Farmers and people connected to agriculture got their creative juices flowing with their contributions to ‘Voices from the Land, Writing by Irish Farmers’, which was recently launched at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Maynooth.

They responded enthusiastically to a call from Galway-based author Ryan Dennis, who grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York, for fiction, essays and poetry for the 62-page booklet.

“There was an incredible response to the booklet, with the work of 37 contributors – the oldest being 82 – making up ‘Voices from the land’,” said Ryan.

He expressed thanks to the contributors for the hard work that they put into their submissions.

“I was stunned by all the support for Voices from the Land. It was great to see so many people at the launch, as well as all the excitement and buzz around the booklet,” he said.

“There was no doubt that these 37 contributors did something special and filled a need that was out there.

“I think both the farming and non-farming population has benefited from these farmers expressing their thoughts on paper and sharing their stories.

“The writing inside the covers of Voices from the Land is strong, engaging, and often daring. It’s a credit to the farmers who wrote these pieces.”

Voices from the Land launch

Kildare county arts officer, Lucina Russell, said it was important that the rest of the world heard what farmers had to say.

Guest speaker Maura McElhone, author of ‘Falling for a Farmer’, congratulated the farmers on the important work they had done in sharing their experiences.

The booklet was produced as part of the writer-in-residence position at NUI Maynooth, in conjunction with Kildare County Council Arts and Services.

The fiction, essays and poems in the booklet are, Ryan said, honest and sometimes unrelenting.

“Some are from writers who farm or have farmed; many are from farmers putting words to paper for the first time. Some of it celebrates Irish farming, while some pieces point to its problems,” he said.

“All of it is powerful. Together, the work in Voices from the Land puts forth a complex, reflective and thorough consideration of what it means to be an Irish farmer,” added Ryan.

Some of the contributions

‘A Dying Breed’ by Niall Tully is a poignant tale of one farmer’s backstory on the gay marriage referendum as he mourns the death of his wife and the absence of his son, waiting for a letter or a phone call from him that never comes.

The tone is lighter in ‘Tommy from Westmeath’ by Louise Nealon, author of the highly successful novel ‘Snowflake’.

Author and dairy farmer Lorna Sixsmith looks at the special cows in her herd especially Claudia, whose tousled quiff is, she observed, the exact opposite to Claudia Winkleman’s perfect fringe.

Special for Fergal Anderson is the ‘Massey 35’, a constant in changing times that wasn’t built to break.

Jimmy O’Connell’s poem ‘Calving’, Selina Bracken’s ‘Lambing Season’, E.M. Condon’s ‘Autumn Mart at Kilmallock’ and Patricia Donnellan’s ‘The Life of Rain’ are among the contributions that give an insight into the tasks of everyday farm life.

In ‘Getting in the Cows’, Kevin O’Byrne remembers a scene from his childhood, bringing in the cows which allowed him to forget the slaps and snide remarks from his teacher.

The horrendous behaviour that can form a backdrop to succession issues is covered in ‘Family Farm Survivor’ by David Lynch.

Also giving an insight into our social history is ‘Nivea Soft’ by Jack Rogers.

Ann Marie Foley’s ‘Father and Son’ is one of the contributions that looks at intergenerational interaction.

They are just some of the insightful pieces that make this publication such a valuable record.

‘Voices from the Land’ will spark memories in many who grew up on farms. It has allowed Irish farmers to speak for themselves and share in writing their experiences and understanding of farming.

A limited number of print versions of Voices from the Land are available free of charge from Agridirect, Ballyconnell, Cavan; the Kildare library system; Wexford Farmers’ Co-Op; Cork County Marts; and the Galway and Mayo regional Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) office, or it can be found on Kindle.