The compelling David and Goliath tale behind Irish film The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid

Last year a documentary about a Kildare farmer’s epic six-year battle to save his farm from a compulsory purchase order was widely regarded by Irish critics as one of the best films of the year.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid (airing on RTE One tonight at 9.35pm) tells the compelling David v Goliath tale of the determined bachelor farmer who fought his way to the High Court to save his farm.

Reid was devastated when Kildare Co Council informed him in 2011 that his farm had been rezoned commercial and that he would have to sell up.  The Industrial Development Authority (IDA) planned to buy Reid’s land following a compulsory purchase order (CPO).

The farm is situated beside Intel’s expansive Leixlip campus and, as such, is located on prime territory into which the US multinational could expand their site and operations.

The IDA made their move, but Reid was not for budging and he doggedly took his fight to the High Court, eventually winning his case.

Directed by Fearghal Ward, the film charts this lengthy, solitary battle and is as much a personal profile of the resilient Reid as it is a documentary about the machinations of what is often a controversial process.

The filmmakers spent months with Reid, who lives alone at the 72 acre farm.  He initially lost his case at the High Court but later won on appeal.

He had travelled to the court every day to watch proceedings and when he won his case he stood on the steps of the Supreme Court and said it was a “good day for Ireland” that his appeal had been upheld.

Thomas had grown up on the farm with his brothers and it had been in his family since his grandparents bought it in the early 1900s. The homestead itself had been built in the 1700s.

His neighbour, Intel, is the Goliath to his David, a company which generated a record $22 billion cash in 2017, the year he won his appeal, and which would have undoubtedly made Thomas a rich man had he agreed to sell.

His plight captured the attention of the nation as his predicament was the embodyment of old versus new Ireland, one individual taking a stance against big data.

Read more: The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid review: ‘One of the most unique pieces of cinema this year’

Speaking to the Farming Independent at the time of his appeal, he said, “It’s the principle of the matter.  Some guy in the 1980s tried to buy it from my father and it wasn’t for sale then either.”

He spoke of the toll the case had taken on him, “I barely slept while this was going on. I’d be half asleep during the day as I couldn’t sleep at night and would get up to read.”

Subjected to intense pressure to sell, Thomas erected homemade signs outside his property and used tyres to block the entrance.  He even blocked his letter box.  His main source of comfort throughout that time was his radio, he revealed.

The documentary follows Thomas about his farm and juxtaposes his old world existence with Intel, a company with its feet very much in the future.  There are also re-enactments of courtroom drama.

Irish Independent film reviewer Paul Whitington included the documentary among his 20 best films of 2018 while Herald reviewer Chris Wasser described it as “one of the most unique and, perhaps, indefinable pieces of cinema this year” and “occasionally, quite wonderful”.

Read more: ‘This is not a site, it’s a farm’ – The farmer who took on the State and won fears he could still lose in the end

The saga, however, did not end as the credits rolled.

Thomas Reid was again in the news last month as he appealed Kildare Co Council’s planning permission for Intel’s proposed new $4 billion (€3.53bn) facility at its plant to An Bord Pleanála.

The Farming Independent reported that Thomas lodged the only third party appeal concerning the new application, which was the seventh Intel application he has brought before An Bord Pleanála since 2012.

Speaking to the Independent at the time of his appeal, he voiced his concern that his farm could be under threat again.  New legislation introduced in the wake of the case which aims to give the IDA increased powers to acquire land could impact on his farm in the future.

“If you allow those fellows move the goalposts they can do what they want,” he said of the IDA.  When they initially approached him about acquiring his land in 2011 he did not engage with them.

“If they put a value on the land, the goalposts are set,” he said.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid airs on RTE One at 9.35pm on Monday July 1 and will be available on RTE Player thereafter.

Read more: Farmer puts brakes on Intel €3.5bn plan – Thomas Reid only third party to appeal Council decision

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