Obituary: Edward (Ned) Sheehy
Influential agriculturalist who became ‘a guide, philosopher and friend’ to farmers
Ned Sheehy: June 6th, 1917-November15th, 2016. He was closely involved in the development of the national advisory and research service which ultimately became Teagasc
Eddie (Ned) Sheehy, was one of the most influential agriculturalists since the foundation of the State.
Born in Union Hall, Co Cork in 1917 to John and Margaret Sheedy, Ned grew up in surroundings dominated by farming, fishing, sailing and horse production. He never lost his interest in any of these areas. Following a secondary school course in Mount Mellary, Ned achieved successive scholarships to Darrara Agricultural College, the Albert College and to UCD. Graduating with first-class honours in agricultural science, he began what would become an outstanding career in the Department of Agriculture. His early promise was recognised and in 1950 he was among the first young scientists sent for further study to land grant colleges in the US. This period of study enhanced a breadth of vision which was to characterise his life and subsequent career.
Ned’s first major assignment in the department was as parish agent under the Parish Plan newly formulated by the then minister James Dillon. He was posted to Bansha, Co Tipperary where he struck up a productive partnership with the visionary Canon Hayes. This early experience of advisory work gave him a rapport with farmers and rural life which was to inform all his subsequent work. In Dillon’s words he truly became to farmers their “guide, philosopher and friend”.
He collaborated with Prof William Brickley in demonstrating the importance of available calcium as an indicator of soil productivity.
Ned’s progress through the ranks of the department reflected his expertise, judgment and commitment and he had a lengthy tenure of office in his final posting as chief inspector.
He was closely involved in the development of the national advisory and research service which ultimately became Teagasc. He was also associated with the universities and, for years served as external examiner to both UCD and UCC.
FAO and OECDIrelandAgricultural Science Association
While Ned’s official duties absorbed his daily routine, he found time to pursue his many other interests. He was a long- term member of the Royal Dublin Society and stewarded with distinction at the annual horse and spring shows. He had a deep involvement in horse racing. Not only did he patronise all the major Irish meetings but he travelled regularly to York, Cheltenham, Ascot and Epsom. His advice was valued in racing circles and he was a confidante of leading trainers and owners. He took deep interest in the Connemara Pony and the Connemara Pony Society and was a close friend of the society’s founding fathers including Bartley O’Sullivan and John Killeen.
He celebrated his 90th birthday by touring Connemara Pony studs in Australia with his niece Marie and her husband, Tom Mac Lochlainn, then president of the society.
Rugby was another deep interest. He attended the major matches, including internationals, and became a widely known and popular figure at matches and club gatherings. Blackrock College RFC invited him to accept the presidency of the club 1970/1971 in recognition of his interest and of his contribution to the improvement of their playing fields.
Ned took prolonged holidays in the Canary Islands. In addition to his twice daily swims there, he became an authority on the flora and geology of Gran Canaria. He promoted social occasions in Las Palmas and was a prime organiser of the Christmas festivities for many of the Irish in that city.
Ned was acutely aware of deprivation and was a regular, though very private contributor to many worthy causes. He lived through the difficult early years of the State and was cognisant of such important events as the Economic War and its catastrophic effects on Ireland and on the major impact of the founding of the sugar factories and rural electrification. He was also conscious of the contribution of such organisations as Muintir na Tire, Macra na Feirme and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association.
Ned maintained close contact with his many relatives and participated enthusiastically in family events. They in turn provided loving support, especially as his health began to fail.
He is survived by his sister Maighread, his nephews and nieces and cousins – the Burke, O’Dwyer, Coughlan, Lewis and Cahalane families.