Age Action’s Golden IT award-winner recalls farming youth

85-year-old John Hayes from Co. Wexford is encouraging rural dwellers to enter this year’s open eir Silver Surfer awards run with Age Action.

The awards celebrate older people who have embraced technology and those who support them.

John, who uses technology to keep in touch with family and friends at home and abroad, was presented with the ‘Golden IT open eir Silver Surfer award’ in the over 80s category for 2017.

A retired Garda sergeant, he left school at 13 – after sixth class – to help out on the family farm in Rosscarbery, west Cork. He worked on the mixed farm until the age of 21 when he became a Garda.

“It included dairy, sheep, pigs and horses. I ploughed every inch of it with a swing plough – there were no tractors. It was all hard manual work and the horses were the only means of getting work done.

I used to milk the cows before I went to school. I was the eldest of 13 and there was a lot of work to be done. In the early days, my father employed a man to help but I felt an obligation to leave school to help out, and I enjoyed farming.

“We sowed our own produce which made us better off than the townspeople. We had our own wheat and potatoes,” John said.

“We used to sow early potatoes that we had for sale three weeks ahead of other places. This premium crop went to Dublin on a lorry at 6:00pm in the evening for three weeks before the price dropped.

“We also grew flax – a cash crop – for linen, that used to go to Northern Ireland. All these things kept us alive with the few bob coming in. A lot of people were going to England or America at the time,” John said.

“I was thinking of going to England, when the schoolmaster called me over and asked me to consider joining the Garda. I wasn’t sure I would pass the exam, but we used to buy the Cork Examiner on our way to the creamery, so I kept reading, and that stood to me. The school master gave me grinds, and I joined the Garda in 1955.

John, who was stationed mainly in Wexford, spending some time on the border, now lives in Rosslare – having retired in 1994.

Now hard of hearing, he finds technology a great communication tool and plays online bridge with people all over the world. “It takes me away from the TV – it is a lifesaver for me,” he said.
John uses Skype for video chat with his siblings in the US. He also is a Facebook user, and enjoys communicating with friends, and commenting on their photos.

Always interested in technology and gadgets, his children recalled him bringing home a tape recorder and microphone after a stint working on the border. They joked that he has a 24/7 helpline in them and his grandchildren.

The Garda Retirement Association provides plenty of support and Age Action organises classes, John said. He sees technology as one way of preventing isolation in rural areas.

Meanwhile, he retains a keen interest in farming. “My nephew farms part-time and I often go down and give him a hand. It’s force of habit.”

John is encouraging others who have become nifty with technology in recent years to enter the awards which have a number of categories. The closing date is Wednesday, February 21. Further details are available on the Age Action website.