Mitchelstown man of the land Maurice Walsh swapped the soil for the salon when he was enlisted to help out hairdressers in Tallaght, writes Ruth O’Connor
Forget handbags, this is hairdryers at dawn. It’s what happens when a hardworking dairy farmer from Mitchelstown in Cork goes head to finely-coiffed head with two hair salon owners and some bad book-keeping in the Dublin suburbs. And it’s coming to a TV screen near you.
“On one of the mornings I found myself treating a lame cow at milking time cleaning out her hoof a few hours later I was in Tallaght putting shellac nails on a woman,” laughs star of the show and the “farmer in charge”, Maurice Walsh, who was spotted by researchers on the website of dairy farming equipment company Dairy Master. “I know the art of a good cow but I’ve no idea about how to judge a haircut,” he says during the show.
The show’s researchers first rang him and asked him to get involved: “Then they sent a very nice chap down two hours later in an Opel Corsa with a pair of white shoes on and an iPad,” says Walsh. “‘Where in the name of Jaysus are you going in the white shoes?!’ I said to him,” says Walsh with trademark good humour.
Farmer in Charge is essentially a cross between At Your Service , Mary Queen of Shops and Spring Watch with cameos by celebrity hair dressers, interior designers, beauty bloggers and, a goat farmer from Oldcourt Hill Farm in Tallaght. That the researchers managed to find this goat farmer in such proximity to the hair salon points to the closeness of the mountains and Tallaght’s ancient heritage. But the biggest comparisons struck between country and city life in the programme are farming business tips and Walsh’s wise cracks about blue hair chalk, bulls and the female of the species.
On paper this programme shouldn’t work but in reality it does; not least for the frustrating salon owner who would be horizontal if he was any more laid back (and is bound to induce more than a few eye rolls among the television viewing public) and the business-savvy Maurice Walsh, whose frustrations become increasingly clear as the programme goes on.
“Even though he’s very laid back, he’s not lazy,” says Walsh of salon owner Nick Reddin. “He had too many irons in the fire. I’m a dairy farmer. I produce the highest standard milk possible but it’d be like me being a sheep farmer, a tillage farmer, a dairy farmer and a fruit and vegetable farmer – you cannot do it all. You have to do one thing and do it well.”
During the course of the show we meet salon owner Nick and Claire Reddin, owners of Angel Hair and Beauty in Old Bawn in Tallaght. It’s clear that the business is not going well. Employees are not getting paid on time and are fearful for their jobs, there’s little money left at the end of the month for the couple and their small children despite Nick also working night shifts in security. As the programme goes on it becomes clear that the business is in even deeper manure.
It’s obvious on the phone that Maurice Walsh is a great talker with an astute sense of humour. In the programme he comes across as warm and witty, but also down-to-earth and to-the-point. You also get the impression that he takes no prisoners and believes that people in any business could learn a lot from farmers: getting up early, being prepared for the busy periods of the year and managing their accounts.
“Farmers are the CEO of their companies and they can really make a business work. The most important point when running a business is cash-flow, whether you’re running a farm or a hair salon,” says Walsh. “I’m a dairy farmer and I have to balance my books because the winter months bring no income. You’ve got to keep on top of your bills. Christmas was the bumper time for the hair salon but they weren’t thinking of the quieter months.”
He says that his experience of the programme was one of the best in his life, despite the fact that his wife and grown-up sons originally thought he “needed help” for getting involved. “Talk about being a fish out of water. I saw how the rest of the country lived too though for me to go to work is two minutes across the field in a pair of wellies. If you’re in Dublin you could be sitting in traffic for an hour and a half to get to your workplace. I really appreciated going back to the farm,” he says.
Walsh says he was aware of a “Jackeen”/ “Culchie” divide when he arrived in Tallaght initially: “I’m sure they were saying ‘What does your man know about hairdressing and who does he think he is coming up here telling us what to do?’ but when they saw that I really was interested in getting the business up and running it really was appreciated.”
He says he was surprised how attached he became to the Claire and Nick and their staff over the filming period. “I couldn’t believe how these people brought me in and let me take over their business. There’s a great saying ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’ . It was an experience I’ll treasure. I’m sure friends of mine will see it on Monday and say ‘You eejit what were you doing?!’ but I was what I was, I am what I am, I did what I did and wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Farmer in Charge airs on RTÉ One, Monday June 6th at 6.30pm.
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