Legendary Tipperary farm leader TJ Maher remembered with civic reception

The daughter of one of Ireland’s most revered farm leaders, the late T.J. Maher, has said her father would be so proud today of the achievements of the livestock aid agency Bóthar, 21 years after he helped co-found the organisation.

The daughter of one of Ireland’s most revered farm leaders, the late T.J. Maher, has said her father would be so proud today of the achievements of the livestock aid agency Bóthar, 21 years after he helped co-found the organisation.

Speaking as Bóthar was afforded a Civic Reception by Limerick City Council to mark its 21st anniversary, Julianne Maher said that the organisation’s continued success would have exceeded all his expectations.

T.J. Maher helped to co-found Bóthar in 1991 with recently retired CEO of the organisation Peter Ireton as an intended one-off gesture by the local farming community to airlift 20 Irish in-calf dairy heifers to an impoverished Ugandan community to mark the Limerick Treaty 300 celebrations. It has since gone on to become one of Ireland’s best known charity organisations, lifting over 6,000 families across the developing world out of destitution annually with livestock donations.

The inspirational Boherlahan, Co. Tipperary farmer and MEP, who died 10 years ago this year aged 79, was one of the country’s most inspirational farm leaders, having been President of the IFA 1967-’77 as well as President of the Irish Co-Operation Organisation Society.

Speaking at the Civic Reception hosted by Limerick City Council – the highest honour that can be bestowed on the organisation by the city where it was founded and is still headquartered - Mr Maher’s daughter said her father believed passionately in Bothar.

“Words never failed him but I am challenged for words tonight, this Civic Reception is such a proud honour for Bóthar, to my father’s memory and to everyone who has played a part in building this wonderful organisation”

“My father certainly made a connection with farmers in all parts of the world and also knew there was a huge and sincere generosity in the Irish farming community to get those first animals donated.

“The generosity has not stopped and where Bóthar has been such a success is in that its appeal has extended way beyond just the farming community. It has appealed to all communities and this Civic Reception from Limerick City illustrates that.

“When I think back to the origins of Bóthar one of my earliest memories is of young fellows from the city herding the cattle and tending them at Kevin Culhane’s farm in Castletroy ahead of the very first airlift.

“My father achieved many things in his life but this last work (Bóthar) brought him great satisfaction in his retirement “.

The Civic Reception could hardly have been timed more appropriately as it was 21 years and just one day since the very first airlift, when Julianne joined Peter Ireton to accompany the first 20 in-calf heifers to Uganda. “It was last night 21 years ago that Peter Ireton and myself flew on the first trip to Uganda. I never believed on that night that Bóthar would grow into what it has become and that the number of shipments would multiply as much as they have.

“We landed the heifers in Entebbe, Uganda and had them out of quarantine and with their new families before Christmas. It was the best Christmas gift they could have received and the delight on their faces was incredible.

“They knew they now had a sustainable food source going forward and, no more than what it was in famine times in Ireland, having a dairy cow meant survival. The great thing is that Bóthar has continued doing this thousands of times over and long may it last.”

Recalling T.J. Maher’s influence on the organisation, co-founder Peter Ireton said he was without doubt the driving force in the early years of Bóthar. “The whole thing was built around T.J. Most of its early success could be attributed to him because of the high regard he was held in nationally. He was never regarded as a politician. He was always a statesman. Whether you were in Donegal or Tipperary, you got the same welcome everywhere you went with T.J.

“I travelled the length and breadth of the country with him. When we arrived along for an event there could be 10 or 15 men on a footpath waiting for him. You always had the sense you were in the company of greatness with T.J. He just walked on water in the eyes of everyone who knew him. That was his influence and it’s written all over Bóthar today.”