.  Over the past four years we have learnt everything there is to know about how to farm snails in Ireland. It is a very suitable climate (just look at your back garden, it is full of snails), there is access to land, clean water, and good soils. In addition, we are a farming country with an excellent international reputation for food. So, if the rest of the world can do it, we can do it as well. And we can do it better.’

For more information please visit http://www.gaelicescargot.com/

 

Sometimes a Farmer needs a nurse

First ran in Farm Ireland on June 5, 2017

Four years ago, the HSE in conjunction with the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) ran a pilot to provide a free heart health check for farmers in their shared place of work, the Mart. The pilot was initially met with some resistance and suspicion according to Marese Damery, health check manager with the IHF.

‘Farmers were reluctant to agree to appointments,’ she said. ‘Some were in fear of what it might cost, although we explained it was free, and others were in fear of what they might discover medically.’

The IHF is a charity and is 93% funded through public donations. The remainder comes in the way of government funds of which the HSE is partially responsible. Most years the charity screens in excess of 15,000 people across the country in communities, institutions and corporates. There is a panel of 26 nurses sourced from across the country and one mobile unit recently purchased to travel to more remote areas.

‘The idea of checking farmers in marts was genius,’ says Marese. ‘It made sense to reach out to more isolated members of society, especially as recent census figures shows the growing number of male, elderly farmers living alone. We wanted to see if we could make a positive impact on their health.’

The first step was to persuade marts around the country to open their doors to the visiting nursing staff. Auctioneers such as Joe Kinsella at Baltinglass Mart in Co Wicklow, was an early convert. ‘Working in a mart you can see the importance of the social aspect to our customers,’ says Joe. ‘Sometimes the bit of food and banter in the canteen, or simply the comradery before and after the live auction, is as important as the actual sale. In fact, many regulars come even when they are not buying or selling – they come for the company and the social aspect,’ he says.

The attendance of the nurses is well flagged before their day in the mart and some appointments made in advance but the majority of farmers are encouraged to attend opportunistically.

‘Some men can be shy,’ says Marese. ‘They can give excuses that they need to change out of their work clothes but if possible we just get them to wash their hands so we can to do the pin-prick cholesterol test.’

Each farmer is a given a full half hour with the nurse. In addition to checking for vital statistics for risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), the men are also questioned about their lifestyle, alcohol consumption and perceived levels of stress.

‘Our surveys held in the first two years of the project show that farmers are not as healthy as one might imagine,’ says Marese. ‘The introduction of quads and modern equipment means they were not as active as they thought. In addition, farmers tend to have late meals and large portions. All in all it combines to make the majority of men surveyed fit into the obese category.’

In one self-assessed measure on stress the majority of farmers, more than 60%, professed to being stressed some of the time while more than 16% felt stressed most of the time.

Joe is very keen to see the IHF visit his mart and while at the beginning they only had two clinics a year now they host four clinics annually to be able to offer a greater reach within the farming community.

‘It is well known that men, especially older men, are reluctant to visit the doctor,’ says Joe. ‘Add to that the rural l isolation and the peaks and troughs of the cattle and sheep market prices and sometimes farmers allow these trends to affect their health and wellbeing. And for many the mart might be their main social interaction during week.’

During the course of the health checks over the past four years almost 4,000 farmers have been checked in 43 different marts in 22 countries. This has proven vital as 77% of men surveyed were found to have 3 or more CVD risk factors based on objective measured health outcomes from the heart health checks. However, when the non-measured, self-reported health risks were added in, a startling 80.7% of farmers had four or more CVD risk factors.

In fact, more than 79.2% of farmers surveyed were advised to visit their GP as a result of the screening.

‘Our health check can be vital,’ says Marese. ‘Farmers are at high risk of being impacted by CVD conditions, but the good news is that by taking action they can reduce their risk by introducing new lifestyle measures. CVD is 80% preventable.’

Another important component of the Health Check is the tying up with local services pertinent to each region. ‘We try and make sure our nurses are as local as possible,’ says Marese. ‘Then we make sure that we can provide details on local services, link in with the local GP, find out where the nearest Men’s Shed is located and provide information on other supports such the HSE funded Rural Farmers Stress helpline.

‘There is a lot of help out there but sometimes a farmer needs some guidance,’ says Marese. ‘Sometimes a farmer needs a nurse.’

To find where your nearest Health Check is taking place, please click here 

What the Nurses Say:

Matt Malone having his medical checkup in Nenagh Mart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Kidd is a nurse with the IHF and has been working with the Healthy Heart Check since 2005. With a background in farming and also now married to a farmer, her rural experience is important in her work. She stresses at the outset though that she does not remember individual cases, that everything is confidential.

‘Men’s experiences of doctors are very different from women’s,’ she explains. ‘Across the board – regardless of occupation. Women tend to visit their GP as an adult for family planning advice, then if they get pregnant they visit the GP throughout the pregnancy and afterwards as they bring their baby in for the different injections and developmental checks. Thereafter, it is most often the mother who brings a sick child to the doctor, so they develop a relationship with them. Men don’t and as a consequence have a great fear of doctors, rather like the stereotypical fear of dentists regardless of gender.

‘In addition, farmers being self-employed are very busy, says Linda. ‘With my farming background I can understand what type of farming they are doing and be also be suggest making an appointment to see a doctor when things ease up.’

Linda also explains that farmers arriving into the mart can be very stressful. ‘Perhaps the animals have been collected at 6am, there is a lot of paperwork required and it has to be in order for the animals to proceed to sale. When the farmer agrees to see us, we also try to find out how they are.  One of the questions is about stress. A majority of farmers are very stressed and if we feel it is appropriate then we suggest they visit their GP.

‘Mostly the advice we give is medical,’ though she says.

On occasion Linda has met women in the clinic. Sometimes they might be farmers in their own right, sometimes farmer’s wives with a more indoor lifestyle. ‘We have found they are also less healthy than women of the same age in a different profession. Farming is a tough physical career. It can be cold and wet outside. When people come indoors they want food and they want it fast,’ says Linda. ‘This can lead to a culture of comfort food.’

Another delusion might be that a farmer thinks because they are outside all day they are healthy. ‘However, perhaps they are checking the herd which calls for a lot of observation and leaning over gates to check on animals,’ says Linda. ‘No farmer is going to rush into the middle of a field and potentially scare the animals. So I often suggest to a farmer to head out at the start of the day and walk the fastest they can to their furthest field. And from there to walk slowly back and check their animals as they go. At the IHF we suggest a brisk walk of about 30 minutes five times a week. This is one way of increasing exercise.’

There is one other area where farmers and farm hands suffer and that is diet. ‘In a previous generation, farmers and farm labourers would work on a farm and be fed by the woman of the house. This doesn’t happen anymore so the farmer and labourer head off to the nearest chipper for lunch,’ says Linda. ‘Again this is not healthy or beneficial for the farmers.’

As part of the IHF Linda encourages farmers to get out walk.  ‘If they bringing their children to GAA training or similar I suggest they walk the pitch rather than chat on the side line. At the end of the day being out in the open and in the fresh air is great but farmers need to get more exercise,’ she says.

Finally Linda makes one more cogent observation. ‘Before foot and mouth there were a lot of callers to farms – people delivering seed, products, provisions. That stopped during the scare and has largely not resumed. As a result there are very few callers to farms. If you are a single or widowed farmer living on your own there is no one calling anymore. And that can have huge negative impacts.’

Young Farmer spends his Communion Money on a Belted Galloway

This article first ran in Farm Ireland on May 1, 2017

Ewan Hannay is ten years of age. A bright talkative child he meets your eyes confidently and answers questions in a direct manner. Last April his parents held a party for his First Communion and he collected rather a lot of money in presents. When asked just how much, he answers ‘loads’ while his mother Linda tells me it was almost €900.

Most children faced with such loot might consider buying the latest X Box or games console. Indeed Ewan tells me his friend Cormac used his money to buy a Samsung tablet. However, Ewan had different plans. His tells me his father is Scottish and that he is named after Ewan McGregor but Ewan had his eye on another Scottish celebrity – this time a Belted Galloway

Ewan lives next to his uncle’s farm in Moneyteigue, near Aughrim in county Wicklow. Ever since he could talk he has said he wants to be a farmer – as well as a construction worker, a driver of a lorry and a horse rider. Basically all the careers followed by his uncle Tom. As soon as Ewan could walk he has joined his Grandfather TJ and Tom every Saturday to help out on the farm. His jobs, when asked he says, are to feed the sheep, calves and lambs. He is also responsible for putting clean straw into the pens.

Ewan is the middle child of Richie and Linda Hannay. He has an older sister Evie, 12, and a younger Esme, 3. He is autistic but carries his condition in a bright outward inquisitive fashion. Since arriving he has quizzed me on other interview subjects and seems disappointed I have not really interviewed anyone famous.  He proceeds to question me about the animals resident in my home, what musical instruments I might have and if I could show him pictures of everything. Within a short while I am no longer sure who is the journalist in our conversation.

Originally Ewan had thought of buying hens with his communion money but Linda pooh-poohed the plan as ‘they will only encourage rats,’ says Ewan. He then looked at Jacob sheep as a possibility before turning to the Scottish breed. ‘Dad had me hounded to buy a Scottish animal,’ chuckles Ewan.

Finding a Belted Galloway is not straightforward as numbers are low and owners reluctant to sell the colourful animals. Pedigree belted Galloways are black rough haired animals with a distinctive white belt. A hill grazing animal their numbers are growing with almost a thousand across the island north and south. They are docile animals with high meat yields. They enjoy easy calving and many dairy farmers will use a Belted Galloway bull for their heifers which has produced mixed offspring. However, while the pedigree herds only have the white belt, mixed cattle may have white socks or tails and are not to be confused.

Originally Tom scoured Done Deal for a suitable animal, placing an alert to ensure whenever one came up for sale they would be the first to know. However, a chance encounter with a neighbour introduced them to Ronan Delaney, journalist with the Farmers Journal and secretary of the Belted Galloway Breeders association. A phone call ascertained that he had a number of heifers for sale and arrangement made for a road-trip to Dunshaughlin in County Meath in November of last year.

Ewan recounts the journey for me. He did not sleep a wink the night before. They travelled in the two seater Land Cruiser so his grandfather had to stay home. Along the way Tom tried to distract Ewan by suggesting a detour to Tayto Park or even to go on the beer but ten year old Ewan was not to be swayed. They reached Ronan’s farm and were invited to go and look at heifers in the field. A bull was there too but Ronan assured Ewan that he was safe too.

‘I had a choice of two heifers and I chose Abigail,’ he tells me. After the selection was made they went indoors to enjoy a cup of tea and do the paperwork.

Ronan was very happy to sell the heifer to Ewan. He explains: ‘I am building my own herd, I have twelve currently, but when I heard Ewan’s story I was delighted to sell him a heifer. Ewan is deadly. He asks a thousand questions a minute. He absolutely loves his heifer and when we got into the house for the cup of tea he had another thousand questions to ask my mother.’

Ronan gave Ewan luck money and he spent that on sweets on the way home. He could not wait to show Abigail to his grandfather.

Ewan then arranged for Abigail to go in calf with a handsome Scottish bull called Park Perseus. The calf is due at the end of the year. ‘She looks a little fat already,’ says Ewan. He let her out onto grass this weekend and now she won’t come to the gate when he calls. ‘I am not sure what to call the calf as yet,’ he says. ‘If it is a girl maybe Oreo because they look the Oreo biscuits. I love Oreos.’

 

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Wear your Pants at all times!

First published in the Irish Independent on March 31

Earlier this month I attended a theatrical performance in the Courthouse Art Centre in Tinahely in County Wicklow. There were two short monologues, both performed by Cora Fenton, co founder of Call Back Theatre. The second piece was called Bonfire Night. It was narrated by a middle aged woman with a history of disappointments and left to care for her elderly father. It was bonfire night and she was heading out. Oh, and she had a gun. The monologue riffed backwards and forwards through her life but always seemed to come back to the gun.

It was very much Chekhov’s gun and we all knew it was going to be used. However, when the moment came it was totally unexpected and the audience reacted with a collective intake of breath.

The Courthouse is a tiny centre and sadly, due to clash with another drama festival in Wicklow, there were only ten people in the entire audience. So as to show solidarity with the actor I insisted to my friend and fellow writer that we sit in the front row. We were two feet from the actor.

That level of intimacy is very powerful. It is hard to know where the actor finished and I began. I noticed she directed a lot of her dialogue to my male friend. And every so often she would make eye contact with me – but it was still as though we were separated by Perspex with her on stage and me on my front row chair.

Last week we were all given a glimpse into theatrical nature of reality on BBC World News when Korean expert Robert E Kelly was live broadcasting a segment. Just as he began his report first one child opened the door behind him to gatecrash his broadcast, swiftly followed by another, amusingly twirling around in a baby walker like a lost car from a carnival waltzer. The two children were then quickly followed by a woman who scooped both up, but from a crouching position apparently to avoid the camera, but in fact making the spectacle look even weirder. Kelly glanced back once but continued talking, putting out his hand to push his toddler out of view.

The internet, that other arbitrator of what is real, went a bit mad. Who was the woman?  A nanny or wife? It turned out to be his wife. A number of copycat memes appeared next, the funniest being that of a woman in Kelly’s place but when interrupted by her children she manages to bounce them on her lap, check the Sunday roast, find odd socks and even detonate a bomb without missing a beat. The interest ended up with Kelly giving a press conference with his family. He acknowledged sadly that this video will probably be the opening line in his obituary and yes, he was wearing pants (the most asked question after if the woman was his wife or nanny).

This is not new of course, except in the way the internet pounces on its soft prey. Back in 1977 Angela Rippon, one of the first female BBC newscasters, caused a sensation when she joined Morecambe and Wise in a show. The scene began harmlessly enough, with Angela reading the news, before she pushed aside the desk, flashing her dancer legs and embarking on a routine that gave her enough credit to present Strictly Come Dancing.

Even the American Eagle from The Muppets knows news is an illusion. He gave a serious news broadcast in which he bemoaned that animals, and even birds, were shockingly naked under their fur and feathers. The scene closes with the Eagle realising it applied to him also and he slinks out of camera clutching his wings on the bits that might be exposed.

We all know the broadcasting is a form of entertainment, even when news is the diet, but we suspend belief when it is presenting in a formal setting. Kelly is a dad and husband working abroad and using Skype to present his reports. We don’t want to know he has a young family and we all hope he is wearing pants.

Maybe that is why Trump’s tweets are so disconcerting. It is not just the juxtaposition of serious policy with pure Hollywood entertainment, it is the timing. Trump often posts some of his more outrageous claims and taunts at silly o’clock in the morning. It is hard to see him at a desk making those tweets. It is much more likely he is standing in the kitchen, perhaps at the open fridge, perhaps in his non-existent dressing gown. But if Spicer is right then at 5am he may only be wearing a teeshirt or just his underwear. Or perhaps nothing at all. We don’t like to get our information from naked people, especially not the President of the United States of America. Put some clothes on for goodness sake, Sir.

The lines blur all the time but should we cross them? Prior to attending the theatre on March 10th I prepared a dish of what mostly consisted of garlic. To my ruination the fact was forcibly making itself clear during the performance. During the delivery of Bonfire Night and leading, had I but known it, to the black humorous denouement of the play, I reached forward and picked up my handbag. I slowly and quietly opened the zip and searched blindly for some chewing gum. Successfully I found my prize, extracted a pellet and stopped fouling the air with my garlic. I was still two foot from my actor and my gaze never left her face.

Afterwards in the pub the actor stopped to speak with us. She looked at me and remarked that I was in the front row. I confirmed that I was. Then she looked at me harshly.

She had been convinced, by my lifting my bag onto my lap, that I was about to leave the theatre. Operating as we were on a ten man audience my supposed departure would have been tragic. Even as she acted her role in front of me, inside she was screaming at me not leave, to wait for the killer line.

When reality punctures the mask of self-projection, the best we can ask for is to be wearing pants. I just hope the President is. Or at least he has read Tweet Naked by Scott Levy https://www.amazon.com/Tweet-Naked-Bare-All-Strategy-Boosting/dp/1599185156/

 

 

 

 

 

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Theresa finds handholding can turn to hand-wringing

First printed in the Irish Independent on Feb 6, 2017

The last time I had a special relationship with another person we did, I confess, hold hands. It is what special friends do to show their affection and is moreover tolerated in public, even by puritanical bystanders.I recall vividly that the hands were not small; they were warm and friendly, closing over my fingers in a comfortable fashion.

And that is why I watched with some small horror the scenes between Theresa May and Donald Trump, arguably the two great leaders of the free and English-speaking world. It was a first press conference and their smiles were wide for each other, both giving the open-mouthed braying hahahas of leaders in debate. She, smiling coyly over at Mr Trump as she answered for both, dismissing the gaps that lay between them and focusing on the ties that bind.

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Mr Trump on his part swirled his flat-topped Barnet Fair like a small boy in a shop. Looking this way and that and waiting to be offered his choice of confectionery.

Smile, smile, smile – the hallmarks of a special relationship. But it did not end there. Later as they walked, another visual cue of solidarity, his little hand sought out hers. Captured by an observant videographer, his fingers crawled over hers and in a sweet demonstration of the special relationship enjoyed by the two countries, by the two leaders, their fingers entwined.

But wait – that is not the handholding required between nations. I have never seen two world leaders cosy up into a handholding, ever. What were they thinking?

As Mrs May went home, she discovered more gaps between them, the ones she had tried to cover up in the press conference. The subsequent travel bans on citizens from Muslim-majority countries. Mr Trump had not deemed it important to tell Mrs May this little surprise was up his sleeve. She went home and straight into a storm of criticism from the opposition benches. Had she known Mr Trump was about to sign those executive orders? Was the handholding more of a walk of shame?

And what strange accident of fate decided that the two leaders of the English-speaking world had verbs as their family names? What is the universe playing at there?

Later, at the start of Black History Month, Mr Trump, with notes in front of him, spoke of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist leader. He said: “Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognised more and more, I notice.”

People scratched their heads at this. Did he not know who Mr Douglass was? Later his press officer Sean Spicer added clarity to the remarks. Yes, he said, what the president meant was that more and more recognition is being given to Mr Douglass.

People scratched their heads even more at this explanation which offered no new insight. It was up to the descendants of Frederick Douglass to post a statement of 15 achievements in the ‘Huffington Post’. We are not sure if Mr Trump read them, but on balance I think we can safely say not.

Which brings me to the novel ‘Transatlantic’ by Irishman Colum McCann. This fantastical book traces in part the journey by Mr Douglass when visiting Ireland in 1845. For Mr Trump’s benefit, let me quickly summarise the events. Mr Douglass had escaped slavery in the south and moved into Maine, where slavery was abolished. There he penned a book on his life which made him a potential target for bounty hunters wishing to return him to his ‘owner’. Aided by the abolitionists, Mr Douglass left for a two-year lecture tour of Ireland and the UK.

Mr Douglass acknowledged that speaking in Europe would greatly increase the chances of his being heard in his native America. A self-taught man, Mr Douglass was charismatic and a powerful speaker. While on his travels around Ireland he met Daniel O’Connell. Mr McCann writes of a meeting of the two, now with Mr Douglass being called the Black O’Connell in Ireland.

Mr McCann writes: “Two days later, in Conciliation Hall, O’Connell brought him [Douglass] on stage and he thrust Douglass’s hand in the air: Here, he said, the Black O’Connell! Douglass watched the hats go up the rafters.”

And later, towards the end of that chapter: “O’Connell walked on stage and raised his [Douglass’s] hand in the air once more. The Black O’Connell he said again.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how world leaders, arguably the main leaders in the English- speaking world, should hold hands. Not in the sweet touching of fingers almost hidden from view but thrust into the air, on a platform, with a message to give. The cause of humanity is one the world over.

Unless your surname is a verb that can alternatively be happily employed in a whist drive or used onomatopoeically as slang for flatulence – and then anything goes.

We are in danger of sliding into a modern version of history that looks all too familiar

First published in the Irish Independent on 23 December, 2016

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George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, is credited with the sage observation that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Sound advice, to which I would add a codicil – those who write the history dictate the repetition and in that case, are we actually repeating what happened, or inventing a past to repeat?

I have been boring my friends and anyone who cares to listen for the past five years or so that we are sliding into a new history that looks very much like the old one. I have said it on live radio, in live pubs and at live dinner party conversations. I am like a parrot at this stage.

Now I see it on Facebook, arguably the caretaker of trends, where people quote historic lessons and provide modern parallels. The rise of the Third Reich is no longer a chapter confined to a history book; it is now a series of videos on social media where people are tracing clear and obvious parallels between Hitler’s monster rallies and Donald Trump’s election rallies.

Where the Star of David may have isolated a minority ethnic group, now the hijab or even skin colour marks a huge ethnic community. Within the predominantly Caucasian America and Europe, the “otherness” of Muslims is outed.

It is a strange thing to out an entire community. Can they be outed where they are in the majority? Are the roles reversed? Today I saw a Muslim restaurant in London offering to feed for free any homeless people on Christmas Day. How many non-Muslim restaurants are doing the same? But that is a rational question and we are dealing with a rise of behaviour and attitudes that seems to directly mirror the rise of the Third Reich, and by its very nature is not based in logic or common sense, but in fear and desperation.

But how we read our history is a twin-headed beast, and not to be taken at face value.

Among the many videos I have watched on Trump, I saw a particularly insightful one by a fictitious news reporter, Jonathan Pie. Created by the comedian and actor Tom Walker, his character is a brash, fast-talking reporter who does all his piercing comedy parody just before going live – talking to an invisible producer about how he feels before he reports.

There are several Trump videos, but the most searing one was produced the week of Trump’s victory. Pie is positively foaming at the mouth when he rants at his producer. Of course Trump won, he says. Trump won because the liberals let us down. Pie rants that the right wing did its thing while the left looked smugly on. Anyone not expressing a liberal viewpoint was labelled in terms far more damning than any clumsy right-wing demagogue might muster.

“Build a wall”, “make America great”, “give America jobs” all played a straight game, while the liberal left threw labels like confetti. And that is never the way to win the game. With no debate, there is no understanding. With no understanding, there is no persuasion, and, as a consequence, no victory.

Pie called it right. We, the liberals, forgot to make good arguments and relied on lazy labels.

I was never one to defend Katie Hopkins, but she also nailed it when she appeared on the ‘Late Late Show’. She had a series of Post-its with labels already transcribed. At the time, I was aghast at her comments, but replayed again in my head with the benefit of Pie’s observations, I see it differently.

I also felt uncomfortable when a student spoke up in the audience. Also a Trump supporter, he felt unable to celebrate while watching the count in college for fear of derision by his liberal friends. Shutting down debate leaves it to fester underground, and we have a new army of Trump supporters going loud and proud. And all we have is labels to throw at them.

Is several weeks long enough to be called history? Can I look back on the most high-profile election campaign ever and see the trend, this disturbing trend?

And will history be rewritten this time? One must remember that history is written by the victors. Post-World War I, Germany was blamed for the war and reparations demanded. Revisionists have clearly turned that notion on its head, but not in time to prevent the rise of the Third Reich.

And closer to home, we see constant revisionism in this State. Tina Noonan wrote a play called ‘The Prodger’. It tells the story of her uncle returning from World War I and how he fought demons on all sides. At a showing in Dalkey, south Dublin, Ronan McGreevy, author and World War I historian, interviewed her after the performance. He pointed out that some 400,000 Irish men fought in the first war, that it was still “the” army in the first war, that it had not become the “British” army until De Valera got his hands on the history books and airbrushed out an entire generation.

Everyone on this island would have known someone in the army. But not everyone would have known someone once it became the British army. This is how history is rewritten with the connivance of victors and the acceptance of the populace. ‘The Prodger’ was performed last month in Magilligan Prison in Derry. A long-term inmate said it was not a play about war, but about love between men serving together. Or serving time together.

Before the next history gets written, maybe we need to understand it first and debate it without labels. Or maybe we should just write about love instead.trump

Always be careful to whom you choose to spill your fantasies

brainTroubled times beget troubled minds. Where once we might have crossed the entrance of our nearest church to ease our worries, now we seek solace in a range of diverse disciplines, from extreme politics to psychedelic culture to new world thinking and personal development.

But I have learnt that learning without humour is often lost or put into a drawer that remains unopened.

Last year, I attended a one-day boot camp with my daughter. It was a powerful day of new thinking and reorientation but one moment stands out.

We were doing an exercise on self-talking. We were tasked with pretending to talk with someone that we loved. We were told to silently tell them how much we loved them and how amazing they were. Once completed, we were then told to reverse roles – ie, to have our loved one tell us the same happy thoughts back.

At that stage my daughter started to giggle. She had slightly misunderstood the instructions. The loved one that she had been silently chatting to was in fact her horse. My daughter shrugged her shoulders for she wasn’t sure her horse loved her as much as she loved him. I will never forget that exercise. Maybe it is a question of being careful whom you choose to love.

I recently attended an intensive three-day personal development forum. It was an advanced course and we were keen, advanced students of life. There was a structure to the day, with lots of sharing but also reflection and contemplation.

One particular exercise late on the second day was to remove suffering in any particular area. Our leader guaranteed us that by the end of the exercise our pain would be gone. We were tasked with writing in detail – great, raw detail – about the thing that was causing us suffering.

Given that we were writing at length into our personal journals, I took a deep breath and wrote from the heart. I chose a topic that mattered to me on a deeply personal level. I began to write in a raw and savage way about my suffering and how it has caused deep and painful reverberations in my life.

I wrote my guts out, every pathway that I should not have taken and every path that I avoided. I wrote a minute history that was not edifying in its reach.

Having bared my entire soul, I looked to rest but our teacher ordered us to keep writing. I had already filled my emotional bucket to the brim, there was nothing left to say.

Instead, I scribbled that much of my suffering was caused by overthinking, that I needed to find a new way of extinguishing a thought, or stopping the chatter in my head.

And so, depleted of all the ways I might have suffered over the years, I began a new chapter where I posited that a young man with a six-pack and an even longer appendage might distract me from the clamour of unwelcome thoughts through the night. Here I would become fit and loved at the same time – what an idea I craved.

Finally, finally, after an eternity, we were allowed to cease writing. The relief was palpable in the room – that is until we received our next instructions.

Find your partner, sit opposite each other, knees no more than two inches apart and read your suffering out loud. The listener must not comment or show any facial expressions.

My partner was a young man, tall and handsome with kind brown eyes. I looked into those brown eyes and said “Do not judge me” before I began reading.

Of course, it was not enough to read once, we had to read again and again. I found it hard to look into those brown eyes for my messy life and when I hit the point of talking about a young lover graphically described, I could no longer meet his eyes. In fact, as I repeated my writing out loud, my suffering did not diminish but grew on every recitation.

I found my whole body had grown hot and my upper lip began to sweat. I now had the combined problem of reading my shame and feeling my body dissolve into a hot puddle and not in a good way.

Finally, my misery came to an end. It was time to swap roles.

I laughed a little now. At least I was going to be able to balance my suffering with his. Except his beautifully crafted essay, as befits a thoughtful and present young man, was on procrastination.

I am sorry to say I laughed and giggled quite a bit as he read, earnest and clear. It was not his suffering but mine and the more he read the more I blushed, although the cause for blushing was not his, oh no, not his.

Afterwards we laughed and hugged. I am not sure if I scarred him for life or gave him an insight into the mind of a very imperfect woman.

And then as we hugged he said we might go on a date – tomorrow.