Rising in the morning as the sky awash with vibrant colours beckoned life on to the land was how George O’Hagan first became acquainted with his life of farming. His father was a farmer and the life that went along with it soon became second nature to the young man. His father, George, also worked as a postman as times were hard during the 1960s for those who chose a life of living from the land.
This week George was awarded with an honorary life membership award at the annual general meeting of the Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA). A long serving member of the Donegal farm group through his local Inishowen IFA branch, he was presented with his award by national IFA president John Bryan in Letterkenny on Tuesday night last. Former Donegal IFA Chairman William Monagle, addressed the meeting to say George was a worthy recipient of the honour for all his efforts at both at both local and national level within the IFA. He said he had spoken to people all over Ireland during his chairmanship and the general consensus was that the Inishowen man was “well regarded by everyone across the country.”
He has served a few roles in the IFA as well as the National Vice Chairman of the Sheep Committee.
“I have been a member of the IFA all my life. I have been very active with them during the past 30 years at both local and national level,” he said.
He recalls an episode when he had a bad accident with machinery at his farm outside of Buncrana in Linsfort. “I nearly lost my leg,” he said. He was brought to hospital where he was visited by members of the Donegal branch of the IFA who told the father of five that everything would be alright.
His wife came in a week later with cheque for him from the FBD and the IFA. A week later she came in with another cheque and she looked at him with an amused expression on her face and laughingly said to him that perhaps he was worth more to her in hospital. George recalls this event with great amusement. He also recalls that there was a time when farming meant hard work for those who worked off the land.
“I remember that there used to be serious problems for farmers. A farmer might lose all their payments for that year and it was hard for them. I used to contact the department and as a rule they were lenient enough and you would manage to get a portion of what the farmer needed back for him,” George said.
On another occasion a farmer contacted George telling him that his sheep were stranded without food on an island off the coast. No sooner was the call made that George had a helicopter hovering above the island. “As county chairman you would solve a lot of problems. It was part of your criteria and you came across a lot of problems, serious ones, but if you could help you would,” he said.
George who has farmed all his life has left the farming to his son George. “I come from a long line of Georges, my father was George and my grandfather was George before him,” he said.
When George inherited the family farm from his father, he expanded by buying up small farms which surrounded his. At this point of his life his only regret is that he isn’t 20 again and beginning to farm the land with all the knowledge that he has acquired over the years.
“There are big changes now. Young farmers these days are a lot more knowledgable. When you meet a group of young farmers these days, you are delighted to see that they are an educated bunch. They can amaze you with the knowledge they have. Ever since the recession, a lot of young men have come back on to the land. Many young men left the building industry and came back to farming and that is very positive,” George said.
George has an optimistic attitude towards farming in general.
“I am very optimistic about the future of farming. There is a good future in it. Farming has now been recognised by the Government and by Europe as being very important to the economy. It will stabilise it. Costs are high and the price of commodities are high, we are looking at a better future. I would recommend any man who has a good farm to return to it. He could do a lot worse than to settle down and develop it. Farms have changed greatly over the past 25 years, especially the last 10. We are probably one of the leading farming countries in Europe. It is a thriving industry,” he said.
He believes that the state of the art equipment that is now available to farms can ease the burden of hard work on one farm units.
“New equipment has brought the brute force out of farming. It makes it easier to work the land and it gives you more time to get around quicker. A one man farm can do a lot more than they could 20 years ago. You have to farm according to your area. I would be interested in livestock but I am only a spectator on the farm now due to my health my son runs it. The future looks good for many sectors,” he said.
Humble about his recent award and optimistic about the future, George has only one regret: “If I had my life to live over again, I wouldn’t change it. I wish I could go back to the age of 20 with the knowledge I have now, a young man doing it now, he has a future,” he said.