The Shape I'm In: Darragh McCullough - 'I was in danger of burning myself out' 

The Shape I'm In: Darragh McCullough - 'I was in danger of burning myself out' 

Ear to the Ground presenter Darragh McCullough. 

WHEN the first lockdown was announced in March, Darragh McCullough worked into the night, day in day out,  to move his farm business online. “I was in danger of burning myself out,” says the Ear to the Groundpresenter who lives in Co Meath. 

However, his wife wasn’t having any of it.

“Aoife, who is a primary school principal, used to come down every evening and pull me out of the office at six o'clock and say we're going and for a walk. She'd say, ‘No buts, we're going’.

“I'd be giving out yards for the first five minutes and she'd be just there walking along nodding her head, going, 'Yeah, OK, OK'." 

They quickly fell into a routine, going for a 45-50 minute walk five times a week.

“It keeps me sane. It's not going to turn me into a triathlete and I don't have a six-pack as a result but it's great for the head. It's also great for our relationship.” 

The phone-free walk has helped to ease the daily stresses that come with both holding down jobs that are “more than full time”.

“We find that we are less are snappy with each other if we get out for that walk before we get in for the evening. I get to vent, she gets the vent.

“This isn't a revelation, and it shouldn't be a revelation, but it took me until I was 44 years of age to realise how important that little routine was.”

There was a time when he used to do a lot of cycling, running and even triathlons. But since switching to full-time farm work the intense training has “fallen to the wayside”.

“The farm is much more fluid. You're self-employed, you're always chasing your own tail.” 

But he still finds time to go for a dip in the sea once a week. And just like most people, he dreads getting into the ice-cold water. “I'm not one of these supermen, I am just a wuss - I need my wetsuit, and I need my headgear and all the rest of it. But I've never regretted getting in.” 

To front-load his packed days, he has a power breakfast. “I'm lucky to have the energy to hop out of bed every morning. I get my bowl of oat flakes and stewed apple and Greek-style yogurt into me and I'm good to go.” 

Filming for RTÉ’s Ear to the Ground - he’s been a presenter for 18 years - means he’s on the road one day a week. “It’s a privilege to be allowed to travel around the country at this time," he says. 

"We're only working three or four, two or three weeks ahead of schedule. That's the way to ensure that it stays current. It poses its own challenges - we're filming at a time of the year outdoors when daylight is at a premium.” 

Despite his hectic schedule, he found time over the summer to write children’s book, The Great Irish Farm.  Illustrated by Sally Caulwell and published by Gill, it’s been on the bestselling list in its category since it was published. He wrote 25,000 words over four weekends and during a week-long holiday when he struck a deal with Aoife that he’d work from 6am to 10.30am on the book.

“It's amazing what you can get done if you cut out all the distractions and focus, focus, focus.” 

Running a mixed-farm - which includes cut flowers and foliage, cereals, free-range turkeys, laying hens and Christmas trees - most of his products are now for sale online at ElmGroveFarm.ie  

"I'm quite proud of the fact that when most businesses were scaling back - I hired somebody to look after the admin of online work and we've great plans to expand our business even further next year."

Not surprisingly, he's a firm believer in the power of graft. “As Woody Allen says, 80% of success is turning up. 

"I believe a lot of success is down to luck and perseverance. I've met lots of tremendously successful, wealthy and well-known people, and you'd be surprised by how many of them are not outstandingly brainy or mesmerizingly talented. They kept on turning up, then a bit of luck arrived their way and they grabbed ahold of it with both hands.” 

  • Ear to the Ground, RTÉ One, Thursdays at 8.30pm. Next week, Darragh travels to Bantry and Fermoy to see if a seaweed discovery can help mitigate against rising methane emissions from Irish livestock.

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