Mountbellew Agri College closes in on 120 years of delivering agricultural education

20 Nov , 2023  

Established in 1904, Mountbellew Agricultural College in Co Galway stands as the oldest agri college in Ireland. Irish Tractor Agri & Plant touched base with principal Dr Edna Curley to hear about the courses it has on offer for students and the recent green light that the college received to develop a new veterinary program.

Situated 50km outside of Galway city, Mountbellew Agricultural College provides a comprehensive range of training programmes for those engaged in the agricultural and food-related sectors.

The college currently has over 900 students enrolled in its programmes and 35 full-time staff altogether on the payroll.

Right now, the list of courses on offer for students in conjunction with the Atlantic Technological University (ATU)  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.

Short courses in skills training, farm management, farm safety and other farming-related topics are also available throughout various different periods of the year depending on demand, with part-time and online courses also being quite popular.

Irish Tractor Agri & Plant caught up with principal Dr Edna Curley to find out more about the fantastic news that the college received recently over a new veterinary program.

“We’re after getting the green light from government to develop a veterinary program,” she outlined.

“We’re a campus of the ATU now, so we wear  two hats;ATU Mountbellew and  Mountbellew Agricultural College.

“As a campus of the ATU we now have more  opportunities to grow programs. Together with our colleagues in ATU Letterkenny, we put forward a proposal to develop a new veterinary program across the two campuses and we had the green light from government yesterday.

“That’s a huge development for us  here in the college but also the region.”

Next year will see Ireland’s oldest agricultural college hit another exciting landmark when it celebrates 120 years of delivering agricultural education next year.

With two sister colleges in Africa – one in Kenya and one in Uganda, there is likely set to be a dual celebration as the Kenyan college also turns 50 years old in 2024.

All in all, these are busy and exciting times for Mountbellew Agricultural College and, of course, Dr Curley herself who has just passed her fourth year as principal.

The Offaly native took over as college principal nearly 20 years to the day after she first graduated from it and describes the learners there as “a lovely blend that are very motivated and dedicated to Irish agriculture”.

“Across the two years of our Teagasc programmes  we have 80 learners registerd” said Dr Curley.

“With 90 first year ATU learners joining each year, we have over 900 learners across all programmes, between Teagasc and ATU.”

She continued: “The most popular ATU course among students is still our Agri Science degree programs, In terms of our Teagasc offering its the distance education programs that we deliver on Saturdays, which is incredibly popular

“The distance education programme is for people that are working full-time but still need their Green Cert, so they’re completing their program one Saturday a month with some weekly on-line activity, for a duration of approx.18 month.  

As for the farms themselves on the Mountbellew campus, the working farm sits on 300 acres of land and it includes, a 90-cow dairy and 30 suckler herd, as well as a dairy calf to beef enterprise and a 180 head sheep flock.

Since the Spring season, the college has added two new Driving Simulators – an initiative funded by Department of Agriculture through Teagasc.

“There’s a real emphasis at the minute for capturing data and information from the farm ourselves,” said the Dr Curley.

“So rather than using external data, we are collecting and using our own data more. For example,, we have a bovine plus weighing system in our beef shed.”

Strong initiatives and fresh ideas are what see Mountbellew Agricultural College and its students continually receiving awards for the quality of its agricultural output and farm husbandry techniques from professional organisations, at both local and national level.

Looking to the near future, Dr Curley is excited by what is around the corner for the college and is keen to see it grow further and enhance its already excellent reputation along the way.

“Obviously, the hopes are now to develop our new veterinary program with our ATU colleagues” she said.

“We also have aspirations to add to our agri delivery and grow our numbers then really. IWith Covid there was a little bit of uncertainty, and on some fronts, we’re seeing a small drop off in terms of numbers and we want to make sure we don’t allow that to get too far.

“Beside all of that as well, we’re still very conscious of delivering training programs to farmers – such as, one-day and two-day programs on topics that are important to the sector at a given time.

“We have been working with Aurivo Co-Op and the Aurivo Leading Ladies where we have training programs designed for the women only groups.

“So, we want to continue with our current programmes, grown our numbers and develop and consider new offerings.”

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

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 5, October/November 2023