Thurles district courthouse
A farmer who has been involved in a long-running land dispute at Kilkillahara near Thurles, appeared at Thurles district court charged with causing criminal damage to a barley crop on property that he maintains he owns.
Thomas Kennedy, of Rossestown, Thurles, is charged with causing about €600 worth of damage to a barley crop in Kilkillahara, Thurles, on June 19, 2020, and threatening to cause damage to a combine harvester with a rock at the same location on July 24, 2020.
Judge Elizabeth MacGrath heard evidence from several gardaí, including garda Aidan Coffee.
Garda Aidan Coffey arrived at the scene and met with Thomas Kennedy before the incident on June 19. “He was sitting in the tractor facing the field,” said garda Coffey. Mr Kennedy argued that it was his land, and what entitled others to work it? “I told him I was going into my field. I said I had proof of ownership,” said Mr Kennedy.
Garda Stephen McDermott said he arrived and met Aidan Harrahill, the owner of the crop, at 5.25pm that day. Mr Harrahill said Mr Kennedy had driven the tractor into the field and damaged the crop. “He was still in the tractor. He was stopped in the field.” Garda McDermott arrested Mr Kennedy on suspicion of criminal damage and conveyed him to Templemore garda station. A garda specialist took photos of the damage.
“The crops were flattened” and the track marks matched those of the tractor, said garda McDermott. Mr Kennedy maintained that he could not have damaged crops on land that he maintains are his, and stated that he showed the guards documents and receipts claiming that he was the rightful owner.
Aidan Harrahill, who farms the land and planted the crop, said he received calls “from numerous people” that there was activity on the road at the field. He called the gardaí.
“He had gained access to the field and was driving around. He went up and down the field numerous times,” said Mr Harrahill. Mr Harrahill was able to gain access to the tractor and removed the keys and disconnected the battery, preventing Mr Kennedy from driving. “That’s how he ended up in the middle of the field,” said Mr Harrahill.
During cross examination, Mr Harrahill explained that he leased the land from his mother, and his cousins, who had inherited it from their mother, his aunt, after Bartholomew Kennedy had willed it to them.
Thomas Kennedy maintained that he bought the land in 1972. Mr Kennedy brought his case to the High Court, and the Supreme Court. Judge William McKechnie ruled that Bartholomew’s sisters, Maura Larkin, and Joan Harrahill, are the rightful owners. Mr Kennedy says he does not accept this judgement.
Mr Kennedy “does not have permission to be on that land,” said Mr Harrahill. During the incident, Mr Kennedy produced a scissors and “tried to stab my hand,” said Mr Harrahill. The damage to the crop is irreversible.
Solicitor Patrick Cadell said there was a High Court order preventing Mr Kennedy from entering the land. “Kilkillahara was sold to me in 1972,” said Mr Kennedy. “These documents prove I was in possession of these lands.” Mr Harrahill said he operates the land on a rental basis. “I rent it from my cousins, and my mum has the other half,” he said. “I own the barley.”
Mr Kennedy argued that Mr Harrahill has no right to plant crops on ‘his’ property. “It’s not your land,” said Mr Harrahill, “it’s my mother’s and aunt’s.” “It’s not,” said Mr Kennedy.
Mr Kennedy said he paid a local solicitor “the full purchase money” and that he was in possession of it until his brother died in “1991”. Bartholomew Kennedy died in 2001, not 1991, pointed out Mr Cadell.
After Bartholomew died, all the lands went to his next of kin. Thomas Kennedy “took action against the estate” as he maintained he was a tenant on the property. The will left the land to Bartholomew’s two sisters, and this was maintained to be valid by a Judge Buttimer, added Mr Cadell.
These proceedings were dealt with in the High Court, and in 2010, Judge William McKechnie heard the details in a 10-day hearing. “All of these issues were canvassed” and the High Court determined that the land was not sold to Mr Kennedy.
He appealed it to the Supreme Court, which judged Mr Kennedy’s appeal to be “frivolous and vexatious.” Mr Kennedy said Judge McKechnie’s decision was “void”. During cross examination, Judge MacGrath said, “Mr Kennedy, you cannot come into this court and start maligning people who are dead.”
Joan Harrahill is the registered owner of the land where the incidents occurred, said Mr Cadell. “We are not re-opening High Court and Supreme Court matters in this charge,” said the judge. “The whole court is a set up,” said Mr Kennedy, who maintained that a new will was produced “10 weeks after Batty died.” Mr Kennedy complained about the gardai, the judiciary, and solicitors, in relation to his “constitutional rights”.
In a separate incident, on July 24, 2020, Garda PJ O’Brien gave evidence that he had to intervene when Mr Kennedy held up a rock in his hands, with the intention of throwing it into a combine harvester operated by Mr Harrahill.
Mr Kennedy kept demanding that workers leave the area. “He started to walk to the combine harvester,” said garda O’Brien. The front blades were spinning. “There was a round rock in his hand. He put it in towards his chest,” said the garda. “It was my belief he intended to use the rock to cause criminal damage.” “I placed him in handcuffs,” added garda O’Brien. “I was only going to throw it in under the front of it,” said Mr Kennedy.
Inspector Des Bell put it to Mr Kennedy that he was “reckless.” “I own that property there. I cannot be guilty of both charges,” replied Mr Kennedy.
Judge MacGrath adjourned the matter to May 6 for a decision, and to determine the issues of land.