Men under Thur Mountain, Farming or Fracking?

When Tamboran Resources announced that they would be focusing all their energies on North Leitrim, the name Thur Mountain was referred to.

When Tamboran Resources announced that they would be focusing all their energies on North Leitrim, the name Thur Mountain was referred to.

For some this would be for the first time. But farmers who live under the mountain close to Kiltyclogher know it for the special place it is and shared that with the Love Leitrim Group.

If the resolve of these farmers holds firm, Thur Mountain may gain national significance, fuelling not just a national debate about energy choices, or economic options, but having the potential to shine a spotlight on Irish values.

There is something about the drive to Kiltyclogher, and not just the sheep you meet on the road up to it from Manorhamilton. Surrounded by symbols of previous resistance, a mass rock and archaeological sites, small farmholds littered on the hilltops, some who emigrated, many others braced it out to survive. The statue of Sean Mac Diarmada executed leader of 1916 rising stands in the centre of his hometown, his cottage nestled, protected under Thur Mountain.

The main thing you gain from meeting farmers is their sense of pride of the place they live, and how well farming is doing now.

And statistics back them up. Minister of Agriculture Simon Coverney announced that exports from farming in 2011 exceeded expectations at 8.9 billion, well on track for Harvest 2020 targets. There is excitement in the sector at forging new international markets with strong links made with China and a trade visit planned for this year. Farming is the good news story instilling a little national lift in times of recession. Irish Farming Association figures in January said farm income rose by 27% with fewer farmers now needing to subsidise their incomes with a second job.

But for Jim Dillon, a native farmer who has worked the farm for decades, he laughs while his sense of love of his industry is palpable. He says, “Farmers are hardly in it for the money. Farming is a bug; the only cure to it is when you die. And then it goes and carries on into the next generation!”

This place missed the worst ravages of the Celtic tiger. This is an area infamous for its scenic lakes and along with rambling treks, abundant deer and archaeology make it an ideal place for the award winning Greenbox tourism sector that has been carving out a niche for itself alongside farming in recent years. Thur Mountains’ stone slab top, used to host dance and music sessions and there’s talk of reviving that. In Lough Mc Nean under Thur Mountain, local children learn how to swim in the fresh water lakes every summer in organised classes.

When you bring up the topic of gas extraction the mood changes for the farmers. Michael Gallagher who farms sheep under Thur Mountain speaks of their lack of trust in the companies

“They know the area to target, this area is not densely populated and has an older population and they think they can walk all over them.”

Jim who is in his 70’s agrees and adds “If we have to have placards on Zimmer frames we will protest against this.”

They speak of pollution through stories from farmers in America, of stark warnings from Australian tourists not to let hydraulic fracturing take hold. They speak of hearing all the promises before, of the tobacco industry and asbestos companies sounding the same decades ago. They have learned to read through promises. They are more then acutely aware of the history of their locality.

Jim says, “People fought for years to get away from foreign landlords…When the gas goes what land are we left with then? The centenary of the 1916 rising is in four years time. What would Sean Mac Diarmada say to all of this?”

They don’t believe the claims that this particular company will stop at Leitrim and Fermanagh. They see the issue as a national issue and in light of recent growth trends they warn that international markets don’t differentiate one county from another in Ireland. They see this as a direct attack on the reputation of the farming industry and cite examples in BSE and Spanish cucumber markets decimated.

Jim says, “Our green image for farming will be gone and that’s a national issue.”

And on the drive back from Kiltyclogher the sheep was now nowhere to be seen.