FRIDAY, October 7th, marks the 50th anniversary of a very significant event in the history of Irish farming.
In 1966, farmers were in a frustrated mood because of low prices for cattle, milk and other products, very limited scope to expand production because of poor export markets and the burden of paying rates, regardless of what a farmer actually earned.
The IFA, which was then known as the National Farmers Association, decided on a plan to bring the plight of the farming community to the attention of both government and the general public.
It was agreed that farmers would walk from all over Ireland over a period of twelve days, with all timed to converge on Dublin on the same day.
The departure dates from the different starting points varied, depending on their distance from Dublin. With Bantry being the starting point which was furthest from the capital, it was decided that the West Cork farmers would be first to begin the long march to Dublin on the October Fair Day.
In those times, before cattle marts became the established means of selling and buying stock, a large cattle fair took place in Bantry’s Wolfe Tone Square on the first Friday of each month. So, on Friday, October 7th, newspaper reporters, photographers and RTE television cameras (which were then a great novelty), mingled with the cattle in Bantry Square to cover the address to the assembled crowd by the then President of the Farmers Association, Rickard Deasy of north Tipperary.
Following his address, the president led a group of sixteen out of Bantry as they began the long trek to Dublin.
They were accompanied by a large group of supporters who walked the first few miles to set them on their way.
As they walked further on, they were provided with both meals and accommodation by many households along the way. In the days that followed, other groups set out from other parts of Ireland, culminating in a huge rally, estimated at 30,000 farmers, in Dublin on October 19th. The campaign is now looked back on as the catalyst which gave Irish farmers a voice in decisions which affected their business and their lives.
Plans by the West Cork IFA Executive to mark the 50th anniversary of the event are at an advanced stage and arrangements for a commemoration ceremony to be held in Bantry later this month will be announced shortly.