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Remembering a role model for women in agriculture

Maeve Ni Raighill, BSc (Hons) in Agricultural Science, remembers a role model for women in agriculture, Dr Ruth Mitchell-Quill.

‘Feminism’ in today’s climate can be a particularly divisive word, almost certain to instigate controversy and conflict.

It is a word that, in recent years, has become almost solely associated with the secular and urbane. However, the idea of women’s empowerment has seen renewed interest in the context of rural life.

For several years, women have demanded that they are given the opportunity to become more visible in farming.

Women in farming 

A report in spring 2021 indicated that just 12% of those engaged in farming activity are women. At that same time, the EU Commission published an article stating that it hoped to utilise CAP to close the gender gap in farming.

In the EU-27, women account for 35.1% of the agricultural workforce, whereas it sits at just 11.6% in Ireland. These numbers alone can act as a deterrent for the involvement of women in agricultural activity, despite the new wave of feminism that has taken cultural life across the western world by storm.

The problem, though, lies with the new, individualised depiction of female empowerment that acts merely as a vehicle for social liberalism and is devoid of any true message of tenacity and strength that women in rural Ireland need to be told.

If anything, this current brand of ‘feminism’ only serves to draw young girls away from rural life. Due to the narrow, urbanite dimension of current feminist rhetoric, they are left with few (if any) role models to look to.

However, there is one such figure of remarkable distinction from which young women can look for inspiration

Dr Ruth Mitchell-Quill

Cork-based consultant psychiatrist, Dr Ruth Mitchell-Quill, MB, PHc, DPM, MRC PSYCH, who passed away in 2020, was a prolific agriculturalist who rocked the status quo in rural life for 50 years.

Along with her husband, Tadgh Stephen Quill, MVB, MRCVS, they bred a herd of Friesian cows that attained national distinction in the 1960s.

Following her husband’s untimely death, in 1971, she made history when she became the first woman ever to be elected to the general committee of the prestigious Munster Agricultural Society (recognised as one of an elite few nominating bodies for the Seanad’s agricultural panel) since its foundation in 1805.

She acted on every sub-committee of the society and served as its vice-president. She featured heavily in a 2011 book on the history of the MAS.

Pioneering rural environmentalist

Working with Teagasc and other agricultural bodies, such as the IFA, she was a prominent advocate and public figure for the greater involvement of women in farming for many years. In addition to this, she wrote widely publicised poetry on life in rural Ireland.

Not afraid to try something new, Dr Mitchell-Quill was regarded as a pioneering rural environmentalist. She was the first voluntary chief organiser of one of Ireland’s first environmental exhibitions of its kind in the 1980s.

The exhibition looked at the environment from the perspective of agriculture and the farmer, attracting over 34,000 visitors.

Locally, she was secretary and chair of the South Cork Horse-Riding for the Disabled (RDAI) and was chairperson of Cork Summer Show.

In addition to this, she was a member of the Committee of the Cork Area Irish Pony Society (IPS).

As we work towards a future where women can be given a greater role in Irish farming, Dr Ruth Mitchell-Quill ought to be looked at as a real inspiration and true feminist to women across rural Ireland, a formidable character who was ahead of her time and was also willing to stand out and be brave in the face of adversity.

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