Jimmy and Elizabeth Lennon modestly described it as their hobby. Unlike most pastimes, however, it had the effect of completely changing the lives of hundreds of impoverished families around the world.
Each year for the last 15 years, the couple from Moydrum have been rearing goats to be shipped off to parts of Africa and elsewhere through the charity Bóthar.
It’s estimated that they have personally reared over 600 goats for Bothár, and several hundred others would have also gone through their farmyard near Moydrum Castle.
“I’d say in the region of 1,000 goats would have passed through their yard for Bóthar,” said Colm Doyle of the Moate Bóthar group. “They also would have kept heifers and reared calves (for the charity) through the years.”
The Lennons are now stepping down from this involvement and at its Moate branch AGM recently they received a presentation to honour their years of support and to thank them for helping so many families.
It all began when their daughter, Linda, and her husband Brendan, took part in a charity horse ride to raise funds for Bóthar in 2004.
Jimmy, a farmer who worked as a bus driver for St Hilda's in Athlone, had recently retired at the time and, when he learned about the work Bóthar was doing on behalf of the poor, he decided he would get involved.
A Portumna-based farmer who keeps goats for cheese-making donated at least ten animals per year to the Lennons for Bóthar. “Every year he would give us so many goats for free and we would buy others off him at a reduced rate,” explained Jimmy.
“So I fenced in an acre, with chain link fences, and I started rearing the goats then. I’d rear 30 goats at a time, and at 12 weeks then they’d be given out to other people (to look after). And I’d go back and rear another 30 again.
“Around September they’d get collected and they’d all come back into our place again. They’d have to go into quarantine before they could be shipped abroad.”
Each October, the goats would be transported overseas, going to a variety of destinations such as Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Albania and Kosovo.
Colm Doyle, whose late father Jimmy was a big supporter of Bóthar locally, has travelled to Rwanda to see the difference the livestock makes to the lives of the people who receive it.
“A lot of people say it’s like winning the lotto, but does that even cover it?” said Colm.
“If you were to meet children of a family that haven’t received a goat or a heifer you’ll notice that, while they’re not starving, they are quite malnourished. They’re just barely above the starvation line.
“When Bóthar lands in and hands the family the gift of a heifer or a goat, within no time at all the children become healthier, from consuming the milk. You go to see them a couple of years’ later and they’ll look 100%. They’ll look like our children.
“The second difference is when the family have more milk than they need, they get to sell some. You’re only talking about selling a few litres, but a few litres is enough to bring them out of the poverty trap.”
He said income from sales of milk can be the difference between a family being able to send children to school or not. In countries like Rwanda it can result in a family connecting electricity to their home for the first time.
“It gives you great satisfaction to see families thriving out there because of this,” said Elizabeth Lennon.
She and Jimmy had a bond with the goats they reared over the years and they will miss that.
“I went to Shannon one time, when they were bringing out a half load of goats and a half load of heifers. I was standing up at the top of the runway, and the goats knew me when I talked,” said Jimmy.
“We’d be rearing them from about 10 or 20 days old. And you’d have them for 12 weeks, feeding them five times a day for the first month, so they’d know you. We had the odd one that we had to rear in the kitchen.
“If there was one needed a lot of attention we’d keep it in a box in the house!” Elizabeth confirmed. “I'm going to miss them very much.”
Jimmy said that each August their farmyard would be alive with the sound of all the goats, but as soon as they were gone “the silence would be deafening”.
People often came to visit their farm to see the baby goats and when they did they would sometimes make contributions toward the couple's efforts on behalf of Bóthar.
“They trusted you to give you the money over the gate. They’d sometimes give you €50, because they knew where the goats were going,” said Jimmy.
As he now steps away from this voluntary work, he would recommend it to others.
“All you need with goats is good fences. And there’s an old saying with farmers: good fences make good neighbours!
“That’s not saying an odd goat didn’t get out with us. Ask the neighbours. You’ll always get a cowboy!” he smiled.