The 12 months was 1955: John A Costello was Taoiseach, Mass was nonetheless being stated in Latin and RTÉ was three years away from its first official TV broadcast. Within the village of Castledermot, Co Kildare, 16-year-old Norma Prepare dinner was about to tackle the problem of her life.
fter her father suffered a sudden debilitating sickness, Norma — now 83 — was left to handle their 150ac combined farm alone. A teenage woman, managing greater than a dozen male farm employees in Nineteen Fifties Eire — and with the monetary way forward for her total household on the road — it was a problem that Norma merely needed to meet.
“My father misplaced using his fingers and he couldn’t stroll,” she remembers. “No-one knew what was fallacious with him. His mind was working very effectively. My mom needed to take him to England to a specialist and he or she had to stick with him.
“So I needed to handle the farm as finest I might. The lads (farm labourers) had been all superb at doing their jobs.
“My father would dictate a letter to my mom, a 10-page letter each week, and he or she would put up it to me. That letter would lay out what every man ought to be doing on the farm. My father had an incredible perception.
“So each morning the lads would line up within the barn and I might give them directions on what they wanted to do every day. It was a giant accountability, however I needed to do it. I used to be the one one who had the perception for what wanted to be performed on the farm.
“Each week my father despatched a 10-page letter and, to my nice disappointment, I burned all of them. They had been very detailed. If it was too moist to work on the land, there can be directions for a sure man to do a sure job.”
In 1957, Norma’s father returned to Eire and employed a supervisor to run the farm.
“I went to Dublin and bought a job as a dental nurse,” says Norma. “I additionally did a secretarial course, which I wasn’t superb at.
“My father, when he returned, wasn’t capable of exit. He wasn’t, at first, capable of feed himself or stroll. However he discovered to stroll ultimately and he even discovered learn how to trip a horse, along with his fingers by means of the loops of the reins. He was a really decided man.”
Norma’s father, Jim Ashmore, ran a remarkably various and progressive farm. A combination of tillage and livestock, it was one of many first farms within the space to have a tractor in addition to a small Ford van.
“My father was a very good jockey, and he additionally bred and educated thoroughbreds. We had turnips, beet, barley, oats… it wasn’t simply horses, there was so much occurring,” she says.
Norma quickly knew learn how to do all the various and sophisticated jobs on the farm. Her angle then, as it’s now, is that you would be able to’t ask another person to do a job when you don’t know learn how to do it your self.
“I was out on the tractor so much,” she says. “I discovered to drive from an early age. I suppose I used to be about 10 or 12 years outdated when my father would let me out on his Ford van. He would inform me to get out into the fields, and if I can’t cease it, simply preserve driving till it stopped itself.
“I wished to know learn how to do each job myself. I felt that I couldn’t give directions (to the farm labourers) except I used to be capable of do the job myself.
“I keep in mind I used to drive the Massey Ferguson tractor and my father can be on the again. I might drive round and he would fork out beet for the sheep to eat.
“We additionally grew a number of potatoes. I keep in mind we had shire horses, they had been very large. I might by no means harness them myself, I all the time needed to get somebody to assist harness them. They had been big animals.
“I used to do a number of the cart work. We had cattle in sheds who wanted to be fed by hand.
“Once we harvested the potatoes, the ladies would go across the drills with baskets gathering them. I got here together with the horses and cart, the ladies would throw the potatoes from the hampers into the cart.
“I might steer the horses all the way down to the yard, a mile away possibly. We might then tip the cart and divide the potatoes into seed potatoes and consuming potatoes. They might be coated in straw and put right into a pit to maintain them for the winter.
“I did have a go at ploughing with a tractor — I wished to have a go at the whole lot. Farming was very labour-intensive in these days.”
She married Patrick ‘Paddy’ Prepare dinner, and lived for a time in Wales, earlier than returning to a small holding “on the facet of a mountain” in Blessington, Co Wicklow, and constructed a home.
Beginning off with simply 5ac, Norma grew this farm to incorporate sheep, goats, horses, chickens, Kerry bathroom ponies and even a peacock.
“It began off with one lamb, which Paddy discovered misplaced in a ditch on the way in which dwelling from work one night,” she says. “I introduced it inside and stored it beside the Aga. One factor simply led to a different, that was the beginning of me turning into a sheep farmer.
“Once I first got here again from Wales I took a lorry driving course and bought my licence. So I used to be capable of transport the sheep to market myself.
“I then took two of my father’s horses, point-to-pointers, and I schooled them. That felt like dwelling. Farming, the inexperienced grass below my ft. I beloved it.”
In 1979 and 1981, Norma was a finalist within the Farm Girl of the 12 months Award and needed to compete towards 5 different feminine farmers on the Spring Present within the RDS.
“We needed to do a challenge on how you’ll spend £1,000 in your farm,” she says. “I put collectively a plan for constructing a brand new shed for the sheep.
“You needed to make an outfit for Women Day on the Spring Present within the RDS and also you additionally needed to put in a recipe for a meal.
“On the day of the Spring Present, we needed to change the tyre of a tractor with a low loader. We needed to carry barrels of water with a tractor and transfer them onto a platform. That was no downside to me, I had a great deal of expertise on the farm.
“That was all the time the case with me. I wished to know learn how to do the whole lot myself. There isn’t any level pontificating to different folks except you are able to do it your self.
“I by no means felt like I used to be breaking new floor, I simply did what I assumed was the suitable factor to do on the time.”
A lifetime on the land and in roles with farm organisations
All through her eight a long time on the land, Norma Prepare dinner has been concerned in dozens of farming organisations.
A founding member and former chairperson of the Kerry Lavatory Pony Society, she served as secretary of the Kildare IFA for six years and he or she additionally equipped animals to the annual reside Christmas crib in Dublin’s Dawson Road.
Her involvement with farming organisations began within the early Nineteen Seventies when she joined the Nationwide Sheep Breeders Affiliation after which her native department of the IFA.
“I suppose at the moment they thought a girl would do the secretarial work higher than a person would, in order that led to me being put ahead for secretary of the Kildare IFA. I served as secretary for 4 completely different chairpersons,” she says.
“Once I first got here dwelling from Wales, my mom gave me cash to spend one Christmas. I went straight in and spent it to develop into a member of the Royal Dublin Society. I’ve been a member ever since then, and for a number of years I served on the RDS Agricultural Committee.
“We organised a pets’ nook behind the primary enviornment of the RDS, I equipped animals like chickens and goats to that yearly. I even equipped a peacock. Sadly the peacock stored going off to roost outdoors our farm and ultimately it was run over by a automobile.
“The pets’ nook led to me supplying the reside crib in Dawson’s Road for years. My animals went to a person in Dun Laoghaire who would carry them in at 6am daily and produce them away within the night for the total fortnight of the crib. I used to be very upset when that got here to an finish.”
Norma additionally served because the Irish consultant to the Jacob Sheep Society within the UK and as a choose at reveals for the Irish Pony Society. Without delay stage she stored 80 goats and equipped goat colostrum to the Irish Nationwide Stud for mares who couldn’t feed their foals.
Now 83, Norma continues to be going robust.
“I’m again all the way down to managing two donkeys of 24 years of age. I don’t have many animals left. I additionally breed Kerry bathroom ponies. They’re a local breed.
“I compete with them every now and then,” she says.