BY BRIAN MOORE
THE crowds gathered in Bantry last week to commemorate, with pride, the deeds of the men who marched to Dublin back in 1966 as part of the Farmers’ Rights Campaign.
That pride was more than evident as the relatives and the five surviving men of the original 16 who set off on the long march to Dublin, 50 years ago, crossed the town square led by IFA president Joe Healy and West Cork IFA chairman Cornie Buckley to unveil a memorial plaque in their honour. ‘Today is the highlight of my term to date as IFA president,’ Joe Healy said. ‘These men took to the roads and marched to Dublin to fight for the rights of every farmer across this country back in 1966.
‘I am in awe when I think of that time and that determination these men had, to ensure that farmers and their families had access to the same rights as everybody else. This is what Ireland’s rural community is all about, standing together and supporting the farming families that keep the countryside alive,’ Mr Healy continued.
Special presentations were made to each of the five men and to the relatives of all those who took part. Also present was Ruaidhri Deasy, son of Rickard Deasy who, as president of the National Farmers’ Association (NFA) led the 16 West Cork men as they left Bantry. ‘My father often spoke about that day, when they set off on the long march as it became known,’ Ruaidhri told The Southern Star. ‘And it was obvious that there was no-one going to stop them getting there and putting their issues to the Minister for Agriculture, who was Charles Haughey at the time’.
The five surviving men, Jackie O’Sullivan from Bere Island, Mick Keohane from Coomhola, Jim Morris from Drimoleague, Tom Mullins from Bantry and Johnny O’Sullivan from Kealkil, all remembered that Fair Day in Bantry as they set off first toward Cork city and then on to Dublin, a walk that took them the best part of 10 days.
‘The weather wasn’t the best; it was foggy I remember as we left Bantry. The first two days were the worse for me anyway as we had made arrangements to be through Cork City in two days.
‘We made Enniskeane the first day and we spent the night with farmers there. The next evening we caught sight of the Viaduct so that was a fair amount of walking from Bantry to Cork City in two days,’ Johnny told The Southern Star.
Tom Mullins from Bantry said that the support the 16 men got along the way was something that he will always remember: ‘Every night people came out to feed us and to make sure that we were alright.
The weather got very wet as we made our way up the country, but it was our boots that were giving us the most trouble with most of us suffering from terrible blisters. We were definitely badly shod from the outset,’ Tom said.
Just in case walking 15 to 20 miles a day wasn’t enough, Johnny O’Sullivan decided that he would take some time out when he arrived in Cork City. ‘I stayed with an uncle of mine in the city and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go dancing at the Arcadia. It was Doc Carroll and the Royal Blues, Old Man Trouble,’ Johnny said.
A huge crowd turned out to meet the West Cork men in Mitchelstown and, from then on, the men were joined by other marchers along the way until over 30,000 farmers arrived at the steps of the Department of Agriculture in Dublin.
There, Minister Charles Haughey refused to meet with the men and so began a three-week protest which saw nine representatives from across various NFA branches sit in outside the department.
‘We had no idea whether we would be successful or not; we didn’t even know if we would get any support but it was something we had to do,’ Johnny O’Sullivan said. When asked if he would do it all again, Johnny replied: ‘I am delighted that I took part and, do you know, if I was asked to do it all again, I think I would.’