Monday 20 May 2019

We are 'pig sick' of this

Fingal farmer Patrick Walsh was brutally beaten this month and he tells John Manning why it is time to act to protect rural communities

Patrick Walsh at his home in Lispopple
Patrick Walsh at his home in Lispopple
A packed meeting of farmers in Balbriggan, two years ago, talking about rural crime. Patrick Walsh says nothing has changed and there needs to be another meeting on the issue

It was All-Ireland day, an ordinary, family Sunday for the Walsh family until four invaders came to shatter it and turn this ordinary day into a nightmare.

Patrick Walsh, a farmer from Lispopple has no memory of 20 minutes of that day and that is because he spent part of it lying unconscious on the ground near his farm after being brutally beaten up by four men.

Patrick described how the day began: 'Basically it happened on Sunday, I think it was September 2. It was the Sunday of the All-Ireland Final.

'I was off feeding the cattle around eight o'clock on Sunday morning and there was people in the field, down the road.

'I saw them and went down to them and by the time I got down to them, they were loading their dogs into the car, and as I pulled up, the just shot past me and nearly cut the nose off me.

'I thought no more about it, because this is has become a common thing out here in North County Dublin.'

These were men with dogs, ostensibly hunting hares, a protected species but on private land with no permission -- in other words, trespassers.

The day returned to routine, according to Patrick who said the family had breakfast and went to mass in Rolestown and returned home looking forward to watching Dublin in the All-Ireland.

Patrick said: 'When the match was over we sat down to have our dinner and at around 7pm, I sat down to watch Countryfile, a farming programme on BBC1. I was only sitting down when my phone rang and it was my mother.'

With that phone call, the Walsh family Sunday was about to take a dark turn. Patrick said: 'She only lives up around the corner and she told me there were two lads out with the cattle and the cattle are all over the place.

'That was about 7.15pm. I got in the jeep and went up the road and I met this car with two guys in the car and they shot past me fairly quickly and I thought this doesn't look right so I turned the jeep and followed the car back down here to Griffins.

'At Griffins they stopped and I just pulled alongside them and rolled down the window and said: 'I hope you weren't out there with them dogs.'

'Your man said they weren't but he said: 'What if we were?'

'Now the way he said that was very aggressive, very in your face. I told them to go on about their business and they pulled out in front of me and I followed them down as far as Pat Moore's and all the time they kept hitting the breaks really severely, trying to get me to run into them.

'So when they got to the end of my land and were gone, I turned back. So I came back here and drove in the gate and with that, I saw two guys and two dogs running across the field here and that field was full of cows and calves and they were running to the gate.

'I turned the jeep and came back down to the gate. They were loading the dogs into the car again at the gate.'

There were two men inside the car, and two outside, at the back of the car.

Patrick continued: ' I got out of the jeep and asked them what they were doing and as I walked by the older one, I just saw a flash on the side of my face and that's where he punched me.

'When he punched me I sort of spun around and next thing I got a kick in the ribs. When I got the kick in the ribs, that's when I went down on the ground and when I was on the ground, that's when they all started to lay into me.

'I don't know whether that went on for a minute or two minutes or five minutes, I haven't a clue. But the next thing, I woke up and I was lying on the road on my own.'

Patrick, bruised and beaten, climbed back into his jeep and headed for home. He was found by Michael Hoey of Country Crest who was the good Samaritan of the story and helped him home and called the gardaí.

The Lispopple farmer said: 'All I wanted to do was get back inside that door because to me, the house is still a sanctuary. I knew once I got in, I would be dry, I would be warm and I would be people who really cared for me.

'I've lived here all my life and I get on very well with all my neighbours. I wouldn't live anywhere else in the world but I just see this year on year getting gradually worse and where is it going to end? Nobody feels safe anymore.'

Patrick's wife, Michelle gave her reaction to the terrifying incident, saying: 'I wouldn't like to think that something like that could happen again because the next time, he might not be so lucky and he might not walk away from it.

'They could have had a bar or anything to hit you across the head with. He could be dead, they could have killed him.

'I really was not expecting to come back in here in that state. I was very shocked and we are still very shocked over it.

'It takes a couple of weeks to get over something like that.

'Just being in the house alone here at night if he had to go to a meeting or something like that, you are thinking what if they come back?

'I'm here with three very small children so you just think if they come back, what do you do?'

Patrick says the children keep asking him 'will the bad men come back' and though he reassures them that they won't, he cannot be sure of that and he cannot be sure he wouldn't do the same thing all over again.

He said: 'I grew up here where my mother never locked the back door and people just came and went all the time and we were always very happy as schoolchildren to walk home from school and that's all after changing.

'This farm is in my family a long, long time. My father would have farmed it before me and his father before him so I suppose we would have come out here in the 1920s or 30s.

'It's not something I would want to give up - I love it. My grandfather brought it on for his son, my dad brought it on for me and I have two sons and a daughter now and I hope some of them pick up the mantel at some stage and do what I've done.'

But, he added: 'The way I look at it, if this keeps going on the way it's going on they are going to put me out of farming.

'A man's house is meant to be the safest place in the world. If you can't sit down with your family on a Sunday evening and enjoy a bit of tv after having your dinner without this sort of thing happening, where are we going as a society?'

Patrick ended up in James Connolly Hospital that night and got six stitches under his eye, he had a dislocated shoulder and four cracked ribs.

The incident appears to have galvanised not only the local rural community but farming communities all over the country. The Irish Farmers' Association and gardaí have responded to the incident and a momentum is building behind a movement to fight back against violent rural crime with a public meeting expected to be called in Fingal in the coming days, to discuss the issue.

Patrick said that the four men he confronted that night did more than beat him up, they threatened the safety of his family and that he cannot forgive.

He said the rural community were 'pig sick' of these kind of incidents which are growing in both frequency and severity.

He said: 'At this stage, people are pig sick of it and not only that, and this is reason I went public with it, I'm a relatively young and fit man and if that had been a man in his 70s or 80s, they would have killed him.

'I get the impression after what happened me that night, that they wouldn't have cared. I'm just trying to emphasise to people that these guys are a breed onto themselves and just be very, very careful when you're confronting them.'

Patrick said it was time for gardaí to clamp down on the activities of these gangs. He said: 'The gardaí are the law of the country and they have to tackle these people head on.'

Michelle agreed and said simply: 'This has to be stopped. They have to be stopped. Our lives are being threatened, seriously threatened.'

A public meeting on the issue is due to be held soon in Fingal and the Fingal Independent will bring you news of that event when it is confirmed.

Fingal Independent