When he was given a calf at the age of 13 by a family friend there was one condition attached. If he sold the calf given to him by Paul O’Reilly, he was to put the money into farming or it was to be repaid.
“That was the gateway into farming,” remembers Fionn (26), who lives near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. He invested the money from the sale in more calves, building a starter herd of beef cattle with the help of his maternal Grandfather Johnny Gallagher who arranged a herd number.
For those not from farms, rearing calves and calving cows is most likely not your average teenage hobby but then Fionn had always loved working with animals and being out in nature. When younger he kept hens and sold eggs but as time went on cattle became his first love, he spent holidays working on neighbour Dermot Fisher’s dairy farm where he now grazes his own cattle. Owning his starter herd which can vary between 10 and 20 head, introduced Fionn to livestock marts.
“I’ve been buying and selling cattle in Carnew mart, South Wicklow, for the last dozen years. When I am selling in the mart and my name is on display, I always take great pride that I have done everything I can to produce a healthy animal. It improves my skillset too in buying and selling.”
The mart experience brought a realisation for Fionn; ”With cattle as an interest, no farming background and no land how was I to make a job of this?” The answer, after studying at Newpark Comprehensive School in Blackrock, was to take a three-year auctioneering, valuation and estate agency course at Technical University Dublin (TU Dublin, formerly DIT). He continued with a further two- year course covering property and economics and qualifying for his auctioneer’s licence in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic.
“That wasn’t something I had planned but everyone was in the same boat and I started looking for opportunities” he said reflecting on that difficult time for all young graduates.
While virtually all of his 150 fellow graduates in auctioneering were aiming for jobs in the property market, Fionn had his heart set on livestock auctioneering.
“I haven’t met anyone else who had gone down the same road as myself. I didn’t want to do the kind of job where I went to bed on Sunday dreading going to work the next day. Cattle auctioneering is not the easiest road to go down but it’s something I felt that I could do and that linked my interests together.”
Fionn got his first job clerking in Carnaross mart, in Meath in February 2021, then Carnew, followed by Carlow and Killcullen clerking in all three marts. Clerking builds valuable experience: working alongside the auctioneer’s rostrum recording all the details of sales and building up contacts in the farming community.
The buzz of the mart
“That’s how you get started in auctioneering,” says Fionn who often gets up at 5.30 on a Saturday morning to attend a mart, either bringing his own cattle or buying and selling for neighbours. ”There’s a great buzz around the marts, it’s a great social occasion for farmers.”
Fionn has had his first experiences of auctioneering this year at a time when beef prices are at a high; “I thoroughly enjoyed it and any opportunity I get. But it’s a fine line, you are trying to keep two people happy. People think it’s all about keeping the seller happy but you have to keep a happy medium with the buyer. That’s where experience as an auctioneer comes in, you need to know when an animal comes into the ring roughly what it’s going to make and what sort of buyer would be interested, that’s the kind of skill that comes with time.”
Apart from dreaming of owning a farm one day and building up the numbers in his herd - buying in calves in spring and selling on store cattle before winter - Fionn’s aim is to become a freelance auctioneer selling in marts on his own terms around the country. “You go into property if you want to make money but you go to the marts for the craic! It’s funny no one wants to give you the first go but when you get up there and show you can do it, then the phone starts ringing.”
Right on cue his phone rings.