Johnnie Roche – The Story Behind ‘Listowel To The Liffey’

A great study by photographer, John Walsh of 'Listowel To The Liffey'  author, Johnnie Roche at the launch at the River Island Hotel.  Photograph:  John Walsh
A great study by photographer, John Walsh of ‘Listowel To The Liffey’ author, Johnnie Roche at the launch at the River Island Hotel. Photograph: John Walsh

The success of Johnnie Roche’s recently published book, Listowel to The Liffey has taken him aback, somewhat.

And that took some doing as anyone who knows him will understand.

I took a phone call in the middle of Galway City last Thursday from a lady in some branch of Easons in Kerry looking for his book and his contact number.

The recent launch at the River Island Hotel drew a crowd from all quarters of the county and many from beyond. They kept Johnnie busy at his top table signing duties until they ran out of books.

The events of 1966 – which inspired the writing of the book – were momentous by any standards then and since.

I asked Johnnie Roche to explain why he undertook the task which demanded he go to back into the diaries he kept ‘on the road’ during the march to Dublin and turn the notes there into a book.

The Story behind Listowel To The Liffey

By: Johnnie Roche

Last October saw a half-hearted celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Farmers’ Association (NFA) farmers’ rights march that took place from every county to Dublin in 1966.

It was treated by national media as a passing event that happened over a few days of that month 50 years ago.

Frank Lewis, on his excellent programme, Saturday Supplement, marked the occasion with a two hour discussion on Radio Kerry, on December 3rd.

He featured the Kerry survivors of the march and the imprisonments that followed.

Compiled and Published

During the discussion, Michael Kerins suggested a booklet should be compiled and published to mark the occasion and honour the people who marched and went to prison over the nine months of the campaign.

I agreed to take responsibility for the production, having been assured of the backing of Kerry IFA, and with the knowledge that I could call on the help of a friend, Janet Murphy.

Janet has been working with us on an historical project in Castleisland, called ‘O’Donohoe Archive’, which is now on a website, thanks to Janet.

As I had a little diary, listing the headings of day to day events along the road, I would write a synopsis of the happenings of the day.

I discovered from the families that at least two others, John Sayers and William Doyle had done likewise

This was a great boost, as it authenticated my account and I couldn’t be accused of ‘making it up’.

A Decade of Frustration

After more than a decade of frustration, trying to gain recognition as a National Farmers’ Association, with the right to represent the views and problems of the farming community, it was clearly time for us to ‘either shite or leave the bucket’.

We chose the former. We weren’t prepared to fold up our tent and go quietly as the people involved in agriculture then accounted for one third of the population.

One of the basic founding principles of both Macra na Feirme and the NFA was – non party political!

Anyone holding office at any level in party politics was ineligible to hold office in either Macra or NFA.

Farmers were split down the middle between the two main parties since the civil war and the wounds were still very raw.

Best Interests at Heart

The political parties continued to exploit this and both tried to convince their farmer supporters that they and no one else had their best interests at heart.

So they resisted making any concession to an independent farm organisation, and that resistance could only be broken by sheer people power and good leadership. 

I believe we demonstrated both our leaders gained not only national, but worldwide respect.

Rickard Deasy, our president, was a man of discipline, having been a captain in the Irish Army reserve during the ’emergency’ of World War 2.

When planning the march of 1966 he sought the advice of the army and An Garda Siochána.

He set a strict code of discipline for us marchers and our co-operation with Garda representatives on the roads was central.

Friendly and Constructive

It worked a dream and the relationship was friendly and constructive. It concluded with a mass meeting of 30,000 plus on Merrion Street in Dublin and dispersal without incident.

This I believe compares more than favourably with many modern day protests!

A delegation of nine, including our own Bob Stack, were left sitting on the pavement outside the minister’s office in Merrion Street for 22 days and nights.

We did go beyond the law for a couple of hours on January 6th, 1967. Then, we organised a national blockade at selected spots in every county.

We believed it was safer and more effective than parades of tractors and machinery. As a consequence, hundreds of participants did jail time, some as much as 28 days.

The Defining Moment

I believe the defining moment came when farmers from all 32 counties boycotted the first day of the Spring Show that year. This show was the premier farming event in the year at that time, long before the Ploughing Championships took over.

Those of us in prison at that time were released forthwith and negotiations to end the deadlock began. The government of the day eventually acknowledged that NFA had the right to negotiate on behalf of farmers.

But it took a further two or three years, with more campaigns, before we were properly accepted as a social partner.

The purpose of producing the booklet, Listowel To The Liffey is to place on record the sacrifice that thousands of members made in the 1950/60s.

It was all offered up so that the farming sector could have a national representative body, independent of politics, to cater for their interests and needs. It’s not perfect, but it’ll be only as good as it’s members make it.

Listowel to the Liffey author, Johnnie Roche can be contacted on 087 13 22 808. Email:

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