There is a scene in John B Keane’s play ‘The Field’, where the local parish priest is enquiring of the Bull McCabe as to why he is interfering with the sale of the widow’s field.
The Bull McCabe says ‘There’s another law stronger that common law’. Father Doran enquires ‘What’s that? The Bull replies ‘The law of the land’.
The Bull McCabe may have taken his love of the soil to the extreme; and as we have seen a more recent real life example of Tipperary farmer Patrick Quirke who was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of the murder of part-time DJ Bobby Ryan. Mary Lowry terminated the lease of her lands with Patrick Quirke. Patrick Quirke was killed over land and insane jealousy. After the affair ended and Bobby Ryan came in to Mary Lowry’s life he was going to lost out on the land. Quirke owned 50 acres and leased 110 acres. He milked 100 cows. How was he going to keep farming without the land? He needed Mary Lowry’s land and he needed it badly.
People can identify with attachment to land. Due to our history, we have had a love affair with land for centuries. Land is sacred, having been passed down from generation to generation. It is a person’s sense of identity and place. It is a source of income and pride. It confers status. However, along with religion, it has been both a source of unity and conflict amongst Irish people. To lose the farm is a shameful thing, even in these modern times. Rural Ireland is full of tales based on the dangers of a man walking up the aisle with a farm, and walking back down the aisle with only half a farm.
I see things become very nasty in my profession when there is a dispute over land. People take sides and all sense of rhyme or reason can take over and some people don’t want to listen to facts. It divides family members and often the person or family that gets the farm is hated or ostracised from the rest of the family.
My advice to people who are arguing about a property is to enter into mediation at the outset to try and resolve the dispute in an amicable manner. Disputes over land can last for years and the costs of fighting them can far outweigh the value of the land involved. Often, the area of the land in dispute is very small, but litigation may ensue because of its critical location or strategic importance to the owner concerned. The best advice to any farmer at the outset is to avoid litigation, at all costs. Arbitration is an alternative to court for resolving disputes, and can be beneficial in a boundary dispute situation, due to the reduced costs compared to court, and should always be given serious consideration.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.
Disclaimer: While every care is taken to ensure accuracy of information contained in this article, solicitor Karen Walsh does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising, and you should seek legal advice in relation to your particular circumstances at the earliest possible time.