Two students from Glenamaddy Community School, Co. Galway, have struck a chord with farm families through their efforts to raise mental health awareness and combat rural isolation.

John Duignan, who is from an organic beef farm, and Cathal Moran, whose family have a suckler farm, set up talks and discussion groups to allow farmers to share their stresses and strains.

The ongoing fodder crisis in specific areas has highlighted that the need to interact is greater than ever, according to the teenagers.

The two fifth year students’ interest in mental health came about after they were selected as one of the 2017 finalists in the Certified Irish Angus Beef Schools Competition –  sponsored by ABP, Kepak and the Certified Irish Angus Producer Group.

“We entered the competition in October 2016 when we were transition year students. We had to submit a three-minute video about our ideas for promoting the Angus breed,” said Cathal.

“We were called for interview in Mullingar in January 2017; then we went on to an exhibition at Croke Park in March with 35 others schools.

We were one of five school entries that received five Angus calves at the National Ploughing Championships which are being reared on my family farm.

“In April last year, we went to another event in Carlow where we were given the theme of mental health to research.

“Then last January we organised a big discussion group to debate the main concerns facing farmers including: fodder; Brexit; finance; rural issues; and farm safety,” said Cathal.

Angus intervention

As a result, more that 100 local farmers attended the duo’s discussion group at a social event their school.

Well-known Co. Wexford farmer and mental health advocate George Graham led “a very frank talk” at the event; with many farmers staying on afterwards to chat to him, Cathal said.

We were really glad to see how much the farmers opened up on the night.

“It seemed to us as if they were glad to attend an event like this because it not only faced the biggest issues of farming today; but, it also addressed farmer mental health,” he said.

The students also engaged with the local Men’s Shed Association’ plus, other groups and organisations – including the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

The role that the Angus can play in reducing stress for farmers was also highlighted throughout the various initiatives; with a specific focus on the docile, easy to manage nature of the breed.

The students’ agricultural science teacher, Marie Hession, said they put “a huge amount of research and time” into the ongoing project which has garnered strong community support.

To find out more, check out the students’ Facebook page at: