Above: West Cork farmers on the march to Dublin in 1966.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Farmers’ Rights March of 1966, the single most important event in the history of the NFA/IFA. On Thursday, October 27, a special ceremony took place at Wolfe Tone Square in Bantry to mark the anniversary of the March and honour those who took part.
In 1966, prices were low for cattle, milk and other products and farmers had limited means for expansion due to poor export markets. Frustrated and angry with their government, the farmers marched.
Starting in Bantry, the march to Dublin culminated in the silent parade of 30,000 farmers through the streets to Government buildings. When the Minister for Agriculture Charles Haughey refused to meet a deputation, a group of nine members of the NFA maintained a protest outside for 21 days until the Minister agreed to meet them.
One of the surviving march veterans is Jim Morris, originally from Drimoleague but now living in Ballydehob. Chair of the Drimoleague/Drinagh branch of the NFA in 1966, Jim recalls the high tension when Charles Haughey refused to meet the farmers. “The late Sean O’Brien was Chairman of the West Cork Region in 1966. Sean was in the FCA for years, reaching the rank of Commandant. With his authoritative voice, he was able to calm the situation. The Garda Superintendent came to Bantry to thank him years later.”
“Rickard Deasy, President of the NFA was inspired by the civil rights marches in the US. He put the idea of a march to Danny Andrew McCarthy in March 1966. A larger-than-life character, Danny insisted that the march start in West Cork,” says Jim.
“Our group of 16 left Bantry on a Friday and walked for 12 days. I sang ‘Come Along’, a Scottish marching song. The first two days were the longest; we covered more than 20 miles in a day. After that we walked around 15 miles each day. In Cork, we were fed and accommodated in farmhouses. From Cahir onwards, we were provided with caravans. Other groups joined us but we held the front the entire time. Myself with James Jerry Mike O’Sullivan from Coomhola carried the Cork NFA banner into Merrion Square. I remember people hanging out of office windows watching us.”
“We got ten pounds to spend between three of us from our own creamery east of Drimoleague,” says Jim. “I was in charge of the money and we came home with change, three and six pence,” he recalls smiling.
Sean O’Brien returned home straight after the march, but remained heavily involved, travelling all over West Cork looking for people to join the NFA, before it became the IFA.
Sean kept a diary of the march and before he passed away he gave it to his grandson Shane O’Brien, along with a flyer about farmer’s rights.
The following is Sean’s diary entry from the day the marchers left Bantry in 1966.
* October 7, 1966 – First day of the Walk.
* Left Bantry at 10.15, arrived at Glandart at 11.40. A huge crowd in Bantry. Total of 28 at Glandart. Two men volunteered here, Sean McSweeney and Christy Cronin.
* Reached Castledonovan at 13.20. School children out to meet us. Garda O’Connor at Crossroads.
* Left Castledonovan at 14.15. Arrived in Dunmanway at 16.30. Meal at West End Bar, very well-treated. Left Dunmmanway at 17.30 accompanied by about 100.
* Arrived Manch straight 19.30.
* Arrived in Enniskeane 20.30, 500 people, huge ovation.
* Stayed at Bernie Forbes, Ballymoney, Ballineen.
As can be seen from Sean’s diary, the march took the shortest route out of Bantry via Castledonovan to Dunmanway and the walkers were fed in Castledonovan in the house across from the school, an event many of the pupils there at the time will remember. John Joe O’Donovan, Counkilla together with the late Vin Carey and their helpers gave out soup and sandwiches. John Joe and many other local farmers would have walked to Dublin but were unable to travel due to work commitments.
John Joe was also presented with a commemorative plaque in October for the role he played in helping with the march.
Jim Morris is married to Sheila and the couple have two children, William and Sinead. William has been running the family farm since his parents retired.
Jim has been invited to attend a National Commemoration event in Dublin in December organised by the IFA to honour the surviving veterans of the march.