Ireland’s oldest Agri College

9 Dec , 2021  

Based 50km from Galway city, Mountbellew Agri College was Ireland’s first agricultural college having been established in 1904. Irish Tractor & Agri spoke with principal Dr Edna Curley recently to learn more about the courses on offer and how the college has been facing the challenges in these unprecedented times.

With just some 900 students enrolled in its degree programmes, Mountbellew Agri College provides a comprehensive range of training programmes for those engaged in the agricultural and food-related sectors.

The list of courses which the college currently offers in conjunction with GMIT includes Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Environmental Management; Bachelor of Business in Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness and the Bachelor of Engineering in Agricultural Engineering; Adult Certificate in Agriculture Level 5 / Level 6 (SP); and Teagasc – Certificate in Agriculture Level 5 and Advanced Certificate in Agriculture Level 6.

There are also a number of short courses in skills training, farm management, farm safety and other farming-related topics are available at various times during the year depending on demand, with part-time and online courses are also very popular.

Two years ago, Dr Edna Curley took over as principal nearly 20 years to the day after she first graduated from Mountbellew Agri College.

Irish Tractor & Agri touched base with Dr Curley to learn more about this thriving agri college out west and the steps it has taken to try and get through the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It has been a real challenge but the students and staff here have been great the whole way through,” Dr Curley outlined.

“To say that the move to working on-line has been successful would be an understatement. It has been a steep learning curve for everyone, but what has been achieved has been magnificent.”

Right now, Mountbellew Agri College full-time staff numbers of 23 as they continue to work through the pandemic and the government restrictions which have been implemented to try and battle the spread of the global virus.

In June 2019, Dr Curley was appointed to oversee the students and faculty at Mountbellew Agri College as she succeeded Tom Burke as college principal.

“I’m a past student and returned to Mountbellew nearly 20 years to the day from when I left,” she said.

“I went from MAC to WIT and then to UCD to complete a primary degree in Agricultural Science. After that, I took up my postgraduate studies in the area of crop production and transferred to NUI Galway in 2013 before returning to MAC in 2019.

“Initially, I was an Agronomist in NUIG based in the Agri-Bioscience Unit which was very much research focussed.

“Then, in June 2019, I came here and took over from Tom Burke who was principal when I studied here.”

Two years on from her appointment and Dr Curley is delighted to see the college with what she describes as “a lovely blend of students that are very motivated and dedicated to Irish agriculture”.

Down through the years, the college and its students have received numerous awards for the quality of its agricultural output and farm husbandry techniques from professional organisations, at both local and national level.

Mountbellew Agri College has sleeping accommodation for 60 students and further accommodation for the same number of students available within a short walking distance of the campus.

The college also has its own working farm that sits on 350 acres of land and it includes, cow and suckler herds, as well as a 50-unit calf to beef enterprise and a 50-unit store to beef enterprise.

The farm has a sheep flock of 150 ewes (mid-season lambing).

The current chairman of the Mountbellew Agri College board is Tom Parlon, a man who is renowned for becoming the first non-dairy farmer to be elected president of the Irish Farmers’ Association back in 1997.

A fellow Co Offaly native, Dr Curley has been delighted to work alongside Mr Parlon as the demand for courses at the college continues to be strong.

The Bachelor of Science in Agriculture & Environmental Management and Bachelor of Engineering in Agricultural Engineering degrees are amongst the most popular Mountbellew Agri College has to offer at the moment.

“We’ve between 80-100 Teagasc full-time students annually and then with GMIT students a further 90-100 first years and 80-90 second years,” explained Dr Curley.

“Then we have Distance Learners, which sees us with another 420 on the books and another 120 later in the year. We run the distance education programme on Saturdays to facilitate the people that are working full-time.”

She added: “Distance Learning really started to take off for us when we moved it to a Saturday delivery in the autumn of 2019 and I should point out that the distance education numbers have expanded even more noticably recently.”

Still the only agri college in Connacht, Mountbellew marked 117 years in existence this year and still has well over 500 expressions of interest in its part-time and online courses alone.

Looking towards the coming months, Dr Curley is very much positive for what’s ahead for Mountbellew Agri College.

“It’s really positive. The interest at the moment is suggesting that we will have a large number of students for programmes next year,” she said. “We can also look forward to becoming a University campus with our GMIT partners, who are well on the way to achieving Technological University status”.

“The hope for everyone is that we’re on the way up and that we’ve now turned a corner with regards to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everybody is looking forward to the students being back on the ground and to getting back to normal ”

Hear, hear.

Mountbellew Agricultural College
Co Galway
Phone: 090 9679205
Email: [email protected]

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 5, September/October 2021