Mossie Cleary (right) and neighbours outside his home in Kilmallock, Co Limerick

AN elderly farmer could face prison tomorrow unless he shows up to the High Court with €100,000 as a partial payment on a debt or agrees to sell his land.

But like a scene from the pen of John B Keane, his rural community has said it will not abide the forced sale of his fields and strangers won't be welcome.

Mossie Clery (72) has already spent 19 months behind bars for refusing to hand over the deeds of his 70-acre farm and his support group has only managed to raise a little under one third of the money due tomorrow.

But should the matter be settled by the seizure of his property, any would-be owner could face the wrath of a community not too kindly disposed to rural eviction.

"There is a thing with land in this country and it runs very deep," explained Eddie Scanlon, chairman of the Limerick Irish Farmers' Association (IFA).

"This would be seen like Cromwellian planters in the past and you know what happened with them."

There are now serious concerns for Clery should he be forced to hand over his land.

"I would say he would rather be taken out in a box than that," said Scanlon.

Last August Clery, of Ballynamolooch, Kilmallock, Co Limerick was warned in the High Court that he would be sent back to prison if he did not hand over the deeds to the property.

He gave a sworn testimony that he had lost a second land folio certificate and had not hidden it or placed it with a financial institution as part of a loan.

A sum of €349,000 in compensation is still owed to neighbour David O'Connor who was injured on the farm but with legal fees the actual level of debt has significantly grown since the initial ruling in 1993.

Clery had no insurance to cover it and has already sold land that had belonged to his mother.

Supporters have managed to raise about €30,000 but that falls far short of his outstanding debt and he now fears he will be forced to hand over his deeds and sell the land valued at just over €1m. "As I said to the judge on the day, if there is an offer of sale on that place it will mean no one will touch it because of local support," said Scanlon.

"I know from talking to the locals that they will not allow that to happen; it will be boycotted.

"No one is going to go in there right now where there is a dispute; no farmer can operate a farm without the good will of [other] farmers."