Gildea Land Dispute in Donegal.

Don’t fucking talk to me about that woman, says the 89-year-old lady, referring to her daughter.   I don’t want to hear her fucking name.

The place is Letterkenny Circuit court, and Nora Gildea is suing Nora Kelly for possession of 30 acres of land, but old Mrs Gildea isn’t the only one suing.   Apart from her mother, Mrs Kelly’s  two brothers, Chris and Dan are also in court seeking ownership, though in fairness to Dan, all he wants is a shed and a bit of ground around it, while  Christopher, like their aged mother, wants the lot.  Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Dan twice found himself before the courts and has had a restraining injunction imposed on him.  Dan claims he’s been using the shed for years, fixing cars, but the Kellys claim he only started dumping old cars there since the dispute broke out, and produced evidence to support their assertion.

Nora Gildea
Nora Gildea

It’s hard to know what this is more like — The Field or The Poor Mouth.  Passions are running as high as anything the Bull McCabe might generate, but the story is pure Myles na gCopaleen.  You can almost see Chris and Dan sitting on top of the chicken hut in their bare feet, discussing the weather.

Isn’t it a bad sign that the ducks are in the nettles?

Old Mrs Gildea is the star of the show, though, without question, while the two boys really have only minor walk-on parts.  Spear-carriers, so to speak, or maybe pitch-forks.

What’s all this about?  Well, Nora Kelly inherited this land from an uncle, Willie John Kennedy in 2007, and old Nora doesn’t like it.  Apart from anything else, she reckons that the land wasn’t her brother’s in the first place, and he had no business leaving it to anyone.   The original owner was John Kennedy, who died in the late 1930s, when Nora would have been about 14.  Nora seems to be suggesting that her brother  inherited the farm using skullduggery, by means of what she describes as a forced will.   Or, to put it another way, Nora feels entitled to own the land and has harboured that feeling for the last 75 years.

Oddly enough, old Nora’s son, Jack, inherited twice as much as his sister, but the old lady isn’t suing him.  When asked why, she replied, Because he never bothered me.

Chris Gildea told the court that he already owns 60 acres, but a wee bit more would do no harm.  He also wants to take the land left to his sister, but not that left to his brother, and his basis for the claim is that he had free grazing for his sheep since since 1971.

You should go into politics, barrister Peter Nolan told him, because you are incapable of giving a straight answer.

It’s not the most uplifting of tales, but it tells you a lot about the mindset of small landowners in Ireland.

In common with everyone born and bred in a city, this is outside my personal understanding, but those who work in the broader agriculture area once told me that farmers divide the world into two: those who own land and those who don’t.  People who are not landowners don’t matter, and this is what makes me think that the Donegal case goes well beyond simple avarice.  Maybe these people are arguing about things that define their very deepest sense of self-worth and this is why they regard it as worth tearing their family to pieces.

Maybe this is why an old woman, instead of seeking reconciliation with everyone in her life as most of us would wish towards the end of our days, can still muster the bitterness to dismiss her daughter in such vitriolic terms.

I find that sad, but I’m not a countryman.





22 thoughts on “Gildea Land Dispute in Donegal.

  1. I once dealt with a boundary dispute between a father and son, both well respected, where the son was being given almost two hundred acres of land by the father.
    The Father wished to keep an acre around his house and wanted the boundary kept 1 meter outside the ditch surrounding the house at one side to allow him to maintain both sides of the ditch into the future.
    The son reckoned that he didn’t need this strip 30m long x 1m wide and held up the whole transaction, even though it was going to cost him (The son) a ridiculous amount of money (Up to €100K in taxes) if it wasn’t transferred prior to him reaching a certain age. This despite the fact that it was likely that the house and remaining acre including the disputed strip would be transferred to him on the death of his father in the future.
    Once I got agreement between the two men (finally) literally 24 hours before the deadline, I asked the son a very simple question,WHY?
    The answer I got was, THEY’RE NOT MAKING ANY MORE LAND..

    This gave me my insight into this kind of mindset. I do not and cannot get to grips with it, but this is how these people think.

  2. Nah, ye not a countryman, neither am I a countrywoman…

    …but after years and years down the country in a forgotten place in East Clare where you still don’t get served in the local shop (or only with a scowl) because you mentioned Edna O’Brien lightheartedly at the check-out as one of your favourite writers…

    …and where the farmer can shoot at and hurt your dog on a public road, because that dog MIGHT threaten his wooly lamb chops though same dog being on a leash…

    …and where the local guard, lured reluctantly from his comfortable chair – on which he positioned his comfortable behind – by being called for a “shooting incident”, only to tell you that this is the way of the country folk, and why being so hostile against farmers…

    …and where your friendly pensioner-neighbour cuts helpfully your grass with his little sit-on-lawnmower and cuts happily all your carefully planted little trees and shrubs and then claims that this part of the lawn is his anyway, because he cuts the grass – and you want to kill him…

    …and where families go to court or into the graveyard because of “land disputes”, and only when they are killed in same dispute everyone shakes their head and says “it was only a piece of land” but it was a good turnout for the funeral, and who is going to inherit the field anyway now…

    …and where the village solicitor knows the solution, as does the priest and the undertaker and the local shopkeeper and the publican who are likely one and the same person or at least related or in the same golf club, unless the publicans are at loggerheads anyway (there is always more than one publican in one village)…

    … where did that sentence start? And what did I want to say with it? Never mind. That’s country life. A never ending loop of madness, backwardness and non sequitur.

    Myles na gCopaleen was right – culchies altogether them…

  3. Bock ur brillant,
    Carrig why the fuck do you live there ever hear the saying “life is too short”.
    My gran used tell the following.
    A local farmes son when asked if he had any luck at the dance the night before replied
    ” I met a lovely girl but blast it wasn’t she out of a cottage”
    ie no land

  4. This is the sort of ‘rollicks that should feature regularly in story lines on Emmerdale (Farm!). Beat this one Dingles!

  5. I am a country man (Somerset, in the West of England, real yokel country), but never experienced such bitterness there.

    Living now in the Irish Midlands, I am familiar with a situation where a row over forty acres of marginal land ((maybe €5-€6,000 an acre) left in a will to one cousin and not the other has so far led to a day in the High Court and death threats.

  6. Mark, I still live here, because I have a lovely house (plus mortgage) and because there is more to country life than just the usual yokels.
    As “close-knit” (I love that word, I picture an entangled jumper or some Laocoon-situation) communities go, you just don’t let yourself get knitted in. And there are some other un-knitted outsiders around, I get along with just fine.
    Besides, I’m known for shooting back, figuratively, of course…

  7. Not so funny when they get the bill. This fighting over inheritance is not just limited to farms. Most cases , about 90% never come to court and are not limited to farms. It is a wide spread problem but one very profitable to the legal profession.

  8. …and what culchies even hate more are townies and outsiders coming in laying down the law…

  9. When in Rome…..etc, etc.

    To quote the Bull McCabe. The question of land ownership in Ireland is deep, very deep and I think we all know the reason for this. And a lot of foolish behaviour stems from this obsession to own your own land.

    None the less, I have a lovely house in west Clare. I am a townie myself. I have experienced nothing but kindness and generosity from my great neighbours and love the area and the great neighbours I am blessed to have. In general the rural community in this country are wonderful people with gret hearts and in many cases are a lot more tolerant and compasionate then their so called liberal townie cousins.
    There was a German one time who lived in the locality and he tried to close off a small area of a tiny beach, because he reckoned that it was his private land. Strictly speaking he might have had a point. He no longer lives in the area.

  10. The genocidal culture in Rwanda was built on an obsession with the acquisition of farms and the status they conferred. When the Belgians began the arbitrary division of society there, having ten cows or more conferred the status of being a Tutsi on a person (having the cows would require having the necessary land to keep the cows).

    Land ownership is still a mark of social standing in even ‘sophisticated’ societies. Look at the attachment to their estates among the ‘aristocracy’ in Britain.

  11. There was pseudo-scientific 19th Century racial theory – Tutsis were said to be more Arab and Hutus more African – they even measured noses. 90% of the people were indistinguishable from each other, the divisions were economic: upwardly mobile Hutus might become Tutsis.

    In agricultural societies, land ownership was a mark of social standing. It looks as though that perception continues in Donegal.

  12. Long John, interesting about yer man try to close off access to a beach, I know of another “blow-in” from western climes trying to do the same thing to a small little-used municipal harbour on the south-west coast. This person eventually backed down after it was made abundantly clear just what would happen if they pursued their course of action.

  13. Ian, your perception of Hutu an Tutsi is very simple, I dare say colonial. They always have been different people, Tutsi being the more, let’s say in our western terms, educated people, whatever that means.

    Actually they were people who felt superior to other tribes, which annoyed the Hutu no end.

    ( I put it very simply here, the story is way more complex).

    Both people fought each other before the white men interfered and put up rules which were more destructive than the original dispute.

    It’s a long story, and not everything started with the interference of white men. They do have a history of their own, ye know..

    How do I know that? My Ex used to live in Rwanda for five years as a charity worker just before the massacre started.
    We had contact with exiled Rwandans from both sides afterwards, and believe me, it’s not about land fighting as such as in Ireland, it’s a class and tribal issue which existed since mankind discovered that land means food. It’s about pure survival.

    Now, in Ireland it isn’t so much of a potatoe patch anymore, but it’s still the fear of lacking land and potatoe patches, methinks. A bit backward.

    To reply to Bock’s question about land madness in other countries:
    No idea, means, never heard about it where I come from.
    There are though, so I’ve heard, squabbles about the garden fence in suburban estates (very German…) and I can imagine that deep in the mountains and/or the farming communities are the odd squabbles, but basically it’s unheard of that people go to court or kill each other over land.

    I might be ill-informed and hence wrong, but then I’m originally a city girl, who’s most rural pleasure was the balcony with barely surviving geraniums.

    I got murderous thoughts, though, when my neighbour forgot to water same geraniums while I was enjoying a holiday under palm and olive trees… I was very fond of my balcony after all…

  14. Carrig,

    Ah, sure, what would I know, I’ve only been there four times visiting development projects and have only had a Hutu friend staying since November – who told me himself the divisions were rooted in economic divisions.

  15. @ Carrig
    You appear to make sweeping statements of ” fact” as evidenced in your reply to Ian.
    But there does not appear to be any substance to your statement.
    Do you have any other references regarding your “facts” about Rwanda, other then your ex’s opinions?

    You also stated
    “Now, in Ireland it isn’t so much of a potato patch anymore, but it’s still the fear of lacking land and potato patches, methinks. A bit backward.”
    Can you explain in a little more detail what you mean by the above statement.

  16. @ Carrig
    ” It’s a class and tribal issue which existed since mankind discovered that land means food “………That sounds very Irish to me.

  17. We must not forget the unedifying story of a well known broadcaster who tried a land grab using the adverse possession rule a few years ago
    Good God, will people ever remember that we only all need a 6×3 ft plot at the end of our days (not even that if we are creamated)
    You never see a tow bar on a hearse!

  18. Ian #17
    Sorry, didn’t want to be patronizing. Thing is that we had Rwuandan friends (one a professor for economics, btw) staying with us at the time of the massacre, much discussion about the roots, hence my opinion.
    But you are right, eventually it all goes down to economic division. But you have to analyze where this one comes from, too.

    Long John Silver #18
    There is no substance in your critique, it seems. I make “sweeping statements” because I don’t feel obliged to write a thesis in a blog comment. If you feel otherwise inclined, write substantially where I’m “sweeping”. Thank you.

    Derailed #19
    Why, thank you. I’m not even Irish, but live here for donkey’s years and wrote many a feature and book about Ireland and the Irish. Should be more careful about cuddling up to closely to Irish thinking.

    Another thought (unsubstantiated to some who need wiki and google proof to know it’s true) is that all the wars in this world were about land and food, most disguised in modern history under religious or political motives.
    Ireland especially (at least in Europe) has a history of colonialism and dispossession, hence the obsession with property in modern times. Simply put (!).

    There is always some sense of “my home is my castle and I fight for it” all over the world. Germany for example is famous for the “garden fence wars” in suburban places, where neighbours fight each other with law suits and bullying just because an apple tree or whatever grows way over the fence.

    Had that nearly with American neighbours here in Ireland who complained that my freshly planted plum tree was too close to their property, even if I promised them that they would get half of the plums.
    But at least these petty squabbles didn’t get anyone killed or in court.

  19. Carrig,

    If you ever go to Kigali – and Rwanda is a beautiful country to visit, greatly underrated and easily reached – the genocide memorial museum is a must visit. It includes an exhibition on the development of ‘genocide ideology’, the use of tribal identity by the Belgians to create a ruling class, including the arbitrary assignment of people to the ‘tribes’. The creation of the Tutsi as a ruling group enabled the colony to be administered without demanding great resources. Upwardly mobile Hutu would be admitted to that class – identity cards could be changed.

    A Hutu friend has been here since November and returns home next week. He is in his forties and the events of 1994 haunt him, many of his family died as the RPF invaded following the genocide. It is he who uses the term ‘economic divisions’ to answer the questions I have faced in successive visits to the country. Ethnically and culturally, Rwanda is a very homogeneous place, but such homogeneity does not mean peace – as the history of Europe testifies

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