Farmers refuse to sell milk out of respect for local saint
An amazing tradition going back to the middle of the seventh century is still being observed in the midlands. A group of farmers there will not sell the milk produced by their cows.
These farmers live in the townland of Leamonaghan, near Ferbane, Co Offaly, and while milk is produced there, they refuse to sell it because of a tradition about a cow belonging to the local saint, St Manchan.
The tradition is observed to this day by the locals who believe that if they sell their milk they show disrespect to their local patron saint. They will give any surplus milk away but will not accept any payment for it. They make their living by rearing suckler cows, beef cattle and sheep.
There is also intense devotion to St Manchan, whose feast day is celebrated on January 24th, when Masses are celebrated in local churches.
St Manchan, who died in 664, had a famous cow which gave milk to all who came to milk her. She fed the saint and his community, which he set up after leaving Clonmacnoise.
According to a local historian, Mr Seamus Corcoran, St Manchan set up his community at Leamonaghan in the middle of the seventh century.
"His famous cow kept everyone alive and from that day to this, no one in the townland will produce milk for sale. It is a mark of respect to the saint.
"No one here will produce milk for sale, but instead they keep suckler cows and rear beef animals. There are about 35 small farms in the townland. Any surplus milk produced is given away."
He said one man who moved into the area refused to believe the tradition and in the 1940s set up a dairy herd.
Eleven of his cows died overnight, and the calves were born with heads like sheep. The man gave up dairying.
He said the tradition was now respected by outsiders who moved into the area and he expected this would continue despite all the changes in farming.
"Local people still have great devotion to the saint and visit a well called after him seeking cures. A famous shrine, said to contain his bones, is currently in the national museum.
"Tradition has it that the saint's cow was stolen by some people in Kilmonaghan, which is nearby, and by the time the saint arrived the cow had already been slaughtered and was in the pot.
"The saint, however, worked a miracle and the cow was restored to health except for one of her thigh bones, but she continued to give milk.
"Tradition also says that the saint tracked his missing cow because she left her hoof prints in the rocks, and one of those rocks bearing the hoof prints of a cow used to be kept at the local school."
Locals also believe that St Manchan's well, which is normally visited on January 24th, has curative powers and will prevent disease.
A tree beside the well is festooned with ribbons and rosary beads and other tokens left by pilgrims from all over the midlands.
The EU farm ministers, currently deciding on the future of Europe's milk production, would find it difficult to believe that in one small part of the Union the farmers don't care what they decide because it will not affect them.
The people of Leamonaghan are, indeed, unique in Europe.