My Weekend: Is there anything better than getting up before the sun rises?

Fionnuala McDermott features in our My Weekend to talk about work, her downtime and taking part in the upcoming Cork Science Festival
My Weekend: Is there anything better than getting up before the sun rises?

Fionnuala McDermott, PhD student Teagasc Moorepark, will take part in Cork Science Festival.

“WHY is milk white if grass is green and how do you know if a cow is healthy?” These are just some of the questions PhD student Fionnuala McDermott will answer as part of Cork Science Festivaltarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> and the Festival of Farming. Here she features in our My Weekend feature.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m 24 and from Ashford in Co Wicklow, but I moved to Fermoy last year to start a PhD in Teagasc Moorepark. I love living in Fermoy, but I love going home equally as much.

There’s four of us in my family, my mum and dad, who are both primary school teachers and I have an older brother who works in Dublin… and we have a dog which is practically a third child. My mum is from Coose Co. Galway and my dad is from Farranree in Cork, although we were so far away from our grandparents growing up, I am lucky that we are still very close.

I went to school in Wicklow and then headed to Athlone IT, where I studied veterinary nursing. I absolutely loved college and that led me to where I am today with the PhD. I am researching the effect of mineral supplementation on dairy cow colostrum and the effect these changes may have on the calf’s performance.

Along with my PhD I have a second job of milking cows. You could say I’ve become obsessed with cows since I moved to Fermoy.

People presume I come from a farming background, but that’s not really the case. The only real link I have to farming is my grandad on my mum’s side. He’s over 80 and is still very passionate about farming. My cousin has now taken over the farm.

I spent my childhood working in an equestrian centre and eventually (after begging for about 10 years) my parents bought me an Irish sport horse mare. That poor horse broke my heart (and my dad’s heart and bank account). She was a moody mare and I was a moody teenager, but I had the best five years show jumping all over Ireland.

I’m not sure where my love for animals and farming originally comes from, but I presume it came from my Grandad.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

I love a good night on the town with my friends — give us some Westlife and some gin, and the craic can’t be beat. But I also love a Friday night by the fire with a spice bag (and a gin).

Fionnuala McDermott, PhD student Teagasc Moorepark.
Fionnuala McDermott, PhD student Teagasc Moorepark.

For the next two weekends I’ll be busy checking out all the exciting events taking place for Cork Science Festival and the Festival of Farming. I can’t wait for our own event on Friday November 12. We get the opportunity to explore fun facts about cows, milk, and grass with kids. Their questions are always so funny, like: ‘Why is milk white if grass is green?’

Lie ins or up with the lark... which is it for you?

Is there anything better than getting up before the sun rises? I love the frosty mornings in the spring and the red skies that come with the sunrise, but I also love looking at the pitch black starry sky in the winter mornings.

I love looking at the sky full of stars in the morning as I’m usually perched in front of the fire in the winter evenings so I don’t see them. I am allergic to staying in bed past 8am; I definitely have to be up and at it.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

Yes, I do allow work to slip into my weekends. I basically have two jobs, one doing my PhD Monday to Friday, and the other is milking cows. I try to keep the PhD work to the working week. I’d have to be seriously behind before I’d go at it on my weekends.

I milk during the week and most weekends too, but I love being with the cows so I don’t feel as if I’m working.

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break and who would you bring?

This is a hard one as my holiday list only seems to be getting longer. Even though I’ve been there a few times, I’d go to Venice. Nothing beats Venice, especially with the Italian food and wine. I should probably say I’d bring my mum as a treat, but I think I’d bring my friends and treat us to a five-star weekend.

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

Wicklow has so many options to unwind, with mountains and beaches. My favourite place to go for a walk is Glendalough. You can’t beat it for a walk Christmas Eve morning. It is nearly the only day of the year that Glendalough is eerily quiet. 

The frost lingering in the woods and the deer covering the mountain, it is just so special.

I’m always trying to convince people to go to Glendalough but it’s hard to describe how special it is. If you haven’t gone before, this is your sign!

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

I catch up with both on my weekends. If I’m home-home for the weekend, I love relaxing with family and bringing the dog for a long forest walk. I try to catch up with as many of my friends as possible, but it’s hard to fit everyone in.

Do you get to indulge any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

Before college I used to spend every minute riding horses. I moved away for college and sold my horse, and I haven’t got properly back into it since. With the winter coming in, it makes me miss the hunts and hunter trials on the weekends.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the former, do you have a signature dish?

I’m no entertainer; I just don’t have it in me. I get distracted too easily. My housemate/best friend/second mother Hazel is the best entertainer I’ve met so, if we are hosting in our house, I leave her too it and help as best I can. I usually just end up talking the ear off her in the kitchen while she cooks up a storm. I am able to cook, but I definitely prefer to be entertained.

We have so many places to eat out in Cork, where are your go-to spots for coffee/lunch/special meal?

This is a tough question because there are so many options in Cork. For coffee it has to be Tara’s Tea Rooms or Lab 82 coffee. I don’t think you can beat the burgers in Son of a Bun. White Rabbit is also delicious if you’re feeling in the mood for BBQ bits, but in all honesty can you really beat KCs? It’s too hard to choose one!

Sunday night comes around too fast — how do you normally spend it?

I love sitting by the open fire on a Sunday evening with a cup of tea and my dog.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

If I’m milking it will go off at 6am but if not, I give myself until 7.30 to get up. I feel like half the day is wasted if I’m not up early. Early bird catches the worm and all that.

Are you up to anything else right now?

I’m excited about taking part in Cork Science Festival and the Festival of Farming. If you have inquisitive kids, make sure you register for our Kid’s Corner event (Friday, November 12 from 11am-12 noon) to hear lots of facts about cows, milk and grass on. I’m one of the guests on the live panel discussion. Kids will get a chance to ask scientists questions, and it will be moderated by TV and radio broadcaster Jonathan McCrea.

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