Why his likes will never be seen again
WHEN Rickard Deasy came to power as president of the NFA in January 1962, a decade before the windows of opportunity opened to us through the EEC, agriculture in Ireland was totally at the mercy of Britain with its cheap food policy, and politics here were still overshadowed by the Civil War.
While other sectors of the economy had started to assert themselves through National Wage Round increases and shorter working weeks, farmers were being left behind.
As militancy began to build up in the ranks of the NFA, Deasy proved to be truly a man of his time. After attempting unsuccessfully to negotiate a better deal, he seized the opportunity to bring farmers' plight to the attention of the country at large by the imaginative marches on Dublin from the four corners of rural Ireland and, later, through a campaign of civil disobedience.
The abiding memory most people have of him was the image on their TV screens and in their newspapers of this tall military figure wearing a Montgomery-style beret and carrying a blackthorn stick as he strode purposefully along the 217 miles of road from Bantry to Dublin in October 1966.
While the march and the subsequent sit-down on the steps of Government Buildings caught the imagination of the general public, people outside farming may have forgotten now that the Farmers Rights Campaign lasted a further testing six months and it was during this difficult period, when farmers were being jailed and goods and animals seized from farms for non-payment of rates, that Deasy's mettle was really tested. He was not found wanting.
The general public came to know the NFA's second president as a straight-talking man with an impressive command of the English language (albeit spoken with an Oxford accent).
Privately, he was a rather aloof man, but he inspired an intense commitment from his staff and from the NFA membership of the day. The awe in which he was still held right up to the time of his death last week was apparent at the IFA celebrations of the Farmers Rights Campaign 40th anniversary and at the farmers' march in Dublin last October when thousands reached out to shake his hand even touch him.
If there was one single thing farmers should remember Rickard Deasy for, it was that he made it possible for them to have respect for themselves and for the contribution they make to the economy of the country.