Opportunities in forestry are often overlooked by school-leavers, according to award-winning forester Mike O’Brien.

He was speaking at a recent open evening for agriculture, food science and human nutrition programmes hosted by University College Dublin (UCD), in Kilkenny.

A graduate of the B.Agr.Sc. (Forestry) degree programme; O’Brien highlighted the job prospects available in the sector – both at home and abroad.

Having completed his Leaving Cert at Castlecomer Community School in 2013, he gained 395 CAO points and got accepted onto the UCD course.

“I’m from an equestrian background. My family run an equestrian centre in Kilkenny; and we lease a 66ac old woodland from Coillte,” he said.

From a young age I was surrounded by trees. I would have been trying to identify the different tree species from its leaf shape.

This paved the way for his study path.

Iceland experience

“The UCD course is top class; graduates work all around the globe. I loved the opportunity to travel abroad during my professional work experience. I got to live, work and explore the Icelandic culture for three months, with all expenses covered.

“Our class also visited Germany on an educational trip. It also was an amazing experience to witness forestry on a larger scale,” he said.

“The biggest challenge I had to get over was the fact that forestry, in a commercial sense, is not all about lovely woodland walks.

“It is a fast-paced environment that is becoming more and more IT driven; because of this, foresters are spending less time in the forest, and more time at their desks.

O’Brien graduated as a forester this year; having received the UCD excellence award for “outstanding performance” in professional work experience.

“I worked in Coolrain Sawmills for three months in timber optimisation; covering IT computer programmes and Excel algorithms. I also worked at Coillte, in Kilkenny, for two-and-a-half years, in harvesting operations; mapping network; and establishment,” he said.

A major highlight of his work experience was the trip to Iceland, where he worked with the Icelandic Forest Service.

“It was all physical work; but, in a non-pressurised environment.”


O’Brien has opted to build his career with Coillte; he is currently enrolled in its graduate development programme; working in harvesting and resource operation support in Galway.

“Basically my main role is to soak up the vast knowledge and experience of my peers. I take on some of their workload and set myself tasks and goals to meet,” said O’Brien.

“I really enjoy working for a company with such good future prospects down the line. Coillte aims to be the best forestry company in Europe by 2025 and I’m delighted to be a part of that team.

“I want to climb the career ladder; to help grow, transform and sustain this highly productive semi-state forestry company,” he said.

According to O’Brien, companies currently recruiting graduates include: Fyffes, Coillte, SWS Forestry, The Forestry Company and Coolrain Sawmills.

O’Brien advises that anyone interested in a career in forestry should speak to a Teagasc forestry advisor.

“They will give you unbiased information about the whole forestry industry for free. Secondly, talk to forestry graduates that have completed their degree; they will be able to give you valuable inside information.

“Finally, choose UCD for a career in forestry. Trust me, you will not regret it,” he said.