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HomeBeef‘I had slacked in school and never gave it the time or...
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I had slacked in school and never gave it the time or effort required’ – Donegal vet student in Slovakia

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Declan McIntyre (26), Glencolmcille, County Donegal, in the first of a two-part series as part of this week’s Student Focus.

“My parents do not have a farm, but my grandfather and several of my uncles are sheep farmers in Donegal.

Glencolmcille is a rural area with most of the farmers also having a full-time job alongside the farm.

My earliest memory of setting foot on a farm is when I was 3 or 4-years-old when my grandfather kept a few cattle, and they had just calved. I was in awe of the calves and stayed in the byre, watching them for hours.

At a very early age, I realised I had a passion for animals. I have fond memories from when I was around 3-years-old when I went to ‘Deane’s Farm’ in Bruckless, Donegal, with the local playschool, and this was my first ever school tour.

This was an open farm at the time, with all sorts of animals, and this day really is one of my core memories, and I instantly knew I wanted to learn more about animals.

I still think it was the best school tour of my life despite doing transition year in secondary school and going to places like Barcelona.


Also, I always loved TV shows and books like ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and many of the veterinary documentaries that were available on Nat Geo during my childhood.

Moreover, after my first parent-teacher meeting at 4, my teacher said I spent a lot of time looking out the window and then described me as ‘falsa’, the Irish word for lazy.

They were correct in this assessment, and this set the tone for most of my primary and secondary school life.

If I did not enjoy a subject or find it interesting, I never really tried hard and just did enough work to get by.

Veterinary medicine

This lack of maturity during my primary and secondary school years was never going to be compatible with achieving a place in the extremely competitive undergraduate entry to UCD.

I had talked myself out of veterinary medicine at this stage as I realised I had slacked in school up until this point and never gave it the time or effort which was required.

I did not even put veterinary on my CAO application and instead, had selected a very random assortment of courses.

After the Leaving Certificate exams, I did not know what I was going to do with my life.

I had been offered most of the courses on my CAO but still did not feel passionate about any of them, so I declined.

As a result, I did not go to university straight after school as I was unsure of what I wanted to do next.

Veterinary nursing

So, as I was already working in the local fish factory as my summer job, I stayed there in September while most of my friends and classmates went to university.

I spent the next year working there on the evening shift while saving money and thinking about my options.

This year, which I spent at home, gave me a lot of time to reflect, grow up, and think about what I wanted to do next.

I had always enjoyed working with timber and strongly considered doing a carpentry course and then, at the last second, applied for veterinary nursing instead.

After four years of study and training in veterinary nursing, I began to think about continuing my study and applying for veterinary medicine.

I applied, got accepted, and never looked back as I finally found something I am very passionate about.


However, my parents were very supportive when I decided to take the plunge and apply for the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice, Slovakia.

It can be a difficult and costly path to undertake, but they gave me lots of support over the years.

I worked hard during the summer months after completing the exams to help with some of the tuition fees, rent and cost of living/my parents worked extremely hard for the last number of years to ensure the fees and rent were paid.

I began my studies in general veterinary medicine in Slovakia in 2019 and will graduate in 2023.

Also, I have two friends who also studied veterinary nursing and were in the year above me during this course.

After finishing this course, they had applied to do veterinary medicine, while I was still training to be a veterinary nurse, and this planted the idea for me, and I began to think about applying.

I had never even thought about this route being a viable option as I did not consider moving abroad to study at this stage.

They were extremely helpful during the application process, and after speaking to them,

I did not even consider applying anywhere else and was drawn to this course after hearing good reviews from these friends.


Over the last eight years of study, between veterinary nursing and veterinary medicine, I have spent countless hours in multiple veterinary practices and, most recently, did some lambing work in Devon.

I did some placements in Wexford in O’Shea, Bramley & Breen early in my veterinary nursing course but have done most of my work placements in Donegal and have spent time in 3 practices there.

My first work placement was at Old Church Veterinary Hospital in Ballyshannon, where I undertook most of my veterinary nursing placements.

In more recent years, during my veterinary degree, I have spent most of my time at Seaview Veterinary Clinic in Ballyshannon.

Practical training with real-life cases

Last summer, I did some placement at Bluestack Veterinary Clinic in Donegal town.

All three of the Donegal practices are mixed and have given me a great insight into life in rural mixed practice.

I have learned a lot during these work placements, which has been great, as it is crucial for students to find practices willing to teach and give some practical training with real-life cases.

Last month, I took the ferry to the UK and drove to Cumbria, where I spent a week doing a ‘working- interview’ in the Lake District.

This was a nice opportunity to see some veterinary work outside of Donegal. I have since accepted a job there, which I am very excited to begin after graduation.

My highlights have probably been in meeting people and making some great like-minded friends. Studying abroad allows easier access to travelling around Europe, and I have managed to squeeze in a few short trips during my time off university.


I really enjoy the course and studying abroad. I began the course before the pandemic and really loved it from day one.

The timetable is hectic and has a heavy workload in your evenings and weekends, but this is to be expected when studying a discipline like veterinary medicine.

The study is manageable with hard work, and everyone finds their own system after a bit of trial and error.

Midway through the course, COVID-19 really had a major impact on my studies, as I spent a lot of time attending online lectures from my bedroom.

This was a really disappointing and lonely time to be a vet student as you go from attending practicals or farm trips with your best friends to sitting alone in your bedroom for months on end.

It is great to be back in full-time education without restrictions interfering with classes.”

Part two of this written interview to follow on That’s Farming.

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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