Macra not just for farmers, says new Leinster vice-president
Claire Gough has been announced as the new Leinster vice-president of Macra na Feirme and will take up her position alongside president-elect John Keane on May 15.
A member of Athboy Macra club since 2011, Claire has held many officer roles at club, county and at a national level including sitting on the board of Macra na Feirme, the governance committee and the competitions committee.
She is the outgoing national secretary of the national board, a position she held for the last two years, and she has presided or competed in all Macra competitions as well as being involved in the organising of the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival and the National Talent Competition.
Looking ahead to the next two years as Leinster vice-president, Claire says it’s important that the voice of the people on the ground at club and county level, is heard.
“There’s things I want to do, and there no doubt some clubs will have struggled during lockdown, so it will be about supporting them and helping them back to full strength.
“We’re also developing an inclusivity statement for Macra at the moment which is something I’m quite passionate about – the inclusivity of all members no matter your sexual orientation. Stephen Cullinane set up Macra in 1944 and it was for everyone, and that stands still to this day.”
Macra na Feirme is an organisation for rural young people aged 17-35 and is the third largest lobbying group in Ireland, as the voice of young farmers and rural youth.
“We’re there to represent young farmers at a national level and we’re there to represent rural young people who live any way outside of cities, to represent issues that are important to them, whether that’s rural transport, mental health services, or agricultural topics for farmers,” said Claire.
“It’s a fantastic organisation that people mainly join for the socialisation aspect because, as you know, in rural Ireland, isolation is a big thing and it’s something that we work hard to combat.”
Open to all
Claire joined Macra when she had few other social outlets available, and she aims to the dispel the myth that it is solely for the farming community.
“I from Athboy but live out the countryside and I joined Macra in 2011 when I didn’t really have any other outlet – I’m not very sporty so the GAA wasn’t for me and I just felt like I didn’t know where I fitted in.
“One of my friends from Wicklow was involved in Macra and she was telling me how much fun she was having, where she was going and who she was meeting, and I just said why not, what have I got to lose by joining.
“I joined in the November and one of the first things I did was get involved in a competition called Capers – you’re on stage, you’re singing, dancing – and I’d never really done anything like that before. It was totally out of my comfort zone but I had so much fun! It just gave me such confidence.
“There’s so much I’ve gained over the years through participating in Macra events – I’d never debated before and that gave me confidence to speak in public.
“Macra gives you so much that you don’t realise, you’re learning transferable skills just taking part. For instance, working as a secretary for the club, you’re learning so much that you can take with you into other roles, whether you’re running your own farm, a teacher, or a nurse, these are skills that you can transfer to any job.
“I’m not from a farming background. My grandparents were farmers, but my mother is a healthcare worker and my father a grounds worker. I didn’t have any experience of farming at all and you don’t need to be a farmer to join Macra, you don’t even need to be from a rural location – we have clubs all over, in every city,” Claire said.
“In Athboy Macra, my home club, very few of us are farmers so it’s for everyone, and there truly is something for everyone, whether it’s debating, sports, performing, or if you’re a gamer, there’s clubs that organise gaming nights.
“Obviously we do a lot for young farmers but that’s not our sole objective. I was warmly welcomed from a non-farm background, but you learn so much and learn to have an appreciation for agriculture.
“Even though I’m not a farmer, I reached the national final of Farm School, which involves activities such as constructing a stock-proof fence, taking part in a tractor skills and an academic round.
“You can try your hand at anything and your knowledge and interest grows through taking part.”
Claire will be one of three vice-presidents, Munster, North-West and Leinster, and will be communicating with the president at national level on behalf of the members across the province.
“I’ll be advocating for the strategic direction of the organisation and feeding in what the members requests are. It is an on-the-ground role where you’re in tune with what’s going on with clubs and counties, supporting them at every turn and helping them improve year-on year.”
It’s a role Claire will have to manage alongside her day job as a human resources clerical officer in Revenue.
“I’ve been national secretary for the last two years so I’ve had that experience of sitting on the board of directors. I’ve had the experience of the work-life balance and having a day job. It can get hectic but I’ve gained so much from Macra that it’s enjoyment at the end of the day.
“Even though everything is virtual now, you’re still getting to meet and talk to different people and it’s been a real Godsend during lockdown because I’m working from home. It’s hard not talking to people every day and I think that’s what I found most difficult about lockdown, but just being a member of these committees is an outlet.”
Pandemic and isolation
Claire says it has been difficult for members during the pandemic lockdown, and that is why Macra teamed up with Turn2Me, a community of qualified and accredited mental health professionals working online to provide a quality, safe, anonymous counselling.
“Everybody has had struggles and is dealing with them in different ways. When you think of the agricultural community, some of their work hasn’t changed but because they work at home regardless of a pandemic, but there’s different aspects of their lives that have changed so much, such as going to the marts. That’s all gone online now and it’s another outlet lost for them.
“And for people used to working in an office and now working from home, it’s completely different from working in an office of 12 to working in an office of one. It’s been difficult for us as an organisation to remedy that and help people, so it’s been a creative journey for all the counties and clubs to come up with activities, whether it’s doing Netflix parties, watching movies together and having a chat going on at the same time, or tea and chat evenings over Zoom.
“We’ve all done the Zoom quizzes but it’s been a challenge to keep that going because people are feeling ‘Zoomed out’. It really has been down to the commitment of clubs to keep in contact with members. And our members have been in contact with us if they’ve been going through difficulties and we’ve been lucky to partner with Turn2Me. It’s an organisation that offers free counselling sessions and you can use it via text message or video chat, and it’s totally confidential.
“We partnered with Turn2Me because we felt there was a need for it. You might feel down and it’s good to know there’s someone always there.”
The pandemic has also help raise some gaping issues that need tackling, such as the need for high speed broadband in rural areas.
“We’ve had people at meetings who’ve had to sit in their jeeps in their fields to try and get internet coverage to try and get on a Zoom call, and that’s another barrier that Covid has created – not everyone has the same connection, so we’re advocating for them.”
Another social outlet that has suffered because of the pandemic is the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival in Athboy – the organisers felt it was best to cancel this year’s event, and all their efforts are now directed into 2022.
“We are continually planning for 2022 and we can’t wait. Obviously nothing is going to be the same with lockdown happening for the last year, but if we can bring some activity to the town of Athboy and to the people of Macra, it would be great,” says Claire.
But there has been some good outcomes of the virtual interaction in Macra.
“I’m a member of the National Competitions Committee and this year a lot of focus has been put on us to keep members on the ground going activity-wise. The committee have had to adapt in every way shape and form, from judging dairy stock online to judging beef and sheep stock online. It’s actually been an amazing experience and it’s made us see how adaptable and creative we are. There’s things we did that we never would have thought of before lockdown, and there’s aspects there we can use going forward.
“The Rural Youth Committee are also doing a lot of good work on rural transport policy, mental health, sexual health and they’ve had the opportunity to broadcast to a wider audience. The Zoom end of things means they’re not relying on people turning up, they can broadcast this via webinars to the whole of Ireland.”
To get involved, go to Marcra.ie which details a full list of clubs in your area.