DRIVING to Coolbawn Lodge in the valley of Caheragh in West Cork, where the tranquil lanes, thick with fuchsia and montbretia, rise up to meet the greys and violets of distant mountains, it’s hard to imagine this pleasant scene as one of terror and mayhem.
But when Eileen O’Driscoll was attacked one Sunday in March, 2015, by a cow, sustaining serious injuries, the calm oasis turned into chaos.
It had been a Sunday like any other. Visitors from home and abroad had departed Coolbawn Lodge, the 4-star B&B.
Eileen and her husband, Padraig, were heading off later that evening to the Parkway Hotel in Dunmanway to attend a dance, both of them looking forward to a social evening out.
“We were so busy,” says Eileen, 68, who warns that farm accidents are prevalent but they can be prevented.
“And all of a sudden everything, all activity in the B&B and on the farm, came to a complete standstill.”
In 2006, the O’Driscolls had ceased dairy farming and had converted their farm from dairy to sucklers.
“Our son, Georóid, is living in Australia a long time now and Aíne, our daughter, works in Cork. Neither of them was interested in farming.”
Eileen was interested to see how the cattle were doing and she went out to check on them.
“I do it all the time,” she adds.
“So on Sunday, after mass, I went down to the field to check the animals.
“We’d had the vet out to a calving earlier in the week, and we thought it would make more sense to bring the cows in before we left for Dunmanway. One of the cows was very near calving.”
Eileen was really looking forward to going to the dance later.
“We both love dancing,” she says.
“I remember my hair was freshly washed and I didn’t put a cap on going outside in case it would flatten my hair!”
Eileen never dreamed that she’d soon have much bigger problems than that.
“Before I could catch my breath, a cow turned on me, attacking me, and in seconds I was on the ground before I realised it.
“I had no idea what had happened. My glasses were broken. The animals were very agitated. A cow was just after calving and she was anxiously protecting her baby. It is the way nature works.
“An animal’s instinct is to protect her young.”
Padraig’s instinct was to rescue his wife immediately from the frenzied animals.
“Next thing, Padraig came running towards me and told me to get up. I told him that I couldn’t move,” says Eileen.
“I was so lively I usually jumped over gates, never opening them. Now I couldn’t move at all and I couldn’t see anything without my glasses.”
Eileen was rendered helpless, lying injured and bleeding in the field not far from her kitchen window.
“I had heard Eileen calling me,” says Padraig. “By the time I got to her she was on the ground and there was a herd of cows on top of her.”
He remembers that Sunday in 2015 as if it were yesterday.
“I remember the colour of her hair,” says Padraig. “It was like the rainbow, red blood, green grass, brown soil.”
Padraig had to gather his wits to help get his wife to safety.
“I had to fight off the cows with a stick in one hand and roll Eileen down the field with the other. Her face was swollen and there was blood coming from her mouth,” says Padraig.
“My aim was to get Eileen behind a wire and a furze bush where the cows couldn’t see her while I fought them off.
“Any damage the cows didn’t do; I managed to do while I dragged her behind the bush. The medics told me afterwards it was the lesser of two evils.
“The cows were very angry and very serious. They were fired up. I couldn’t stand around doing nothing.
“Eileen needed urgent medical attention.”
Padraig realised he had made a serious mistake.
“I didn’t have my mobile phone on me,” he says.
“The field was 500 metres from the house. Neither of us had our phones on us. I had to run back to the house to ring the emergency services.”
What was Eileen thinking?
“I was thinking, why didn’t I wear my cap!” she says.
“While Padraig was gone to call the emergency services I was trying to move, and I couldn’t. My face was swelling up and blood came into my mouth.”
She remembers the cold seeping into her bones.
“I thought, the cold will never leave my bones. I’m in trouble here.
“When the medics arrived, they asked me what was the pain on a scale from 1 to 10? I kept saying 10, 10! Usually I can tolerate pain well. This pain was indescribable,” says Eileen.
“The medics were brilliant. So were the neighbours. Word soon spread about my accident. They were all willing to help.”
Padraig kept his head about him.
“You can only tackle something like that as best you can by keeping a cool head and staying calm. There is no point getting worked up.”
Eileen was airlifted to CUH by helicopter.
“The medics and all the entourage that followed were fantastic,” says Padraig.
“We had off-duty personnel, the coastguard, and a helicopter.”
Eileen spent four months incapacitated with multiple injuries, namely 10 fractured ribs, flail chest which damaged a lung, and fractures to three vertebrae.
“I was in hospital for nine days after the attack and then discharged,” says Eileen. “But as predicted, I developed pneumonia. There was serious lung damage, and I was told to be ready for that.”
Eileen was totally incapacitated for four months.
“It took two people to get me out of bed,” says Eileen.
“My biggest worry was that I’d be forced to shut down the B&B. I didn’t know how long I’d be knocked out for.”
The troops rallied.
“Padraig gave up his job,” says Eileen.
“My sister, Ann, who is a nurse, did the same. I will be forever grateful to her. Otherwise I’d have to go into a nursing home.”
The nights were long.
“I wanted to call Padraig or Ann, but at the same time, I hated doing that,” says Eileen.
“I couldn’t do a thing. I was used to working all my life. I worked 18 years in the Post Office.
“I always wanted to go into the hotel or into the B&B business. I craved it and I dreamed about it. I love looking after my guests.”
Eileen had been living the dream, always on the go; baking, washing, cleaning and dancing — now she had to wait for someone to come and take her out of bed or put her into bed after her dreadful accident on the farm. She eventually surfaced from her terrible ordeal.
“I started swimming in the pool in the local hotel and my muscles got moving again.” She meant business.
“I began to use the laptop to contact clients about bookings and informing them that I had to close the B&B temporarily, but would soon be back in business.”
She got feedback.
“Out of the blue, I got a call from the producers of the popular TV programme Daniel and Majella’s B&B Road Trip to see if we’d be interested in taking part. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t right.”
With her own private nurse, and tender loving care, Eileen began to recover. Little by little she walked a bit further each day, getting nearer to her goal of opening up again.
“A year later, with the help of physiotherapy, I got back on my feet again, even though I was a bit shaky,” says Eileen.
She loves being run off her feet now again, welcoming her guests and making them feel right at home.
She often stops to stare at the green fields where the cattle graze.
“I used to love walking through the cattle or moving fences for them. I miss the freedom of that,” says Eileen.
“I miss the magic of it now that I can’t do it. It’s a sadness that having an injury leaves with you.
“Looking back, I was out twice with those cows that morning, completely on my own, unaware that anything could ever happen. I was the one preaching health and safety and I got caught.
“You always think it won’t happen to you, it will happen to somebody else, and now I look back and think, how could I have been so foolish?”
She looks back to that day four year ago and thinks it could have been a very different story.
“It could have been body parts the medics were collecting. But, you know, everything happens for a reason. I probably took a lot of things for granted.”
Eileen has a different view of life.
“Now I have a whole new appreciation of life.”
Padraig also always looks on the bright side of life.
“It was Mother’s Day when the accident happened,” he says.
“I always tell Eileen I gave her the best Mother’s Day present ever — a helicopter ride!”
Eileen laughs as she sets the table, laying out plates of hot buttery fruit scones, golden crust apple tart and scrumptious brown bread.
“I soak the fruit in whisky so the sultanas swell up nice and plump,” says Eileen.
“And I often suggest guests add a drop of Bailey’s to their porridge in the morning. The creamy tang makes the porridge more delicious.”
Daniel and Majella; eat your hearts out!
The Health and Safety Authority (HAS) is responsible for safety and health in the workplace, including farms. For information visit the Agriculture section of the Health and Safety Authority website and also the Farm Health & Safety Section on the Teagasc website.