A winner of 17 All-Ireland football and camogie medals, Briege is happiest in the thick of work on the farm, writes Denis Lehane.
It was a wild, wet and wintry December morning when I arrived on Michael Bateman’s farm in Crookstown, Co Cork, in search of Briege Corkery. But alas Briege was nowhere to be found. At least, that is, nowhere in the vicinity of the house.
And so, bracing myself for the elements, I headed up to the yard, seeking the 17-time All-Ireland winning football and camogie star and, sure enough, I soon find her up to her armpits in work. In oil skins, drying off cows, and generally in the thick of it.
Briege is an outdoor girl; it’s where she is happiest.
“Yeah, we’re drying off some cows right now alright,” Briege says. “It’s quickly becoming a quieter time of the year.”
And it certainly is a quieter time for a girl who spent her summer playing a full-time role on the pitch and also in the milking of a 540-cow herd.
With many dairy herds expanding to extraordinary levels since the collapse of the milk quota wall, milk production partnerships have become very popular. Briege and her husband Diarmuid Scannell are involved in such a dairy partnership enterprise with Crookstown-based dairy farmer, Michael Bateman.
A 36-unit herringbone milking parlour delivers the goods from the Jersey-cross cows, with the milk supplied to Dairygold Co-Op.
“We share the production costs and get a percentage of the milk cheque. It simply means more responsibility around the yard and encourages you to work harder. It’s a partnership that is working well, for all of us on this farm,” Briege says.
Briege began her working life as a stone mason.
“I was never one for the office job, as you might guess,” she says with a laugh.
“I have always loved the outdoors and I enjoyed my time with Kieran Lehane as a stone mason, but unfortunately due to the downturn in the economy a few years ago, I had to leave it behind.”
And from the hammer and chisel, Briege moved onto the scalpel and calving jack, spending the next four years working with Muskerry Veterinary Clinic in Macroom.
“I really had a great time with the gang in Macroom, they are a terrific bunch and of course I learned a lot about animal welfare from my time with the vets. But when the opportunity came here on this farm in Crookstown to get into shared milking, Diarmuid and I decided to go for it.”
So now she finds herself back on a farm, familiar ground really for a lady who grew up on a dairy farm just a few miles from Macroom. Briege is the second youngest of a family of 10 — her brother Sean now runs the family farm.
“When I was younger I always loved farming. Any chance I got I would be outside helping my father and brothers. I have always liked working with animals, and driving the tractor, when I got the chance.
“Like many other families growing up, we all had our chores to do, girls were mostly kept inside, but I’d would always be looking to skedaddle outside.”
And what is her view on women in farming? I ask, as more and more join the ranks. Is Briege all for an increased role for women in farming and in agriculture in general?
“I suppose some might believe I’m a feminist because of my commitment to football and camogie, but I’m not. And honestly, the topic of women in farming doesn’t bother me.
“Yes, through farm meetings and discussion group gatherings you will see more and more women attending, and this is great. But I think really, if you want to get involved in farming, whether you’re a man or a woman, just do it. Don’t make a big deal about it, just do it and give it 100%. At the end of the day, it’s what makes you happy that is the most important thing.”
I read a report during the summer which claimed that Briege had no difficulty in milking the 540 cows before heading off to play a match. I asked her about this. Was it true or was it the ravings of a mad journalist?
“When it comes to playing matches I like to stick to routine,” Briege says. “It keeps me grounded. Milking cows on the morning of a match makes it feel like any other day, and then heading off to the match is no problem as far as I’m concerned.”
And looking beyond the parlour, indeed looking beyond the playing fields, I ask about the future. Has she done any thinking about life after sport, perhaps going into the bar or pub business like many more sporting heroes down through the years?
“My sister Catherine and her husband Jason run a pub, and from time to time, I’ve done bar work, I enjoyed it, But I also enjoy sitting at the other side of the counter.
“At the moment with work and sport commitments, it’s a non runner. Perhaps sometime in the future. But for now I’m very happy where I am.”
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