“I was scared of going for my dream. And I’m scared of going for my dream, because I have this innate, and I didn’t know, fear of failure. So I never failed at anything I did.

With regard to forestry… I was the first woman in… the United Kingdom, to actually be a Harvesting Foreman. They didn’t have foreperson or forewomen, because they didn’t exist. So that was character building beyond… because by God, do you need to stand up for yourself out in that industry.

… about four years ago, I had a significant horse riding accident… I obliterated my pelvis… I ended up three months in a wheelchair, couldn’t walk, two surgeries, a lot of metal. I always kind of thought I was a bit weak. And I discovered through this that I have this unbelievable strength and this resilience. And that actually the one thing I didn’t suffer from before the accident was gratitude.”

Emma Jane Clarke

Ladies and gentlemen, what a conversation!

Emma Jane Clarke admitted that she feels very privileged to have been raised by parents who endowed upon her and her siblings steadfast self-belief, however, she has needed all of it and more to get to the beginnings of the current chapter in an already amazing life.

From Forestry Foreman (yes!) to managing a €20m budget via LEADER, to a near debilitating accident, to finally achieving her dream to own some land and horses, we were taken on the wildest of rides when Emma Jane dropped in to the Café for a chat recently.

Stick on the kettle, grab a coffee and enjoy the chat with Emma Jane Clarke on The Coffee at Eleven Show, Season 4, Episode 10 replay in your preferred way…

Emma Jane Clarke Highlights

Yours Truly: Ladies and gentlemen, you are more than welcome to this, another episode of The Coffee At Eleven Show, brought to you by WIG-WAM and supported by Limerick Post. #LimerickandProud, Keeping Limerick posted. And it’s my great pleasure to have you all here today, but indeed our greatest pleasure is to have our special guest in the hot seat today. And that is Emma Jane Clarke. Emma Jane, you’re more than welcome. Say hello, cheers us with your coffee mug.

Emma Jane Clarke: Good morning everybody, and cheers. I’m delighted to be here and even more delighted with that meditation moment after Michelle’s declaration of 18 million people by definitely needed that space to go, “Okay. No pressure.”

I managed to con or convince my parents to let me have horses. When I was growing up, I used to run down, every time I’d hear a neighbor go by with their horse, I’d run, grab my helmet, run down to the gates and sit on the gate post, hoping one day, that somebody would let me ride their horse. And so optimism and consistency on that one for me. So eventually I used to adopt horses that were rescue horses that nobody else could ride, and just had people over where we could keep our horses over in Leixlip but I suppose my first horse that I actually owned, the story there was that we went to Baltinglass on a day out of a Sunday, as you did. My grandmother, my mother and my father. My mother and my grandmother allegedly went to the shops.

I actually still think to this day it was to the local imbibing facility; they went to the pub. And they came back, left my father and myself unsupervised at a horse sales. So you can see where this is going. So my father, I managed to convince him to buy me a horse while mum wasn’t there. We had no intention of buying a horse. We had no land, no head collar and no transport. And mom comes back with my grandmother, allegedly from the shop to see this horse being loaded up into a lorry and actually rearing up and falling over backwards out of the lorry.

I have the privilege of an amazing upbringing by parents who gave me all the framework and the basis of self-belief. And that has, for all of us, has set us up in life. So I was incredibly privileged and lucky and don’t take that for granted.

With regard to forestry, I remember being really annoyed with my father because when I went into forestry, people actually said to me, “But you can’t do that because you’re a woman.” And I remember being really annoyed with my parents going, nobody told me before that I couldn’t do something because I was a female. How come my parents never gave me this memo? I had no idea that that was out there in the world. So yeah, it was quite a shock. But I moved to Scotland and I lived in Scotland for 10 years and I worked with the forestry commission, and I was the first woman in Scotland, or in the UK, sorry, in the United Kingdom, to actually be a Harvesting Foreman. They didn’t have foreperson or forewomen, because they didn’t exist. So that was character building beyond, and actually has made me who I am today, because by God, do you need to stand up for yourself out in that industry. So yeah.

So I was 10 years in Scotland, but I always, always wants to come home. I was probably the last person you’d think would leave. And as a forester and in Ireland, there were no female foresters and there were no managers under the age of forty. So I was like, well, I’m going away to get my experience and come back. So when I came back, I decided… Like someone said to me, “Oh, well, there’s more females working in forestry now.” And I thought, you know what, I’m not starting again. I worked my way up in Scotland. I worked damn hard for where I was, and I was not going to start again at the bottom of the pile. Quite ambitious, but ambitious to be the best that I could be, not ambitious over anyone else.

So I decided I’m going to go diversify in my career. So I got a position in Leader, which is European funding and Community and Agricultural Development. And I… Oh my God, I love that job so much because it was helping people diversify, innovate, and create new businesses and help them with support through European funding. So it was like, all that experience I had come together now to actually start on that journey of helping people. So I did that for five years and absolutely loved it. Would have stayed except I wanted the CEO’s job. So he wasn’t going anywhere. So I decided to go around him.

Both my portfolio now is quite diverse. So I look after everything nationally from women in sport, to outdoor sports, to disability sports, to sports for older adults, and local sports partnerships as well, which there’s one in every county in Ireland. And they’re tasked with basically reducing barriers and increasing participation for people, into sport and physical activity. And really people who aren’t active tend to be from the lower socioeconomic education disadvantage. So about five years ago…

So my budget was about six, seven million, five years ago. And John Treacy, actually, the CEO, did me a great favor one day. I think my mom learned this very early. “Don’t tell me I can’t do something.” So what happened was, dormant account funds came in and they said, look, would you like to start investing in sports? So here they gave us one and a half million. And I basically said, John said, there’s no way… He knew what he was doing. He said, there’s no way, you’re going to make that work. And I went, oh, so I took that one and a half million and I’ve grown it to 10 million now, in addition to my budget. So it’s over about 20 million, my budget in total that we look after. And it’s about, again, delivering at a local level to actually impact and strategically affect change. So not piloting and pushing money into disadvantaged communities and leaving. Putting in sustainable structures that people can actually be physically active after we go. And that actually helps their mental health, their physical health and all that kind of stuff.

So, yeah. We moved to Martinstown Lodge about three years ago. And actually I think it’s worth kind of sharing how we got there. So I was living in a mid terrace in Kilcock, a little home and it was lovely and it serviced its needs, but I always wanted my own land. I always was in awe of people that own their own land and their own place, what you could do with it and all the added value and everything. But I never really went for it. I was actually, to be honest with you, I was scared. Oh, there’s a picture of me. So I was scared of going for my dream. And I’m scared of going for my dream, because I have this innate, and I didn’t know, fear of failure. So I never failed at anything I did. Now, in fairness, I’ve actually embraced that and understand that failure is about development by growth and about change. So what happened was, about four years ago, I had a significant horse riding accident that came out of nowhere. I was running 10 kilometers. I was very fit, kickboxing, getting on with life, doing really well. And I had a lesson on my horse and over the first jump, just… I actually laughed because she jumped so big, but she jumped so big, I actually couldn’t get back in the saddle, and I tried to hang on for too long and I ended up smashing into the fence.

Anyway, long story short, got up, walked, and then lost consciousness. And so three months, six months later, I basically, not to be graphic, I obliterated my pelvis into multiple, beyond any kind of natural repair. So I went from being a really healthy person who was very fit into stuck dead in my tracks. And the only way I could describe it was put on a roller coaster that I just haven’t chosen to go on and that I couldn’t get off. And it was like a dance. I remember looking at… no, so suddenly stopped in my tracks on the flat of my back, in hospital. My poor mother didn’t know, she was away and she came back and was brought into me. I was incredibly, incredibly lucky because I really damaged myself quite badly. And I was incredibly lucky that I hadn’t… because my head was swollen and everything, and I perhaps didn’t… they let me walk into the ambulance and I don’t think they realized. The ambulance man came back at three in the morning in A and E, and he went “Really? You scored that pain four out of 10?” It was like, I might have been a bit off my head at the time. So I ended up, anyway in Connolly, Tallaght, Clontarf. I ended up three months in a wheelchair, couldn’t walk, two surgeries, a lot of metal.

So anyway, the good news was that I realized from all of this, not only, I always kind of thought I was a bit weak. You know, I used to get panic attacks as a kid and stuff like that. And I thought I was a bit weak. And I discovered through this that I have this unbelievable strength and this resilience. And that actually the one thing I didn’t suffer from before the accident was gratitude. And I was incredibly grateful for everything that I had, not what I didn’t have. And it really focused my mind with regard to you do not know what’s around the corner, so get on with it. So, long story short, went from the wheelchair, sold the house, had to wheel myself out into the patio when people came to view the house, and Ken and I, Ken has been an absolute rock in my life, Ken and I went and we eventually found Martinstown Lodge. So there you go.

Yours Truly: Emma Jane, I’d like to ask you two quick questions, if I may. First question is what are you taking with you from COVID? That you re-found in COVID?

Emma Jane Clarke: I think what I re-found in COVID is that when you strip everything back and there is nothing, then it comes back to the essence of why we’re here and what we’re here to do. And COVID has allowed me to reflect and reframe our future and build now our new future moving forward. So I think that’s really, for me, on a personal level, that’s what’s enabled.

Yours Truly: Lovely, lovely stuff. I love that question because everybody’s come up to the answer from their own perspective, and we’ve all found or refound something in COVID. So thank you, Emma Jane. And then the last question before we go to Princess Shelley is, you bump into somebody that you’ve known in the past, or indeed have just gotten to know recently, but it becomes very obvious to you that this person is struggling because of COVID, because of the constant lockdown, all the rest of it. What’s your one piece of advice?

Emma Jane Clarke: I think my one piece of advice is that resilience and tapping in, again, it’s a word that’s thrown around a lot, but really we all have it. We have unending resources within ourselves. Reach out for help. It’s okay to not feel okay. And basically that resilience is within all of us. And it’s really important to remind people of that as well, and that we’re here for them. I think it’s really important not to forget about people who do suffer from loneliness and isolation, and that’s whether it’s COVID or not COVID. Because you can be lonely when you’re in a crowd. I know.

END

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