29 March 2006

Farmer gives €1.6m land to Travellers

Irish Independent

Brendan Morley

AN ELDERLY bachelor farmer is giving away his land worth €1.6m to the local Traveller community.

Eighty-year-old Barney Kearney, from Carnaross, Kells, Co Meath, admitted his plan had caused "a damnable racket" among the local community but he is determined to press ahead regardless of local objections. Mr Kearney, who lives in a small cottage he built with his late brother, said: "I don't need money and I don't need land.

"The only bit of land I need is six by three."

He did not "give two hoots" what happened to the farm.

Travellers had often worked on his farm in years gone by, said Mr Kearney, as he recalled memories of the women "coming to my door, the rain running out of their long hair, looking for water to boil over their camp fires.

"They led hard lives but I never had any bother with them. They are no different from the rest of us. Aren't they human beings too? If people mixed more with Travellers, they would understand them better," he said. He has instructed a local solicitor to transfer ownership of his 65 acres of prime Meath farmland to the Navan Travellers' Workshop. Two solicitors had first tried to discourage him and then refused to represent him, before a third agreed to effect the transfer. Farmland in the area is currently fetching around €25,000 an acre.

Mr Kearney said he had first considered donating the land to either Kells Town Council or the health board. He had mentioned this idea to a local politician but nobody had come back to him. It was after he listened to a radio documentary about the Traveller community that he decided to give the land to them.

He headed into Navan and went into St Mary's Church where he lit a candle and prayed for guidance.

He then went into the office of the Navan Travellers Workshop on the town's Fair Green to offer them the land.

"I hope the land will do them some good," he said, joking: "I had to do something to make up for my sins."

Navan Travellers Workshop has been in existence for 40 years, running educational and training programmes for Travellers.

A spokesman for the group said the transfer of ownership had not yet been completed and emphasised that the land would be held in trust, so no one individual would benefit.

He denied that the land would be used for a halting site and said his organisation was considering the possibility of creating a heritage park to highlight Traveller culture.

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