'Ireland's Fittest Family' farmer weeps as 1,000-cattle herd auctioned to pay €2.4m bank debt
Published 13/04/2016 | 02:30
Peter Kingston wept as he admitted his family never imagined an internationally renowned dairy operation bought 44 years ago with honey profits would end so bitterly.
The father of four broke down as he surveyed his 175-acre Cork farm and the auction of his award-winning 1,000-plus cattle herd on foot of a €2.4m debt to ACC Bank.
The farmer (51) had to stop media interviews when he was overcome by emotion after admitting his greatest concern was the impact the cattle sale, directed by the Cork Sheriff, might have on his father George (77).
"It is very hard. To see your life being burned in front of you... I may be bad today, but if you go to the shed over there, I wouldn't want to see my father," he said.
"Farming wasn't just his life - it was his therapy. But the phoenix rose from the ashes and I will too."
About 50 protesters failed to halt the day-long bank-sought cattle auction. They demonstrated on the roadway outside Craden Hill farm and took photographs of cars entering the auction.
Several foreign cattle buyers were verbally challenged over their attendance. However, there were no incidents and the auction proceeded amid a heavy private security presence with gardaí also in attendance.
The auction, supervised by Cork Sheriff Sinead McNamara, was conducted on foot of a court judgment to ACC Bank over a €2.4m debt owed by Mr Kingston.
A High Court injunction was also granted on Monday preventing anyone associated with the New Land League or other named groups from interfering with the auction.
Ms McNamara, when asked if the auction was a landmark event for other farmers with bank debts, insisted she was merely following legal procedures.
"I have a statutory duty to execute orders that are lodged with my office for execution," she said. She described the sales as "brisk" but acknowledged a larger crowd was expected.
Land rights and debt relief campaigner Jerry Beades, attended the demonstration outside the farm but did not seek entry to the auction. "I have great sympathy for the plight the Kingston family find themselves in," he said.
Mr Beades claimed such auctions are "stage-managed to send a message to other people who have serious bank debts".
Mr Kingston said he was deeply grateful for the support shown to him by his family.
Two years ago, the Kingstons won an RTÉ competition to find 'Ireland's Fittest Family'.
"It's hard to watch everything that you and your family have worked for be destroyed in front of your very eyes," said Mr Kingston. "We bought the farm back in 1972. My father kept bees. He had a bumper year for honey...So he had a bit of money and he always loved dairy farming. This place (Craden Hill) was available and he put a deposit down.
"It was a leap of faith, but he loved dairy farming and it all really started from there."