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A farewell

By Fergus Fitzgerald, also posted in News on

CowsMy Dad died last week, he was 73 years old. Donal Fitzgerald was a quiet, hard working man who for all the years that I knew him spent most of his time making sure his family were looked after. He loved to have a laugh and had a habit of laughing at his own stories before he got to the end, it usually meant that we started laughing before we knew what we were laughing at. We grew up on a dairy farm but, as with many small farms in Ireland, it wasn’t enough to support anyone so he also had a full time job. I don’t know if it was the amount of work I saw my Dad put into the farm for so little reward, or whether it was that he could never really take a holiday from it, but I don’t really remember a time when I wanted to take the farm on. I helped out and did my chores but I knew it wasn’t for me. Strangely, I seem to have ended up in a job that is in many ways very similar to a dairy farm, I’ve just substituted yeast for cows and beer for milk. Both jobs require someone in attendance every day of the year, at the brewery to check the yeast is fermenting properly and at the farm to feed and milk the cows, and in both jobs you can get a call in the middle of the night. Although luckily at the brewery it usually doesn’t involve having to help with the calving and I have the luxury of being able to spread the weekend cover with the rest of the brewing team. We feed the yeast with barley (which is really just a type of grass) and the yeast gives us beer. On the farm, we fed the cows grass to get milk. We need to pay careful attention to our yeast otherwise it can kick you, although only metaphorically rather than the actual kick in the head that a cow will deliver if she’s nervous and you don’t get your shoulder in close enough. I don’t have too many beer related stories from my Dad but my first introduction to beer would have been finishing off the remnants of his bottle of Guinness after the hay or silage had been brought in. I also remember being given a raw egg in some Guinness as a child as a tonic, back when Guinness was still ‘Good for you’. Part of my overwhelmingly positive view of beer comes from the fact that I never really saw him drink too much, he drank to socialise, to celebrate or commiserate. I’m different from my Dad in a lot of ways but the older I get the more similar I’m becoming and I’m grateful for that. He passed on his love of reading, Hurling and chess to me, although I can’t claim to anywhere near as good a player as he was. He might not have realised but he also taught me to work hard and that if you find a job you enjoy there’s no such thing as clocking off, although I realise that’s not always such a good thing. Watching him also taught me how to try to be a good Dad to my own son. When I was at home I went for a walk up to the top field. Walking through the grass I startled a large hare, he ran across to the earth bank at the edge, turned and looked back at me before lazily hopping into the next field. Then when I got to the end where the stream cuts between two fields a heron lifted off just a few feet away. Dad would have loved that. It’s very tempting to think that he’s still here, just gone for a walk up the fields. Lots of love Dad, we’ll miss you.


Fergus Fitzgerald