Located just over the Dublin-Kildare border, outside Newcastle town, lies University College Dublin’s Lyons Research Farm. It the largest out of the three campuses currently operated by UCD in Ireland, and is located within the bounds of the Lyons Demesne – an estate rooted in bloody battles, lady and lordship, republicanism, agricultural heritage, fame, and of course, money.
Several different families have held possession of Lyon’s Estate throughout its extensive battle-ridden history, with the estate eventually exchanging ownership from the Anglo-Norman Aylmer family to Lord Cloncurry in 1796, as a result of crippling debt problems. At once, Lord Cloncurry recognised it’s potential and opted to invest in the estate; constructing a three-storey Georgian mansion house joined to two-story wings. Later the house was taken over by his son, who made further improvements to the mansion, installing various pieces of exquisite Italian artwork, including fresco paintings, many of which were recently sold at auction following the death of the late Ryanair tycoon, and former owner of the estate, Tony Ryan.
Irish agricultural heritage and Lyons Farm are clearly intertwined throughout the course of history. Lyons, in particular, was at the forefront of promoting better methods of farming – a fitting background for a legacy which almost certainly lives on today. Lord Cloncurry, and the Earls of Cloncurry, championed spade cultivation. They also offered tenant farmers a prize of fifty pounds, for tilling the greatest portion of their land, digging it no less than nine inches deep and sewn before the 20th March. The aristocrats are also known for holding the first Ploughing Championships at Monasterevin, and the formation of “manufacture-farming” in Ireland.
Undergraduate students, postgraduate students and agri-food industry professionals are all involved in studies on the farm. The farm consists of approximately 220 hectares (c.540 acres), and is operated on a mixed enterprise basis consisting of dairy, beef, sheep, pigs and equine
Later in 1963, the estate, comprising of 1200 acres, formal gardens, a twenty-five acre artificial lake and a Georgian Mansion, which was the former seat of Lord Cloncurry, was sold to UCD and operated as a teaching facility for students of agricultural science. However, the governing body of UCD later decided to sell both the mansion and accompanying 600 acres of the estate to the Smurfit Group, who in turn, sold it to the late Tony Ryan in 1996 for the sum of £3 million. Ryan, when once asked how much the refurbishments had cost him, answered “a king’s ransom”. It is reported that over £80 million was spent renovating the mansion, installing a helicopter landing pad, private cinema, gymnasium, billiards room, traditional Irish pub, wine cellar and half Olympic-sized swimming pool – quite the upgrade for baggage handler turned billionaire who regularly referred to himself as “just a Tipperary farmer”.
Nowadays, the mansion is under the ownership of Shane Ryan, the late Tony Ryan’s son. It is described by Country Life as a Georgian Treasure, and is decorated in the Directoire style, of which there are very few examples in Ireland. The ‘Village at Lyons’, a high-end wedding venue formerly used by Tony Ryan to hold sybaritic events, has since been sold to Irish entrepreneur Barry O’Callaghan. The hotel now operates as the Cliff at Lyons; it joins a portfolio of hotels under the ownership of O’Callaghan.
Today, UCD Lyons Research Farm is operated as a teaching and research facility. The website states that it is “used under the auspices of the UCD College of Health and Agricultural Sciences and is an important resource for the School’s of Agriculture and Food Science; and Veterinary Medicine”. Undergraduate students, postgraduate students and agri-food industry professionals are all involved in studies on the farm. The farm consists of approximately 220 hectares (c.540 acres), and is operated on a mixed enterprise basis consisting of dairy, beef, sheep, pigs and equine. Crop research facilities and long term pasture based facilities are also present on the farm.
The dairy facilities at Lyons have recently undergone an extensive upgrade, following the installation of a new 40-unit Dairymaster rotary milking parlour, creating the capacity for the farm to easily manage a 200+ cow dairy herd. The current herd at Lyons farm consists of approximately 200 dairy cows split into two main herds. One herd consists of 140 cows which is split into 80 in the spring calving research group and 60 in the autumn calving group. This herd supports ongoing research in dairy production including genetics, nutrition and herd health management. The second herd consists of 60 high Economic Breeding Index (EBI) spring calving cows. This herd is a systems research herd, which aims to investigate the feasibility of a high input/output spring calving milk production systems for farmers on a fixed land bank.
The farm also consists of up to 150 head of beef cattle, 200 pigs and 360 ewes. 10 mixed light horse breed mares and a teaser pony stallion are also kept on the farm; all of which are present at Lyons to support teaching and research within the School of Agriculture and Food Science, and the School of Veterinary Medicine. However, the research is not limited to just animals, crop research also takes place on the farm, with facilities available to accommodate both large field scale and plot based research.
It is encouraging to see that the legacy laid down by the former residents of Lyons Estate exists to this date and will exist well into the future given the current academic strength the University has at its disposal.
Students can follow @ucdlyonsfarm on Twitter or visit https://www.ucd.ie/lyonsfarm/study for more information.