A SPECIAL ceremony will take place at Wolfe Tone Square in Bantry on Thursday next, October 27th, at 2pm to mark the 50th anniversary of the Farmers’ Rights March from Bantry to Dublin.
It was from there, during Bantry Fair on Friday, October 7th, 1966 that 16 farmers began the 217-mile walk to the capital.
They were joined by other groups at various points along the way in the days that followed, as they contended with adverse weather conditions, sore and stiff legs and blistered feet. They all converged on Dublin on October 19th, where a mass rally of over 30,000 farmers took place on Merrion Square. Following the rally, a nine-man delegation proceeded to the Department of Agriculture to seek a meeting with the then Minister, Charles J Haughey. When Haughey refused to meet them, they sat down on the steps of the Department.
Asked how long they intended to stay there, NFA president Rickard Deasy replied: ‘until the crack of doom, if necessary.’ The nine, who had all walked to Dublin, included TJ Maher of South Tipperary, who was not well known at that time, but was to become a household name in subsequent years. Sean Holland of Coomhola, who had walked all the way from Bantry, had the distinction of being the only Corkman to be included in the delegation. They remained on the steps for three weeks, until they finally secured a meeting with the Government. The 1966 events are widely regarded as a turning point, which gave farmers a voice in the decisions directly affecting Irish agriculture.
Eleven of the men who walked the 217 miles to Dublin are now deceased: Sean O’Brien of Bantry, Danny McCarthy of Drimoleague, Sean Holland of Coomhola, Fachtna O’Callaghan of Leap, William Cadogan of Aughadown, Eugene Downing of Goleen, James O’Sullivan of Coomhola, Jim Tobin of Leap, Sean O’Driscoll of Drimoleague, Michael Crowley of Dunmanway and Sam Kingston of Ballydehob.
The five survivors are Jackie O’Sullivan of Bere Island, Michael Keohane of Coomhola, John O’Sullivan of Kealkil, Tom Mullins of Bantry and Jim Morris of Drimoleague, now living near Ballydehob.
On Thursday next, October 27th, the new president of the IFA, Joe Healy, will unveil a plaque containing the names of the sixteen participants, at a tree which was planted some years ago to mark the starting point of the march, close to St Brendan’s Church. Everyone is invited to the commemoration ceremony to honour these men who played such a pioneering role in gaining recognition for Irish farmers.
Meanwhile, a second radio programme by John Greene, remembering the farmers’ march, will be broadcast on c103 on Sunday next, October 23rd, at 7pm.