Spancelled: Man and Cow

Spancelled: “To those who thole a life spancelled with cows.”

‘Spancel, An animal fetter, esp one used to hobble a cow during milking.’ OED.

It may seem an unusual thing to do, commissioning a life-sized sculpture of a man and cow to stand at the gateway to a modern Dairy.

But when you think about it, for a man whose life has been devoted to working with cows as a farmer, and later as a Dairy owner and businessman, Eamon Cunningham’s idea for a sculpture of a man and cow entitled ‘Spancelled’ at the entrance to the family dairy makes perfect sense.

For Eamon, it is the most natural thing in the world, to mark and to celebrate in a unique way, what he considers to be one of the most important symbiotic relationships in Irish life.

The Cunningham family have been involved in dairy farming in Omagh for around 160 years. And, as a market town with a rural hinterland, Omagh has itself had an integral relationship with livestock, dairy and beef farming, the animal feed industry, tanning and the country markets.

Eamon’s father and grandfather were integral to that, involved in everything from tanning animal hides to supplying milk. Eamon himself ran the family dairy for years, and spent his time as Patrick Kavanagh memorably described it ‘outside in the cow house. . . made the music of milking’.

Eamon says: ‘I have been lucky to earn a living from farming and from the Dairy. The dairy farming has been taken over by [my son] Cormac.’

He laughingly admits he didn’t necessarily take to dairy farming naturally saying:

“If I had a fractious enough relationship with cows, Cormac is a natural with the animals. Looking after them, giving them fodder, calving, milking. You should watch him. Marvellous.”

It reminded me of Ted Hughes description of cows ‘Cantankerous at the hay’. In almost a single breath Eamon moves from his own experiences, to what he describes as the symbiotic link between man and cow. It is that instinctive expression and appreciation of knowing that man and cow have always co–existed side by side that led him to commission a sculpture by the well-known artist John Behan.

It is easy to infer that the man in the sculpture is Eamon, but it isn’t – it represents every farmer that ever worked with cows. It is says Eamon a celebration of that and something that he hopes may make people stop for a moment and think.

Eamon followed in the footsteps of his brother Pauric in re establishing the Strathroy Dairy in 1972 in part to provide employment at a time when it was needed in Omagh and in part because it was the natural and obvious thing to do for a dairy farmer whose family had an established name in the Dairy industry in Omagh and West Tyrone.

It is now one of the best-known dairy businesses in the Island of Ireland.

And the alpha and omega of that industry, of dairy life and of the farm in Strathroy is man and cow, cow and man. Spancelled.


The dedication: ‘To those who thole a life spancelled with cows.’


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