An interview with last year’s AXA Farm Hero

We’re delighted to announce that one of last summer’s AXA Farm Hero winners, Lorraine O’Neill, has joined the judging panel for AXA Community Hero.

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Earlier this month we began our search for the AXA Community Hero! Following on from the huge success of AXA Farm Hero last year, we felt it only right to continue celebrating the unsung heroes in communities all over Ireland.

The support everyone showed the nominees and the eventual AXA Farm Hero was inspiring. Lorraine and her husband Eugene O’Neill, a dairy farmer from Bracknagh in Co Offaly, raised over €50,000 for Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin. The couple wanted to raise much needed funds for the hospital following the fantastic care they gave their son.

Eugene and Lorraine donated their €10,000 prize to Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin and the local volunteers that help the Bracknagh community.

Lorraine kindly accepted our invitation to help in our search for the AXA Community Hero. She also took time out from her busy schedule to answer questions about her experience taking part in AXA Farm Hero last year.

How was your AXA Farm Hero experience?

It was a real good news story in our area. There was a party the night after the winner was announced on the Late Late Show in our local in Bracknagh. Bracknagh is a tiny village and people were so proud to hear their village and its achievements receive national recognition.

You both generously donated your prize to Crumlin Hospital and members of the community who help out with the tractor run. How has it helped them?

Our donations to the community proved to be a lifeline for them this year. The graveyard committee usually has a collection during the annual graveyard mass in June, and the Hall Committee has a fundraising walk every May. Due to Covid, neither of these fundraisers could go ahead this year.

How many tractors did you get at the tractor run last year, we heard you were aiming for 300!?

We did brilliantly, we went just over the 300 mark on the day and we made €23,000 for Children’s Health Ireland (Crumlin).

What are your plans for the tractor run this year?

At the moment, it is impossible to predict but if regulations allow gatherings in early October, we might possibly organise just a Tractor Run, but none of the trappings such as the BBQ & live music.

How has Covid-19 impacted your plans and the community?

Local organisations have been seriously impacted by Covid so even a smaller and simpler event would allow us to raise some funds albeit on a much smaller scale. We could still give money to Crumlin and hopefully also support some local organisations too.

Has the recent crisis brought you closer together?

The GAA initiative whereby volunteers helped the elderly and vulnerable in the community was excellent and in rural areas I feel people really looked out for their neighbours.

Are there any new community initiatives to help those around you?

The GAA initiative was the main one in our area, I do feel that in rural Ireland the GAA is the lifeblood and a positive force in most communities.

Do you have any bigger plans for the tractor run in the future?

Not at the moment, we envisage that our 2020 run even if it does happen , would be very much, a scaled back event. But it would be wonderful to come back bigger and better in 2021.

We’re delighted to have you on the judging panel for AXA Community Hero. Are you looking forward to it?

I am really looking forward to being on your judging panel. Through the Farm Hero competition, Eugene & I met so many wonderful people who work with AXA and who we now consider friends. Some rang during Covid to check how we were, really nice genuine people. After last year’s win, I am happy to give something back .

Covid and lockdown have been a hugely traumatic experience for many, and I know there are countless unsung heroes who were a lifeline to others. Never have we needed to hear good news so badly, so I am really looking forward to reading about these heroes and seeing their work honoured.

I think of the traditional Irish Meitheal or sense of community and the old seanfhocail:

“Ar Scath a cheile a mhaireann na ndaoine”

I think through the current Covid crisis we have shown our wonderful sense of community and all that is good about Ireland. This was hugely evidenced in all the Late Late Show fundraisers.

We need your help!

Our search has only just started! We need your help finding our AXA Community Hero. If you know someone who goes above and beyond for those around them we’d love to hear from you.

Nominate your hero here axacommunityhero.ie/

We will donate €20,000 to a charity of the winner’s choice!