Michael Fahey has devoted his life to forestry. Now the owner of MF Tree Services in County Tipperary, Ireland, an hour in his company sees talk of machinery, the country’s licensing system, and the future of the industry, all while exploring a shrine to tree care. 

SOME interviewees tick all the boxes. Some hide behind a wall of PR training. Some simply leave you wanting more. 

But others stay with you without ever really trying. The hour or so Forestry Journal spends with Michael Fahey is one of those occasions where there’s no smoke and mirrors; just someone talking about something they love. 

Over the course of a conversation in his County Tipperary yard, we touch on machinery, Ireland’s forestry licensing system (which, you won’t be surprised to read, is a bone of contention), and the future of MF Tree Services, the company he runs alongside his wife Olive. But it’s when the discussion turns to just why he’s devoted most of his life to the woods that he takes a moment to reflect. 

Forestry Journal: MF Tree Services’ machinery line-up includes two Valtras, one fitted with a Botex crane.MF Tree Services’ machinery line-up includes two Valtras, one fitted with a Botex crane. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“I suppose it’s the isolation,” he offers after a pause. “I like being out on my own, a lot of the guys do. You’ll never hear me saying that I won’t or don’t want to go to the woods. If it’s in you, you’ll find it. It takes a very special person to work in the woods and trees. It’s a very special place. People see that on a lovely day, but you go into a wood at 5am on a winter’s morning and you’ll see nothing, and everything is covered in ice. That’s a different story and it takes a special person to enjoy that.” 

Certainly, Michael appears to tick that box – and then some. His own story begins when his mum bought him his first chainsaw. A Partner R16, it cost £18 but was priceless in giving him a start in tree care. Initially following his uncles around on a pushbike (another gift, this one costing just £12), he picked up odd jobs and chipped in whenever he could. Later, he was able to save enough money to buy a car and take on even more work. A brief jaunt to Sweden followed where he spent time hand cutting, working mostly alongside German operators, which stood him in good stead for hardwood jobs later in life, before he returned to the country of his birth. While it was only in 2013 that MF Tree Services was formally established, more than four decades in the woods – in 2023, he is celebrating his 50th year – ensured he knew forestry “inside out”. 

Forestry Journal: A John Deere 810E, waiting for its next assignment.A John Deere 810E, waiting for its next assignment. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

It’s little surprise, then, that wherever you look in his yard, it’s practically a shrine to the industry. A GreenMech 19-28 SafeTrack (“I’ll never change away from GreenMech,” he says) lies in wait, ready to chip through even more wood. Walk 20 yards further and you find yourself surrounded by machines of all sorts. A Wacker Neuson ET24 tracked excavator, Vermeer SC60TX stump grinder and New Holland TCE40 (one of three New Hollands operated by MF) wrestle for space inside a makeshift shed next to his pride and joy; and it doesn’t take long for Michael to offer to drive his six-cylinder County Tractor 754 out so we can get a better look. Recently brought back to life by Mark Osborne in England (the current owner of County Tractor Spares), its trademark white and blue have an extra shine to them in the crisp, November air of rural Ireland. 

Forestry Journal: Michael’s pride and joy, a refurbished County 754, next to a more modern machine, a New Holland T7050.Michael’s pride and joy, a refurbished County 754, next to a more modern machine, a New Holland T7050. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“We put it on a lorry and sent it over,” he says of a vehicle he’s owned for nearly four decades.

“There was a lot of money spent on it – and she was a total rebuild. I put a lot of hard days in on that tractor. I used to fill the bucket 35 to 40 times a day on my own. I used to go all around the country on my own. This was the one machine I always swore I would rebuild – and we got it done. 

“County never put loaders on six cylinder engines because they were too strong. That’s why they were only ever on four cylinders. She’s a grand old thing.

READ MORE: 'I was the only girl in my class': Hannah Munro, Women in Forestry

“It always gets a lot of attention. I remember I was pulling some wood at a show one time and a young lad, maybe about seven, came up and asked if he could sit in the County. He had seen them on YouTube or something. 

“She still is working perfectly. Mostly dragging down posts to chippers. It is just a great tractor.” 
Climbing out of the cabin, his hat now a little askew, he adds: “One thing about forestry is you need to be able to use and make the most of so many machines.” 

Forestry Journal:  A Wacker Neuson tracked excavator, Vermeer stump grinder, and New Holland TCE40 are among the machines found in Michael’s yard. A Wacker Neuson tracked excavator, Vermeer stump grinder, and New Holland TCE40 are among the machines found in Michael’s yard. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

MF’s fleet is testament to that philosophy. A stone’s throw from the shed sit two Valtra 155s, one fitted with a Botex crane. Bought from Jas P Wilson, that particular model also carries a TP 270 woodchipper behind it. A JCB 140 excavator and Wessex log splitter add to MF’s haul. But it’s another County tractor – this one a little worse for wear, but still perfectly drivable – that catches the eye. 

Out in the woods, MF’s lineup is no less impressive. A 911 Komatsu and a 1070E John Deere do all the harvesting, before one John Deere 810D and one 810E take the timber to where it needs to be.

The fleet is complemented by Komatsu and Valmet forwarders, while there’s a Botex forwarding trailer thrown in for good measure. 

All this talk of machines quickly gets us onto forestry’s future and its perception beyond the trees.

Something Michael has a lot to say about. 

“There isn’t enough education in schools about forestry,” he says. “They don’t realise how good the industry is, how great machines are – how well paid operators can be. It’s serious money. But you have to be willing to put in the hours. 

“The amount of people who have no idea. Even the other day we were on a job with the harvester and a guy came up and spoke to us. He’d often seen them on YouTube, but never up close. He thought they were fantastic machines. 

Forestry Journal: Michael swears by his GreenMech 19-28 SafeTrack.Michael swears by his GreenMech 19-28 SafeTrack. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“It is very hard to get into schools to talk and sell the industry. They don’t want to listen. I honestly believe all pupils should get a couple of days in later years to come out into the woods and see what it’s all about.

“They might like to do it. There isn’t enough out there about forestry, and I think that’s a shame.”

He adds: “We don’t seem to have any young ones coming in. I think that’s because they are getting it too easy and there’s no work ethic. When I was a small boy, we couldn’t wait for Saturday to come. We’d be out doing odd jobs and making a couple of bob because our parents didn’t have it.

“For us, if we didn’t work, we didn’t get anything.

“The old and new experiences need to be shared. There is technology coming today out of colleges about marketing trees – I don’t know a lot about it but I would love to learn from a young person.

READ MORE: 'It’s become a mug’s game': Experienced forester on current state of Irish forestry

For me taking out big trees in dangerous situations is where I come in. I can teach that to other people.” 

As for the here and now, MF Tree Services is busier than ever. Its main work sees the team – around seven full-time staff in all, including Michael’s brother Gerard and nephew Cathal – harvesting timber on behalf of sawmills such as GP Wood, Coolraine Sawmills, Laois Sawmills and Glennon Brothers, as well as private customers, farmers, local authorities, builders and developers. GP Wood in Enniskeane, Co. Cork is one of Ireland’s largest suppliers of sawn softwood products and is also MF’s main customer. The business also has a successful arboriculture wing. 

 “We don’t mind any sort of work,” Michael says. “We are old enough and have young enough lads that we will throw ourselves into anything. That goes all the way down to splitting or cutting firewood for people. If there’s a wet day and a few hundred quid to be made, we’ll do it.

“We are normally harvesting spruce. We do some pine and Scots pine but that’s nearly gone from this area. Ash and spruce are definitely our two big ones. Sycamore, too. 

“Once we harvest it, it’ll either go into the sawmills or we’ll chip it. That’s something we have been developing the last few years. We send it away for biofuel. When we do the hardwoods here, I knock off the first length or two and turn it into firewood. That’s my own way of doing it. That way we are getting a good volume of chip and also getting a good volume of firewood. It’s so important to make the most of any tree.” 

In his time, Michael has done a lot, but one notable job was supplying oak timber to Windsor Castle, which is one of the official residences of the British Royal Family, after it was damaged by fire in 1992. 

Forestry Journal: This County tractor may look out of commission, but don’t let that fool you.This County tractor may look out of commission, but don’t let that fool you. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

As for the future, there’s an air of acceptance when he says “when I stop myself, the company will stop unless someone buys it off me”, but that won’t be happening any time soon. A more pressing concern, however, is the current state of play in Irish forestry. Like everyone FJ meets on its tour of Ireland, there was one topic that really got Michael talking. 

“It always goes back to the licences,” he says.  “We can’t get the licences here quick enough to handle the ash. It’s horrendous. I’ve even had my own wood – in the middle of no place, a farm – waiting for more than a year. You can’t get a licence. I am ready to pounce, but I can’t do it. It’s heartbreaking. 

“I recently got a call from a fella up the road who wanted me to clearfell some ash on his land. It was straight cash, but I had to tell him I couldn’t do it. I would be sued up to my boots; I just had to leave it. That’s the type of bureaucracy we have to put up with – they just don’t listen. It’s a nightmare. 

“They have it working in Scotland. That’s the killer for me. It’s not a big difference between Scotland, England and Wales and here. It’s a shame from an environmental point of view that we can’t push on to get things done.

Forestry Journal: Michael and Tom Vaughan, who kindly arranged the visit.Michael and Tom Vaughan, who kindly arranged the visit. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“I think there is so much potential between the UK and Ireland. I know there’s some argy-bargy with the UK being out of the EU, but we are the two closest countries. We should be pulling together. As an Irishman, I’ll say that to anyone. We need to watch our own backs. We need to be able to share our shared experiences.” 

Before we leave, Michael takes Tom Vaughan (of Vertical Tec Concepts, who has kindly set up the meeting) a little further down the road to see his 810E, which is currently waiting for its next assignment. It’s there, pointing out the intricacies of the machine and harking back to some of the jobs it has done, that Michael’s love for forestry feels as fresh as it must have done when he was starting out nearly 50 years ago with his £18 chainsaw. 

“Some people do say to me about stopping, but I love it. It’s always a dream to walk into a wood and see what’s going on – that’s why I still operate the machines.” 

For more information on MF Tree Services:
Call: 087 271 2967
Email: Info@mftreeservices.ie