This weekend was the Doolin Beer Festival, a celebration of all things craft and artisan in the world of Irish beers and food. This year was slightly different because the Friday events were cancelled following a funeral in the village. Last Wednesday, a local man, TJ McDonagh was working on his family farm in Liscannor, when a tyre he was fitting to a trailer exploded. Despite the efforts of the ambulance service, paramedics and the Irish Coastguard based in Shannon and Doolin, TJ died en route to Galway University Hospital.
Farms are dangerous places (my brother in law has had more than one close call with a chainsaw!) so perhaps a tragedy like this is not unexpected, but what is shocking is that TJ's death is already the 20th in the first eight months of 2014. The irony is that this latest farm death happened on the eve of a conference in Kilkenny looking at safety issues on Irish farms, particularly in relation to children's safety. So far this year, four children have died on Irish farms; the youngest, a one year old died after being struck by a tractor, the oldest, a 17 year old was crushed by a trailer wheel.
At the other end of the age range, eight of the 20 deaths have been farmers aged over 60, the oldest an 84 year old from Donegal who was attacked by a cow and died of his injuries. The county with most fatalities is Cork, with four. The conference heard that rushing to get work done, increased pressures on farmers and using increasingly larger and complicated machinery are leading to accidents, often fatal. The death total for 2013 was 16.
For decades Irish roads were where you would read about death and carnage, especially after a weekend. Its taken many, many years for the Irish state and Irish drivers to take road safety seriously, but improvements are being made, albeit slowly. Ireland is still a rural economy, especially in the west, and is therefore of vital importance to the local and national economy but somehow farmers have to be made aware, like road users, that 20 deaths in less than eight months is unacceptable. Embrace Farm Support is a national organisation, set up for families affected by farm deaths and accidents. Brian Rohan, who founded the organisation with his wife Norma, following his own father's death on the family farm in 2012, said that children who live on a farm need to be exposed to the farming life to encourage them, but it can be done safely. He also said that children needed to
put pressure on the parents because the 50 or 60 or 70 year old farmer who has been taking risks...and getting away with it, are set in their mind and won't change.
If the older farmer has been getting away with it, there seems little incentive to change. Dangerous or drunk driving has consequences for the driver but I'm unsure that dangerous practices on farms are treated with the same importance. I wonder how many more farming families will be meeting their neighbours at funeral masses up and down the country before they begin to say, enough is enough.