Historic farmers’ march recalled in Bantry

Farmers’ Rights Campaign protest march of 1966 led to greater voice for agriculturalists

Inspired by Martin Luther King's civil rights marches, the Farmers' Rights Campaign was recalled in Bantry where in 1966 some 16 farmers began a march that ended with 30,000 farmers converging on Dublin and securing negotiating rights for farmers with the Government.

The west Cork men were led by National Farmers' Association president, Rickard Deasy from Tipperary. His son, Ruaidhri, was present in Bantry on Thursday to see the five surviving marchers and relatives of the other 11 who walked the 217 miles to Dublin honoured by IFA president Joe Healy.

“I brought my father back to Bantry for the 25th anniversary of the march and to see the bond and the camaraderie between him and the men who walked with him all the way to Dublin. It was no wonder they succeeded – no one was going to stop them,” he said.

Three-week sit-in

Joined by farmers from all over Ireland, the west Cork men and Rickard Deasy marched to the Department of Agriculture. Charlie Haughey refused to meet them and nine of them staged a three-week sit-in until Mr Haughey conceded and they won the right to negotiate for farmers.


Among those honoured at the ceremony in Bantry was Johnny O'Sullivan (70) from Kealkill who admitted they had no idea how they were going to fare when they set out for Dublin. "It could well have been a flop but as we went along momentum grew and a good crowds came out to meet us."

"There was a huge crowd to meet us in Mitchelstown and South Tipperary joined us in Cahir and when we got to Portlaoise, Kerry, Clare, Limerick and North Tipp joined us there so it was building up all the way – it was the first time the Irish farmer got a voice. After that he had a voice."

Fellow marcher Jackie Sullivan (77) from Bere Island recalled that it was foggy, dark morning as he rowed over to Castletownbere to catch a 7.30am bus to Bantry to join with Deasy and the others intent on bringing their case to the Department of Agriculture in Dublin.

Sore feet

“It was Fair Day and I remember meeting TJ Maher coming down from the church wearing a pair of Czechoslovakian boots – there were a lot of sore feet that first day. You made sure quick enough that you a good pair of boots because we were doing 19 or 20 miles a day.

"Do you know what made it? Seven Days was on television and they covered it and that's what made it – it got huge coverage. It even made the American papers at the time and eventually after the sit-in we won the right to negotiate for farmers so it proved well worth it in the end."

Among the other men presented with commemorative plaques in Bantry by Healy were fellow surviving marchers Michael Keohane from Coomhola, Jim Morris from Drimoleague and Tom Mullins from Bantry, as well as relatives of the other 11 marchers.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times