THE voluntary work being done by thousands of farmers and others in communities across rural Ireland is an extension of their families.
That’s the view of Paddy Ryan, a farmer from Cappanuke, Cappamore, Co Limerick, who has been honoured with a prestigious award for a lifetime of service to rural life.
He was presented with the 2014 Paddy Fitzgerald Memorial Award at a function in the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, Co Limerick.
Mr Ryan was one of nine finalists nominated by IFA regions in Munster for the award, which was established 21 years ago by a trust set up to commemorate Paddy Fitzgerald. He was a founder member of the National Farmers’ Association, now the Irish Farmers Association, from Caherconlish, Co Limerick.
Mr Fitzgerald, who farmed at Caherconlish, died 27 years ago, but the vast contribution he made to rural Ireland is remembered each year by a memorial trust, headed by John Dillon, chairman, the former IFA president.
People who knew Mr Fitzgerald, a former Munster IFA vice president, say he was a quiet man with a clear vision of the issues confronting farmers and rural society in general.
Martin Ryan, the agricultural commentator, said the man did not like publicity and was in fact publicity shy. “He would be very embarrassed to hear what is being said in his praise, because he did not want to be thanked for any of the voluntary work that he did,” said Mr Ryan.
“Paddy Fitzgerald never even got expenses and in the early days of the NFA he cycled around the county or beyond the county bounds to organise farmers to establish branches.”
Paddy Ryan, the 2014 recipient of the award, sponsored by the IFA and FBD, also knew Mr Fitzgerald from their days in Macra na Feirme and the IFA. He has a motto that would obviously have appealed to his late colleague: “Do not expect somebody to do something you would not do yourself.”
Mr Ryan is widely regarded as a genuine champion of volunteerism and the agricultural industry which is now hailed as a key factor in national economy recovery.
He is best known as the country’s longest-serving honorary show secretary, having joined the Cappamore committee in 1958, and being elected secretary two years later.
He spearheads a committee of 143 members and has overseen the growth of the show from being a local event with a turnover of £500 in 1960 to a nationally recognised occasion with revenue of just over €100,000 in 2014.
His high-profile involvement with the show, widely recognised as a fine example of community spirit in action, trends to overshadow his record in a wide range of other voluntary activities.
A product of Macra, he set up 12 branches in Limerick when he was county organiser, and was county president from 1966 to 1988. He also won national honours in public speaking as well as county and provincial awards in debating and question time competitions and was also involved in amateur drama.
Mr Ryan was a founder member of IFA in Cappamore and served the association in many capacities over the years, while his list voluntary community involvement is lengthy.
It includes the Mulcair Drainage Co-op, which succeeded after years of lobbying in having schemes completed that prevented thousands of acres of farmland and houses being flooded on a regular basis.
He is a founder member and current president of Cappamore Development Association whose achievements include the building of a community centre, fire station, day-care centre, and sports complex. That list also includes the opening this year in conjunction with Limerick County Council of a new library with IT facilities in the old boys’ national school.
It also features self-contained space for use by artist and crafts people.
The old creamery premises has also been acquired for community and social housing.
A lifelong member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, Mr Ryan is the current chairman of Glenstal Group Water Scheme with 44 years unbroken service. It supplies water to 143 houses and farms.
Mr Ryan, whose other community activities have ranged from the GAA and the Irish Shows Association to a graveyard committee and fundraising, married Peggy in 1972. They have three children, Gerard, Helen, and Seán, and seven grandchildren.
IFA president Eddie Downey and FBD chief executive Andrew Langford were present in Adare to congratulate Mr Ryan on being chosen for the award.
However, in his speech, he said he accepted the award not on a personal basis but on behalf of every individual with whom he had worked in organisations over the years.
“In any local organisation it is not just a one man show. It is a community effort,” said Mr Ryan, who also ackowledged the support of his own family.
He said the people of rural Ireland were there before any city or town was built, but in his opinion they are being deprived of essential services.
Post offices are under threat. Banks have been removed and Garda stations closed.
Rural Ireland is being deserted by the powers that be.
It behoves each and every one in rural Ireland to do what they can for their own community, he said.
He was a quiet man with a clear vision of the issues confronting farmers and rural society in general
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved