Like father, like son (1)
‘On January 9th, 1967 the pent-up frustration finally boiled over as all over Ireland farmers blocked the major roads using tractors and farm machinery. The bridge over the Shannon at Rooskey was the scene of one such blockade. The first to stop his tractor on the bridge and refuse to move it was Hugh Leddy. The second to join him was his near neighbour Tony Gannon. They, in turn, were joined by a hundred more. The Government was alarmed and threatened to proscribe the NFA using the old British laws. The leaders were brought to court and were fined. The fine, imposed by Justice Loftus, was £5 or three months in jail in default. They refused to pay the fine (even after it was reduced). The government found they could not break the farmers and Hugh Leddy was in the next group of many to be sent to Mountjoy/Portlaoise for a few weeks’
– Courtesy of The Leitrim Observer (2006)
‘There were so many protests that I remember being on with Adrian Leddy. There was one at the Johnstown Castle Hotel in Wexford. It was getting fairly lively, there was a big crowd of farmers protesting. Suddenly squad cars arrived and there were Gardai everywhere. There was a Garda, now I can’t remember the precise details, but he was quite stern, he meant business, he stood in front of the protesting farmers and he took out a notebook and he starting taking names. He looked like he was going making arrests…all of a sudden a very, very tall man emerged out of nowhere from the back of the group of protesting farmers…and that man (Adrian Leddy) said: “Guard…this is about our human rights! These people are fighting for their human rights…fighting for their livelihoods!”’
– Des McHugh, Leitrim IFA Chairman, speaking in Hannon’s Hotel, Roscommon, Saturday, November 2, 2019
Adrian Leddy is sitting across from me in the Abbey Hotel, having accepted my invitation to indulge in some reminiscing. He has reached a milestone in his career. You could say that Adrian is keeping the rugby boots on, but tucking the wellingtons away. He will continue as a leading rugby administrator and supporter (with Creggs, and at Connacht/IRFU level). But he is hanging up his wellingtons with the IFA. He has worked for the organisation for almost 45 years, and has been Regional Development Officer (for counties Roscommon, Leitrim, Longford and Sligo) for over 30 years. He will stay on until the end of the year. There are elections ongoing in the organisation, and a new national President will take up office soon. One of the most recognisable and popular farm leaders in the West (and further afield) has decided to retire after a long and distinguished career.
The expression ‘Like father, like son’ came to mind when I read the above quotes from a copy of The Leitrim Observer which reported on the passing of Adrian’s father, Hugh Leddy, in 2006.
Adrian Leddy has spent most of his adult life fighting the cause for farmers, and he certainly didn’t have far to go for inspiration. His late father, a founding member of the IFA, was jailed in 1967 for his prominent role in the historic farmers’ rights campaign. Hugh Leddy was Leitrim NFA Chairman at the time. Father and son were keen sportsmen too…
He was born in Umera, Annaduff, Co. Leitrim in 1951, one of four children of Hugh and Patricia Leddy. His sisters are Bernadette, Michelle and Patricia. They were tough times. Three generations of the Leddys shared a thatched cottage (an extension was built on when Adrian’s grandparents Michael and Catherine moved in).
“We had no bathroom, no running water, no electricity…it was the era of the Tilley lamp” Adrian recalled this week. “We’d listen to Michael O’Hehir’s football commentaries on a transistor radio…we used to have to go into Mohill to get the batteries charged for it”.
Hugh Leddy earned a modest income bringing milk to the local creamery. Life revolved around farming. From the age of nine or ten, Adrian was getting up at around 7 o’clock in the morning to milk “up to ten cows by hand” before walking to school.
“I loved it. That was the way of life in those days. We were self-sufficient. We had a dairy farm, we were ‘drystock’ too. We had pigs and poultry. Paddy Duignan called once a week with his travelling shop. We bought stuff off him and he took eggs in exchange”.
His mother was a quiet, hard-working woman who worked on the farm daily. It was a great upbringing in a special place, where neighbours happily invoked the Meitheal spirit.
Adrian loved the farming way of life, but his father was looking at the bigger picture. One day, when Adrian was about 12 or 13, his father explained that the farm wasn’t big enough for the three men of the house. Adrian would be going to boarding school in St. Nathy’s in Ballaghaderreen. He understood his parents’ reasoning. Besides, rural electrification was coming in, “so now we had a milking machine!”
After St. Nathy’s, he got a job with FBD in Dublin (1970). He met his future wife, Paula (then working for the Farmers Journal, as secretary to Matt Dempsey) in the Irish Farm Centre. They’ve been together ever since. In 1975 Adrian and Paula were married, and started a new life in Donegal, Adrian with the IFA and Paula working at Raphoe Livestock Mart and also freelancing as a photographer with the Farmers Journal.
They both loved Donegal, and went on to spend thirteen very enjoyable years there. Then, in 1988, Adrian was appointed IFA Regional Officer, based in Roscommon Town. He pays tribute to everyone he has worked with over the years, particularly Noelle Rogerson in the Roscommon office.
The years have flown by. New technology brought changes. In the late 1980s very few farmers had a phone in their house. “It meant you had to call to their farm to meet them…you got to know the entire family. You made great friends. Then when the mobile phones arrived, it became less personal, which was a pity really”.
The other enormous change over the years has been the increased bureaucracy, the form-filling and regulations’ culture which has been so testing for many farmers. Adrian says he hates to see money going back to the EU, and since the direct payment structure was introduced he has always encouraged farmers to apply for all available schemes. But the ‘red tape’ has been a challenge, especially for elderly farmers.
He’s very concerned for the future of small farmers, citing the dominance of big farms, the “massive increase” in forestry planting, as well as cultural changes and depopulation. He laments the closure of so many factories throughout rural Ireland.
“When places like Hanley’s in Rooskey and Atlantic Mills/Burlington in Clondra were thriving, there was huge employment. Farmers in this region were investing in sheds and farm equipment…the farmers had that income from the day job too”.
He appreciates that young people now have other career ambitions, but says that large-scale job creation in rural towns and villages could at least breathe some new life into farming communities.
Like father, like son (2)
‘Hugh Leddy lined out around midfield dressed in a pair of old long trousers and with the socks pulled up over the bottom ends. He could have been close to 40 years and was slowing down. We were playing a neighbouring club and rivalry was intense. He started to solo from midfield heading for the town goals. Two hardy looking fellows decided they were going to ‘take him out’. Both converged on him at speed. They hit him with everything they had but their shoulders from each side perfectly cancelled each other out. He took the shock as if nothing had happened. They fell away like rag dolls and he kept up the solo run to thunderous roars, cheers and applause’
– Courtesy of The Leitrim Observer (2006)
‘There were lots of skirmishes in the rugby matches…quite a few of them I created myself! There was no protection in the lineout in those days…fist fights were usual, but it was all forgotten about at the final whistle, we went to the bar then and were the best of friends. I remember playing for Creggs one day, away to Corinthians. I was in a punch-up with an opposing player…next thing his wife ran on to the pitch and started hitting me with an umbrella. Another day, I was involved with another opponent (punches being traded)…suddenly the touch judge came on. HE was with the other team…and he started hitting me with the flagpole! I retaliated and he was spread-eagled. The referee had the touch judge replaced and I managed to stay on the field!’
– Adrian Leddy, speaking in the Abbey Hotel, Roscommon, on Monday, November 11th, 2019
Like father, like son. They both played for Annaduff (Hugh also played for Eslin). They were both hard to stop! That depiction of Hugh Leddy as a marauding sportsman on the GAA field also evokes memories of Adrian in his prime as a formidable rugby player.
The rugby career started by chance. A keen athlete when he was a young lad in Leitrim, he enjoyed great success, winning Connacht medals. Now he was living in Dublin. After lining out in an FBD 7-a-side Business House League, a friend encouraged him to join the Railway Union Club Junior team. He had no idea of the rules, but took to the game straight away (“I was fast with the ball in those days!”).
When he moved to Donegal, he joined City of Derry Rugby Club. He was one of only four or five Catholics on the team (“We gelled well with the other tradition…until we had a few pints in!”) and ended up playing there for years, including against household names such as Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson. He remained loyal to Annaduff GAA. The late Stanley Cox would send him a postcard with the date of the next match, and Adrian would travel from Donegal to play. He admits (just a touch sheepishly) that when he and Paula were on honeymoon, he drove back to Annaduff for two league matches!
Rugby has been an enormous part of his life. When the Leddys moved to Roscommon, Adrian joined Creggs RFC, where he made a huge impact as player, coach, administrator. He is extremely proud of all that has been achieved at the club – on and off the field – praising the “great community effort and volunteerism”. Adrian was instrumental in starting the Mini Rugby at the club, and very influential in developing Youth and Ladies Rugby too. He has risen the ranks, becoming President of Connacht in 2014/2015. He currently represents Connacht at IRFU level and remains very involved with Creggs. He loves the way sport – rugby in particular – instills discipline and a sense of respect in young people, greatly aiding their development and life skills.
Adrian and Paula love living in Roscommon, where they have raised four sons and two daughters. There will be more time now to spend with their children (Hugh, Aine, John, Ruairi, Emmet and Aoife) and their three grandchildren (Anna, Harry and Ruby).
Time to spend with friends too. “We have made great friends over the years” Adrian said this week as he prepares to hand on the IFA baton (his successor is John O’Hanlon, former Manager of Ballymahon Mart).
He remembers that cold day in January of 1967. He was there, aged 16. There was up to a hundred farmers at the bridge in Rooskey. They had had enough. The leader was Hugh Leddy. Adrian remembers the tension, the atmosphere, the determination of the farmers. His own future flashing before him, as it happens. His father was arrested and taken off to serve a few weeks in jail. Adrian is proud of all the farmers who were jailed; “that’s why we honour them on the big anniversaries of the campaign!”
A couple of years before he died (aged 83), Hugh Leddy was badly hurt in a farm accident. Adrian was with his father that day, and was able to come to his assistance, with the help of some neighbours. Father and son remained close. Farming was a common bond between them. As Adrian rose within the IFA, father and son had many long chats about farming, about the issues of the day.
The years go by. From Annaduff to Dublin to Donegal and Derry, to Roscommon, with great days in between on rugby fields in Creggs, Connacht and further afield. The IFA book is closing, memories to cherish. On now to the next chapter.