Meet the O’Sullivans of ‘Big Week on the Farm’ fame

When Gillian and Neil O’Sullivan started farming in 2009, it came about as a result of a family bereavement.

Now gearing up to host the third series of the RTE TV show, ‘Big Week on the Farm’, Gillian sees it as a way of injecting positivity into farming at a challenging time, as well as making memories for her parents and children.

Approach

“We were approached by the team from ‘Big Week on the Farm’ in late January about calling to chat to myself and Neil and to see the farm. They really liked the view from the milking platform but the farm is quite steep and it brings its own logistical problems for hosting a live TV show,” Gillian said.

“Once we managed to find solutions to these and it looked like more of a possibility, we were told in February that we would be hosting it,” she said.

The family runs a 100% dairy enterprise just outside Dungarvan, and has switched to once-a-day (OAD) milking.

The couple, who are vets by profession, have three children: Fionn (6); Hannah (4); and Tim (2).

The family had a few reasons for agreeing to host the award-winning TV programme – which is hosted by Ella McSweeney and Aine Lalor, with celebrity guest presenters Deirdre O’Kane, Alison Spittle, Sean O’Brien and Lee Chin.

“When Neil and I started farming in 2009/2010, it was as a result of a family bereavement that we came home. It took a couple of years for us to get up and running and children arrived at the same time,” Gillian said.

Now, being presented with the chance to bring a bit of craic and positivity to the farm and to create great memories for both my parents, Michael and Marianne Wall, and our children, we would be mad to turn it away.

“Neither myself or Neil love to be in front of the camera but, at the same time, we can’t take ourselves too seriously for the week that’s in it and we realise it’s just a bit of fun,” she said.

Participation

The participation process for the show – which can be seen on RTE One nightly from Monday, April 9 to Friday, April 13, with a 150-strong live audience – is varied.

“We both got to travel to London and Holland to do short pieces on interesting aspects of agriculture. There have also been some really enjoyable things to do with wildlife and soil health that our kids have found really fascinating,” said Gillian.

“An interesting story this year has been the introduction of the farm trainee. The show advertised for a young person not from a farming background who has a genuine interest in pursuing farming. They had lots of applicants but it was Aaron Williams from Tralee that impressed them the most.

“Aaron started with us two weeks ago and has been brilliant; we’re delighted to have his quick mind around the place. He can turn his hand to anything, has a great work ethic and is good fun at the same time,” said Gillian.

“Farm activities have been definitely busier with the extra work involved in coping with the weather – and the ‘Big Week on the Farm’ show has made things busier again.

“Aaron has been a help and we will have a great lad, Eoin O’Keeffe, back to work for us for the week of the show. We are also blessed with fantastic friends and neighbours who have offered to help too.”

The key pressing issue as Gillian sees it is farmers’ mental wellbeing and coping with the fodder shortage.

This spring has been one of the most testing in memory; it has not only taken a huge physical toll on people but also a considerable mental toll too.

“When options on feeding, water and cow management become severely limited by the extreme weather, it can often feel like you’re running a daily marathon just to stand still.

Teamwork

“We’re lucky here to have myself and Neil as well as my father, Michael, to bounce ideas off each other on coming up with plan B or C or D, but, for farmers who work alone, I can only imagine how difficult the past two months have been,” said Gillian.

A major long-term concern, she said is making farms workplaces of choice to attract both young men and women into the dairy sector.

So, what are the plans for their own future? “We’re always looking at options for the farm as regards recruiting and expanding. Currently we have been so tied up with the spring weather and the show that once we get through April and are still smiling, we will be doing well.”