A lifetime of service to farmers in West Cork and nationally was given due recognition when Nealie O’Leary of Coomhola, Bantry, was presented with honorary life membership of the IFA by the president of the association, Tim Cullinan during a recent visit to West Cork.
The presentation took place on the farm of Denis O’Leary, vice-chairman of West Cork IFA, at Kealvaugh, Ballingeary. Nealie O’Leary’s first involvement in the IFA took place in the late 1970s when he attended a meeting of his local branch in Coomhola and was proposed and elected as branch secretary.
In this capacity he became a delegate to the next level in the organisation, then known as the West Cork Regional Executive, which held regular meetings in Drimoleague.
The IFA, at that time, had a very different organisational structure in Co Cork to that which exists today. The county was made up of eight regional executives, each of which sent delegates to the county executive meetings in Cork.
In turn, the county executive then sent delegates to represent the farmers of Cork at national level. The West Cork region was made up of 19 branches.
At meetings in Drimoleague, his ability was soon recognised and, in 1981, he became a delegate representing the West Cork region at meetings of the Cork County Executive. Two years later, he became the sheep representative for all of Cork at national level.
Due to the size of Co Cork, the idea of dividing it into a number of executives, with each enjoying county status, began to gain ground in the mid 1980s. Such a restructuring was seen as being especially beneficial to more remote areas like West Cork.
This goal was achieved in 1987 when three county executives – North, Central and West Cork – were established. When the election of officers took place, Nealie became the first chairman of the new West Cork Executive, which comprised 40 branches with meetings held in Dunmanway.
Nowadays, the county chairman represents his county on the IFA National Council, but this was not the case in earlier times. When Nealie’s four year term as chairman ended in 1991, he was elected to represent West Cork on the National Council for a six-year period.
In the IFA elections of 1997, he was a candidate for Munster vice-president, a contest which he narrowly lost. But, undaunted, he went on to represent West Cork on the National Sheep Committee for a further six years.
Following this, the IFA set up a committee to cover issues associated with hill farming and Nealie became the West Cork representative on this committee and went on to be elected its national chairman. In this position, he had an outstanding achievement when he played a leading role in the IFA’s efforts to convince the government to introduce the Walks Scheme, whereby farmers and landowners are rewarded for allowing a recognised walking trail to pass through their land.
But IFA is not the only organisation to benefit from Nealie’s voluntary efforts. He is chairman of his local community council, he was the first chairman of Bantry Show when it was revived in 1996 after a lapse of 39 years and he was chairman of St Colum’s GAA Club for nine years when he spearheaded a fundraising drive which produced almost €400,000 to develop the club.
Since 2009 he has been chair of the rural transport committee, now known as Local Link. This group was responsible for a most praiseworthy initiative when they went on to set up Cancer Connect, which provides transport for patients from West Cork to hospitals in Cork City.
Nealie’s volunteering spirit has previously been recognised when he was chosen as the West Cork nominee for the Paddy Fitzgerald Awards and, last year, when he won the Hall of Fame accolade at the West Cork Farming Awards, organised by The Southern Star and the Celtic Ross Hotel.