AN­GUS BIDS FOR THE TOP IFA SPOT

RE­PORTER DAVID MED­CALF FOUND IFA PRES­I­DEN­TIAL CAN­DI­DATE AND FOR­MER IN­TER­NA­TIONAL ROWER AN­GUS WOODS, EN­THU­SI­AS­TIC, EN­ER­GETIC AND AR­TIC­U­LATE ON THE EVE OF A GRU­ELLING CAM­PAIGN

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - INTERVIEW -

AN­GUS Woods was born in 1971, which makes him by far the youngest of the can­di­dates cam­paign­ing to be­come the next pres­i­dent of the Ir­ish Farm­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

His grand­mother Florrie Woods was liv­ing in the main farm­house at Bal­linabar­ney near Wick­low at the time that he was born. But within three years, An­gus’s par­ents Neale and Hazel switched ac­com­mo­da­tion with Florrie, bring­ing their young fam­ily to the heart of the farm.

So it was that An­gus grew up there with older sis­ter So­nia, younger sis­ter Olivia and brother Gra­ham. Hazel, by the way, hails orig­i­nally from Redcross, though her fam­ily comes orig­i­nally from Car­low.

As a boy, young An­gus played rugby with the lo­cal club, of­ten walking the two miles to the grounds in Ash­town Lane on Satur­day morn­ings.

Though the town was not far away, grow­ing up was es­sen­tially ru­ral: ‘We knew the sound of ev­ery­one’s car that went past the gate. We could be sit­ting in the house and we knew the sound of the neigh­bour’s trac­tor. I learned how to ride my bike on that road – and I would not walk on it now, let alone let my daugh­ter out to ride her bike on it.’

He at­tended sec­ondary school in Dublin at King’s Hospi­tal (the alma mater of Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar) where rugby was the prin­ci­pal sport.

How­ever, he also took up row­ing on the Lif­fey, earn­ing him­self se­lec­tion for the 1989 ju­nior World Cham­pi­onships while still in sixth year.

So he went to Hun­gary, just be­fore the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, rac­ing against the likes of

the USSR, Cze­choslo­vakia and East Ger­many, de­cay­ing stal­warts of the Soviet bloc.

He was keen from an early age to work on the farm, win­ning an IFA schol­ar­ship to the agri­cul­tural col­lege at Gur­teen af­ter leav­ing school.

All four sib­lings had worked on the farm grow­ing up and Gra­ham re­mains just a phone call away when­ever as­sis­tance is re­quired, though his day job is in IT.

Their par­ents also con­tinue very ac­tive in the fam­ily busi­ness and, on the morn­ing of this news­pa­per in­ter­view, they were away bring­ing lambs to the fac­tory at Camolin.

Wife Aileen (née John­ston) is an artist, cre­at­ing won­der­fully rich ta­pes­tries, and daugh­ter Evie com­pletes the cur­rent roll call.

The farm com­prises 165 hilly acres over­look­ing the main Dublin to Ross­lare road and back in the year 2000 an­other farm was leased long term, adding 125 acres where grain is grown.

Neale used to fin­ish cat­tle and run a small sheep flock, while also grow­ing grain; a mix which is now con­tin­ued by his son on a larger scale fea­tur­ing a flock of 450 ewes and a herd of cat­tle of Charo­lais, Aubrac and An­gus breed­ing.

The year at agri­cul­tural col­lege in Tip­per­ary obliged An­gus to step out of the boat but, once his stud­ies were com­plete, his bud­dies at Nep­tune Row­ing Club per­suaded him to re­turn and take his place in an elite eight.

Within two years he was rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land at the se­nior World Cham­pi­onships where Italy were the de­fend­ing gold medal­lists.

The boys in the green sin­glets were good enough to beat the all-con­quer­ing Ital­ians at a re­gatta shortly be­fore the big event in Mon­treal.

How­ever, the chances of an up­set on the big stage were lost in the fi­nal prepa­ra­tions: ‘They went to Saint Moritz to train while we went to Gal­way, where we were blown out of it for four weeks.’

The bad weather in the west meant that they un­der-per­formed in Canada: ‘We didn’t have the sup­port struc­tures or the know-how or the fi­nance.’

Other mem­bers of the squad de­cided to go full-time into the sport in a bid to en­sure that there was no re­peat of such a dis­as­ter while An­gus was not in a po­si­tion to fol­low suit – the farm came first.

While his for­mer crew mates fin­ished fourth in the 1996 Olympics and later took gold in the World Cham­pi­onships, he con­tin­ued to com­pete in more mod­est club events and also be­gan to work as a coach in the sport which is his en­dur­ing pas­sion.

He is full of ad­mi­ra­tion for the cur­rent crop of row­ers who have a level of ex­per­tise and tal­ent which has pro­pelled Ire­land to the fore­front, op­ti­mistic that medals will be com­ing our way at the Games in Tokyo next year.

He con­tin­ues to go out on the river at Is­land­bridge ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing, though his bid for IFA lead­er­ship may dis­rupt the rou­tine.

‘Farm­ing is quite a soli­tary life and a lot of farm­ers are left on their own to work all day. This farm years ago would have had more peo­ple work­ing on it but now it’s down to just the fam­ily,’ he muses, ‘I have al­ways been drawn into teams. We get into the boat and fo­cus on how we can make the boat bet­ter. All the hard­ship of the pre­vi­ous six days goes out of your head. We do need ac­tiv­i­ties out­side the farm gate to keep the head right. I am to­tally im­mersed in agri­cul­ture so for me to have break­fast ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing with a bunch of non-farm­ers who throw a dif­fer­ent slant on it is good.’

He be­lieves that there is a liv­ing to be made in farm­ing, though it may be dif­fi­cult for many land­hold­ers. A mixed en­ter­prise such as his, which was the norm a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions ago, is now al­most unique.

Spe­cial­is­ing has be­come the norm in a way which can erode the sol­i­dar­ity of farm­ers and lead to splin­ter groups cam­paign­ing for par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests.

He be­lieves that power lies in unity and the IFA con­tin­ues to at­tract the broad range of sup­port, with dairy, sheep and tillage op­er­a­tors pre­pared

WE KNEW THE SOUND OF EV­ERY­ONE’S CAR THAT WENT PAST. SIT­TING IN THE HOUSE, WE KNEW THE SOUND OF THE NEIGH­BOUR’S TRAC­TOR.

to march in sol­i­dar­ity with their beef pro­duc­ing com­rades.

While sport was tak­ing up his time, An­gus was not ac­tive in the day to day busi­ness of the as­so­ci­a­tion for many years, though a paid up mem­ber of the Barn­dar­rig branch from 1990.

Then in 2011 Wick­low IFA chair­man James Hill rang him to say he was look­ing for some­one to rep­re­sent the county on the na­tional live­stock com­mit­tee.

Never afraid of go­ing in at the deep end, he joined the com­mit­tee and was elected chair­man at the end of 2015 – sec­ond only to the as­so­ci­a­tion’s pres­i­dent in terms of pro­file.

The big is­sue of his time at the head has been the Mer­co­sur eco­nomic deal be­tween the EU and Latin Amer­ica.

He was in Buenos Aires for World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion talks, lob­by­ing to have the of­ten con­tro­ver­sial agree­ment post­poned two years ago.

He has also been elected to chair the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s ‘civil di­a­logue group’ in Brus­sels dis­cussing beef, sheep, poul­try, pig and honey with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all the rel­e­vant in­ter­ests.

Over the past few years, his vol­un­tary elected po­si­tion (ex­penses only) has oc­cu­pied four days a week of his time, spend­ing up to 40 days a year abroad and also cov­er­ing all of Ire­land.

In the days be­fore the in­ter­views with the ‘Peo­ple’, for ex­am­ple, he was in Done­gal, get­ting to bed in Bal­linabar­ney at 2.30 a.m.

Still he was up in time to meet Tá­naiste Si­mon Coveney at eight o’clock that morn­ing be­fore head­ing to Mayo for a beef meet­ing.

He was handed the mi­cro­phone there at 9.30 p.m. and took his last ques­tion shortly af­ter mid­night be­fore driv­ing to stay at a ho­tel in Lim­er­ick, with a mas­sive round of ap­plause still ring­ing in his ears.

Af­ter break­fast, he drove to Ban­don in time to sit on a cat­tle breed­ing board, ar­riv­ing back in Wick­low to at­tend a sheep fo­rum meet­ing.

Now he wants the top spot, bid­ding to take over from Gal­way man Joe Healy as IFA pres­i­dent, in the teeth of com­pe­ti­tion from Cork, Tip­per­ary and Ca­van.

With just ten of the IFA’s 950 branches, Wick­low is a chal­leng­ing base from which to launch such a bid.

Alan Gil­lis, from the west of the county, was pres­i­dent 1990 to 1994 but his branch was in Kil­dare for ad­min­is­tra­tive pur­poses.

‘It is a young per­son’s game and it is de­mand­ing,’ reck­ons An­gus, as he pre­pares to clock up many more miles be­tween now vot­ing day.

He has Alice Doyle from County Wex­ford co­or­di­nat­ing his cam­paign and plenty of back­ing closer to home, while claim­ing an en­cour­ag­ing level of sup­port all around the coun­try.

His mes­sage is that farm­ers need to win wider public sympathy and not just be seen as a nar­row in­ter­est group, while pre­sent­ing him­self as the man with ac­cess to the cor­ri­dors of Euro­pean power.

That line will be aired at more than 25 hus­tings de­bates all over the Repub­lic as the can­di­dates vie for the votes of the 73,000 mem­bers who will go to the polls early in De­cem­ber.

‘You have to be dis­ci­plined, driven, mo­ti­vated,’ he muses on an ap­proach to life which worked for him as a sports­man and now feeds into his role as a farm lob­by­ist.

PHO­TOS BY FIN­BARR O’ROURKE

(Above and left) An­gus Woods at home on the fam­ily farm at Bal­linabar­ney.

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