Sheep farmer 'decommissions' guns as he channels Martin McGuinness in struggle with dog walkers

Making a point: Andy 'the Bull' McSharry dons a distinctive head-dress to publicise his campaign to ban hill-walkers from bringing dogs on to lands where sheep are grazing. Photo: Ernie Leslie
Making a point: Andy 'the Bull' McSharry dons a distinctive head-dress to publicise his campaign to ban hill-walkers from bringing dogs on to lands where sheep are grazing. Photo: Ernie Leslie
Andy's guns have been taken off him, but he has a dagger for protection. Photo: Ernie Leslie

Patrick O'Connell

A SHEEP farmer whose guns were taken off him after he fired shots to warn off a dog on his lands now sleeps with a dagger on his belt in fear of rural crime gangs.

But Andy 'the Bull' McSharry said this week he won't "lick anyone's boots" just to have his own licensed shotgun and rifle returned.

The 58-year-old bachelor, who farms 45 acres of sheep grazing lands in the shadow of Benwiskin, Sligo, is at the centre of a stand-off with the State over hill-walkers bringing dogs on a right of way running through his lands.

And this week he launched his 'Good Friday 2' campaign where he walks the local roads and boreens, wearing a head-dress of a sheep's fleece and a sprig of holly, in a bid to bring publicity to his plight.

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Andy's guns have been taken off him, but he has a dagger for protection. Photo: Ernie Leslie
Andy's guns have been taken off him, but he has a dagger for protection. Photo: Ernie Leslie

"I'm calling on the government to introduce legislation that would ban hill-walkers from bringing dogs on to lands where sheep are grazing," he said.

"People have said it makes me look ridiculous but I'm not afraid to have people laugh at me if it brings publicity for my cause. "After I had my guns taken from me I was sat in bed worrying about it until I remembered how Martin McGuinness dealt with decommissioning. If Martin McGuinness was willing to give up the IRA's guns in pursuit of peace then I can do the same in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to this."

The controversial farmer's latest brush with the authorities came last week when he noticed his sheep being "ruffled up" by a dog.

"I could see a couple of hillwalkers up there walking and an English-registered car at the entrance to the walks. So I came back to the house and got the gun out and fired two shots into the ground - thinking it was my land - as a warning but I was subsequently informed by gardai that I'd broken the gun act.

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"Basically, what I was doing was making a warning sound that would echo through the valley so the people might have the brain to come out of there, away from the sheep they were intruding on.

"But instead, they caught the dog and continued up the walk with the dog loose."

Andy says he tried to contact his local Grange garda station four times, then rang the main station in Sligo, who directed him back to Grange.

"So then I got to speak with a female officer who didn't sound too pleased with me." He says that  two-and-a-half hours later, shortly after the hillwalkers left, two police cars appeared, and an officer said "it's like this Andy, we're here to seize your guns". "A double-barrel shotgun and a .22 hunting rifle and two boxes of ammunition, I gave it all to them. This had left me disarmed and embarrassed. 

"So what I came up with after a while was that I would look towards Martin McGuinness. He made peace and he disarmed the IRA. "I had made peace with the hillwalkers over seven years back so I said to myself I will now allow my guns to go for decommissioning. So I'll let the guns go. 

"I was told I could go to the local garda super or to the court looking for my guns back. But I'm certainly not going to lick anyone's shoes or be made a boy of to get my guns back.

"Martin McGuinness was brave enough, so I'm going to show them that I too am brave enough. I'll fight my campaign, without guns, and it's called Good Friday 2." Andy is aware of his vulnerability as an unarmed bachelor farmer. "I have the greatest of respect for Padraig Nally (who was jailed for shooting dead a trespasser in 2005) and the actions he took," he said.

"He did it for the people of Ireland living out in the wilderness like us.

"I have a baseball bat screwed on to the wall above my bed and I sleep every night with a dagger that was left to me by a soldier in my belt. "I've given up my guns but I'll not be put in a box over that if I can help it."

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