The National Farmers Association (NFA) was founded 50 years ago on the Feast of the Epiphany and yesterday almost 3,000 of its faithful made another pilgrimage to Dublin to mark the anniversary.
There was an Ecumenical Service of Remembrance with Cardinal Desmond Connell, Archbishop John Neill, Rev Dr Kenneth Wilson, Methodist, and Rev Alan Mitchell, Presbyterian, taking part.
President Mary McAleese was the principal guest at a celebratory lunch, and there was praise for those who founded the Association and guided it over the past 50 years. Perhaps the most apt quotation of the entire day was a Chinese proverb used by President McAleese when praising those who founded the Association and what it had achieved: “Let those who drink the water remember with gratitude those who dug the well.”
There were performances from the Artane Boys Band, whose repertoire included a tune with the words, “We’re on the one road, sharing the one load. It’s the road to God knows where.” A concert featuring the Three Irish Tenors, a video history of the association and a specially-composed ballad, John Dillon’s Tractorcade, also featured in the day-long ceremonies.
The Feast of the Epiphany, otherwise known as The Women’s Little Christmas, is a church holiday, but the IFA is regarded as more of a moveable feast and in the eyes of many of its members it has performed economic and social miracles over the years in delivering for the sector.
Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan said it is one of the most significant, active and effective representative organisations in Ireland today.
Pride of place was given at the celebrations to the survivors of the inaugural meeting of the NFA national council. Also recognised were Hugh Leddy, Leitrim, and Jim Cahill, Clare, from the 21-day rights protest on the steps of Government Buildings in 1966.
The eight surviving past presidents and the widows of three deceased presidents, were also recognised at the ceremonies which Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv, Dermot McCarthy, secretary to the Government, and Cambell Tweed, president of the Ulster Farmers Union, also attended.
It was a day too when thoughts were focused on the victims of the disaster in South-East Asia, with Mary McGreal, chairperson Farm Family Committee, announcing that the IFA has agreed to make a €100,000 donation for disaster relief. It had chosen Concern, GOAL and Christian Aid to use these funds. “Our hearts have been touched by the devastation and the enormous scale of the natural disaster around the Indian Ocean. Many of the communities affected are rural people, small farmers and fishermen. Their lives and livelihoods have been shattered and they urgently need aid.”