TALES FROM THE FIELDS: ‘Island’ farmers are faced with many handicaps

The O'Rourke family who lived on Inishrooske Island in Upper Lough Erne in February 1968.
The O'Rourke family who lived on Inishrooske Island in Upper Lough Erne in February 1968.

When Innishrooske Island in Upper Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, was joined to the mainland through the construction of the Ballindarragh-Innishrooske road there was general rejoicing that they had really become “part of the country”.

That was in 1910 but in February 1968 residents in the area were bitterly disappointed that the link with “the great big world” had brought so few benefits in their struggle to make farming – their main, if not only, source of income – a viable proposition.

About a dozen holdings on “the island” together with scores of others in the adjoining townlands were labouring under handicaps when compared with the advances made in other parts of the country.

Hundreds of acres of farm holdings were worked without a mains supply of electricity, without a mains supply of water, under constant threat of flooding for most of the year, with the nearest telephone kiosk involving a journey of three to four miles, and a postal service which operated on only three days of the week.

Despite constant pressure on their behalf by the UFU from branch to county committee level, it appeared that little was to be done for Innishrooske.

Mr J E Brady, secretary of the South Fermanagh Group of the Ulster Farmers’ Union said that the plight of the rural dwellers in the area was “worthy of every support and consideration and that fight would be continued on their behalf”.

Mr Brady said: “The efforts made by them in reclamation and drainage schemes and general farm improvements over the years have been most heartening despite the natural handicaps imposed on them but apparently outside help for the area is going to be slow business.”

Several requests for assistance in their flooding problems – “the townland is made into four islands several times in the year” one man said – appeared to have been put a very long finger while quotations for a electricity supply were considered “absolutely unrealistic”.

And the latest request – the siting of a telephone kiosk at a reasonably convenient centre – had also been deferred by the authorities.

“Apparently only so many unrenumerative rural sitings are allowed in the year and the Innishrooske request may take a very long time,” explained Mr Brady.

He added: “The road to the existing telephone kiosk is liable to be impassable after any rainfall with the result that milk supplies can be left on your hands, as has happened with me several times.”

Commenting on the “farcical three-day postal service” Mr and Mrs J O’Rourke said that often Ministry of Agriculture officials arrived for cattle inspections on the same as their advice notes.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that calling a doctor or a vet should entail an eight mile journey,” said Mrs O’Rourke.