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Bishop Denis’ Homily at ceremony in Abbeyleix in remembrance of farm accident victims, organised by EmbraceFARM

EmbraceFARM Liturgy from ecumenical remembrance service held in the Church of the Holy Rosary, Abbeyleix on Saturday 23rd June 2018

I am delighted once again to join you this Sunday afternoon for the Annual Ecumenical Ceremony of Remembrance for those who have died because of farm accidents or those seriously injured. While I am Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, I am the son of a farmer and the brother of two farmers and the uncle of nephews who today are farming in their own right. I am as aware as the next of the short-cuts that are taken in the name of expediency and efficiency but not always in the name of safety.

Newspaper headlines capture our attention: “Number of farm deaths expected to rise”, “trying to break the cycle of farm fatalities”, “safety experts examine farm accident scene”, “dark year for farm deaths despite greater focus on safety”. The headlines paint a disturbing picture, but they don’t always adequately or sensitively address the huge grief and loss as a result of the death of someone on a farm. Despite the heroic efforts of the EMBRACE Team, led by Brian & Norma; despite the gallant efforts of so many gathered here on this the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist, the numbers dying are still too great; the occasions of death are still too familiar; the column inches in newsprint, national and provincial, are still too frequent. Of course, one death, is one too many for the heartbroken family left behind.

Luke’s gospel which Canon Harvey just read for us reminds us of the signs of the time. I think of my late father who was great at reading these signs that nature so beautifully presents. He watched for the swallow’s arrival and noted their flight formulation as they left; he saw the hawthorn in bloom and knew the kind of winter that lay ahead; he heard the cuckoo or the near extinct corncrake and knew that summer was here. Those who work on farms are good at reading the signs that nature offers. Of course, todays generation of younger farmers have become more dependent on downloaded apps on smartphones and this can result in a failure to look around and see the signs of the times. The most popular agricultural apps for farmers include: ‘Beef Pricewatch’; ‘MooMonitor’; ‘farmGRAZE’; ‘iCropTrak’; ‘Herdwatch’; ‘fieldmargin’ & of course Met Éireann’s new weather app. I am always intrigued no one ever blames Climate Change for the current heatwave we are enjoying!

I don’t think farmers are any more careless or distracted than any other profession, but their place of work carries with it huge hazards. Remember the ‘Black Spot’ signs that designated a serious bend on the road or the site of an unfortunate fatal accident in the past, I am not sure if those signs are as plentiful today as in the past, but there should be several of them on a typical farm. The slurry pit; the effluent tank; the pto drive; the draw-bar; sitting on top of the trailer carrying in the bales of hay or straw; the tempermental nature of the bull or the cow who has just calved. The Health and Safety authority tells us the fatality rate in agriculture is higher than any other economic sector. They particularly focus on the fact that those over 65 and the young are exceptionally vulnerable[1]. There is no healthier environment to rear a son or daughter than on a farm; but because they are on the farm, we adults must be especially sensitive and clued in.

A few statistics. 30% of total fatalities in the period 2008-2017 was due to tractors and farm vehicles[2]; 20% due to contact with machinery[3]. That is half the fatalities. You cannot drive a tractor or operate a hugely technical machine while listening to music streaming through your earphones. You must plug out and be completely aware of your surroundings; entirely clued into the machine you are operating. A size-able number of fatalities or accidents continue to result from livestock, and it’s not always the bull or the horse; much more common the cow or the heifer. Before we enter a pen, cross a gate or go into a crush, ask yourself is it safe?

In sixty-three days time Pope Francis will arrive for a brief visit to Ireland coinciding with Dublin hosting the World Meeting of Families. He will speak of the importance of family life. Too many families gathered in Abbeyleix this afternoon miss loved ones from around their supper table because of a tragic event in the past. Be assured that Pope Francis will remember absent family members during his visit and know that for them and for all us “that the kingdom of God is near[4].

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.
St. Isidore, Patron of Farmers, pray for us.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.


[1] Health & Safety Authority: Deaths to Older Farmers (>65 years) 2008-2017 (35% of Total Fatalities)

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] Lk.21:31