Bereavement support group Embrace FARM to extend its network to Westmeath

Padraig Higgins and his wife Joan, whose 7 year old son James died in a farming accident on their farm near Shannonbridge, Co. Offaly in 2008. Picture: Jeff Harvey
Padraig Higgins and his wife Joan, whose 7 year old son James died in a farming accident on their farm near Shannonbridge, Co. Offaly in 2008. Picture: Jeff Harvey

The father of a six year old child who died on the family farm has urged others affected by accidents to join the Embrace FARM support network being established in Mullingar this weekend.

Speaking ahead of Friday night’s Embrace FARM ‘Information Night’, starting at 8pm in the Mullingar Park Hotel, Shannonbridge man Padraig Higgins, who will host the meeting, said that he personally found the support network invaluable in dealing with his son James tragic death in 2008.

“You may be vigilant all times now on the farm. All our little lads used to come out and feed calves and it was great but we didn’t see the danger. An accident happens in a split second and it’s too late then. People have to be aware of what’s left behind. A farmyard is not a playground” Padraig Higgins

The Mullingar network will be established for Westmeath and surrounding counties and geared at those who have been bereaved by, survived or witnessed farm accidents and is an opportunity to meet and share stories, in an informal setting, with others affected.

Said Paidraig: “My wife Joan and I have definitely found that talking to others, who have been down the dark road we have travelled, in the Embrace FARM network very beneficial. You know you are talking to someone who really understands what you’ve been through and that becomes a really easy environment to talk and share your grief, which is a really positive thing.

“Our information night is with a view to establishing a support group in Westmeath that will also cater for affected people in surrounding counties. Every single county in the country has been affected by farm accidents over recent years but I could not emphasise enough the value of sharing your stories with others.”

Embrace FARM was founded by Co. Laois farmer Brian Rohan after his father Liam died following a farm accident in 2012 and has been providing bereavement support for farm families who have, like Brian and Padraig, lost a loved one or suffered serious injury in a farming accident. Having started out with a Laois based support group, it has now established other groups in Galway and Cork, with the Mullingar based group it’s fourth.

Said Brian Rohan: “We have had a lot of requests across the country to establish new groups and this will be our fourth. It makes a huge difference to people to be able to share their woes so we would really ask people who are affected to join us on Friday night.”

Little James Higgins died on January 19th, 2008 when he fell into a soak-pit on the family farm near Shannonbridge. His father and part-time farmer Padraig has since become an advocate for the Embrace FARM organisation.

Speaking in a video for Embrace FARM’s ‘What’s Left Behind Campaign’ that ran in 2014/2015, Padraig explained how the family will never forget what happened but are learning to carry the grief lighter year by year.

“You may be vigilant all times now on the farm. All our little lads used to come out and feed calves and it was great but we didn’t see the danger. An accident happens in a split second and it’s too late then. People have to be aware of what’s left behind. A farmyard is not a playground,” he added.

The primary objective of Embrace Farm is providing support to bereaved families through bereavement support sessions and an annual remembrance service. To that end, it has successfully lobbied Minister for Agriculture for Agriculture Simon Coveney for the establishment of a liaison officer in the Department to provide a support service to the families - contact qualityserviceunit@agriculture.gov.ie or lo-call 0761 064445 - of farmers who have suffered sudden tragedies and face subsequent challenges in their dealings with issues surrounding ownership, entitlements, scheme applications, succession and inheritance etc.

The organisation last year, in response to the dramatic increase in farm accidents and fatalities, embarked on a farm safety awareness programme that has commenced with the launch of a video campaign ‘What’s Left Behind’, kindly supported by ABP Food Group, in which it tells, through personal testimony, the harrowing legacy of farm accidents.