Farm work was good training for fittest family

A farm family from Laois has shown true grit to reach the final of ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ on RTE One TV.

The McDonalds from Ballyroan built up their strength on their 100ac beef farm on which they keep 60 suckler cows. They have also been strongly involved in athletics locally over the years.

The dad Martin and the son Cian – a Leaving Cert student at Heywood Community School – along with daughters Breda – a home economics and religion teacher in Heywood – and Kate – who has a degree in psychology and is doing a master’s degree in occupational therapy – proved to be a force with which to be reckoned.

They were driven on by their mentor, Wexford hurling manager, Davy Fitzgerald.

Kate said that local people encouraged them to enter the competition. “I work part-time in Shaws, Athy, and the staff there were on to me to enter, and a woman in Abbeyleix, Hilary Kelly, gave dad the application form and demanded that he fill it out,” she said.

Track Record

The family’s track record in athletics left them well placed to take on the tough challenges presented by the competition.

“We are all into athletics. Dad set up Ballyroan Abbeyleix and District Athletic Club in 2011. We used to run with Portlaoise Athletic Club but dad thought this area needed its own club,” commented Kate.

“Breda and myself train the juvenile athletes and dad trains the seniors,” she said.

Helping out on the farm was great preparation for ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’, according to Kate. “Cian helps out the most but we would all be out at different times. Farming definitely helped us prepare for the contest. We used the fields for training.

Whenever you want to do some arm work, all you have to do is help dad sprong in some silage. You don’t realise you are using so many muscles when you’re helping out on the farm.

The family wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’, Kate said. “We thought we would be in with a chance and we thought we could reach the final but we said we would just work one day at a time. It took a while to hit us that we had reached the final.”

The gruelling semi-final took place last weekend in Kilruddery estate, Co. Wicklow. The final is set in Croke Park.

‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ is pre-recorded, so all the McDonalds would say was that they had a family holiday in mind if they took the €15,000 top prize.

“It was a brilliant experience. We’re a very close family – there’s seven of us in the family. We all train together and get on very well together. Our mam, Catherine, didn’t make the cut but she is secretary of our local athletics club and she is always helping in the background,” Kate said.

Would they do it all again?

“If we ever got the chance, we would do it again. Our 15-year-old sister, Niamh, would love to take part,” said Kate. Another sister, Aine, was on a J1 visa in San Diego during the filming of the show.

“The response we got was fantastic. People in Ballyroan and the athletics and farming communities were so encouraging.”

Tune in this Sunday night at 6:30pm to see how they got on.