Book re­calls his­tory of Aurivo Co-op

The Sligo Champion - - NEWS -

In this ex­clu­sive ex­tract from Fields of Gold – a his­tory of Aurivo Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety and farm­ing in the West – au­thor James Laf­fey traces the early years of Rath­scan­lon Cream­ery in Tub­ber­curry and the bit­ter op­po­si­tion it en­gen­dered in nearby Achonry.

The fi­nances of Achonry Co-op­er­a­tive were in such a healthy state in the spring of 1919 that 12 of the 14 mem­bers of staff – the ex­cep­tions be­ing the man­ager and dairy­maid – pe­ti­tioned for wage in­creases, warn­ing they would give no­tice of strike ac­tion if their re­quest was re­jected at the an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in May.

“You will un­der­stand that some of us are not get­ting as much as would main­tain us ex­cept in our own homes,” the work­ers stated in a let­ter to the com­mit­tee. “There is not any body of work­ers in any part of the coun­try re­ceiv­ing such a low rate of wages as we are.”

The high­est paid work­ers, Hugh Kerins and Thomas O’Grady, who were al­most cer­tainly as­sis­tant man­agers, were re­ceiv­ing 40 shillings per week and were seek­ing an ad­di­tional 15 shillings each in their weekly wage pack­ets. The low­est paid work­ers, Fran­cis Gildea and Charles Fi­nan, were earn­ing 15 shillings and 17 shillings re­spec­tively per week but had very dif­fer­ing ex­pec­ta­tions – Gildea seek­ing an ad­di­tional 10 shillings to Fi­nan’s more mod­est three shillings.

It was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for the man­age­ment com­mit­tee to re­ject the work­ers’ de­mands. The an­nual turnover in Achonry had soared in the pre­ced­ing decade un­der the shrewd stew­ard­ship of P.P. Con­don, and the co-op­er­a­tive now boasted a sawmill in ad­di­tion to its cream­ery, gen­eral store and ba­con cur­ing busi­nesses.

In­deed, the Ir­ish Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion So­ci­ety (IAOS) in­spec­tor Pa­trick McGowan, in his an­nual re­port for 1919, urged the man­age­ment to con­sider ex­tend­ing its premises by pur­chas­ing neigh­bour­ing land and re­mov­ing sev­eral tem­po­rary struc­tures erected in re­cent years as the busi­ness grew. And cer­tainly there was no shortage of cash re­serves to fund an am­bi­tious re­de­vel­op­ment scheme at Achonry: the co-op­er­a­tive’s ac­cu­mu­lated prof­its hav­ing sur­passed £5,000 at the start of 1919.

But find­ing com­mon ground among the co-op­er­a­tive’s al­most 800 share­hold­ers re­mained an elu­sive task for P.P. Con­don and his man­age­ment com­mit­tee. IAOS or­gan­iser James Moore de­scribed the an­nual gen­eral meet­ing of 1919 as “the most dis­or­derly and un­sat­is­fac­tory I have ever at­tended”. The meet­ing in the Tech­ni­cal Hall in Mul­linabreena went on for five hours and con­tained so much “wordy war­fare’ – as Moore colour­fully termed it – that the be­lea­guered mem­bers of the man­age­ment com­mit­tee were more per­plexed at the end than they had been at the be­gin­ning.

“Ow­ing to the con­fu­sion it is hard to say what de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sions were ar­rived at,” Moore re­ported to IAOS head­quar­ters. “Prob­a­bly saner coun­sels may pre­vail now that the gen­eral meet­ing is over.”

Not­with­stand­ing the oc­ca­sional dis­or­derly an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, which was cer­tainly not unique to Achonry Co-op­er­a­tive, the buoy­ant po­si­tion of the so­ci­ety is ev­i­dent in the cor­re­spon­dence be­tween P.P. Con­don and of­fi­cials in the IAOS. By 1919, Achonry had one of the busiest cream­eries in Con­nacht and boasted a very strong ex­port trade to the UK, with a lot of the Achonry pro­duce shipped from Belfast in those pre-par­ti­tion days. When Pa­trick McGowan vis­ited the western cream­eries in the sum­mer of 1919, he dis­cov­ered that Achonry was pur­chas­ing quan­ti­ties of milk each month that were dou­ble and tre­ble its Con­nacht com­pa­tri­ots. For ex­am­ple, in July 1919, the cream­ery in Achonry took in 119,813 gal­lons of milk com­pared to 36,918 in Bal­laghader­reen.

The tremen­dous suc­cess of Achonry was made all the more im­pres­sive when one con­sid­ers it had com­pe­ti­tion on its doorstep in the shape of the Tub­ber­curry Co-op­er­a­tive Agri­cul­tural and Dairy So­ci­ety.

The co-op­er­a­tive dairy at Ball­yara on the Bal­lina Road in Tub­ber­curry was set up in the early 1900s in the teeth of op­po­si­tion from the IAOS. Canon Pa­trick Staunton, the Mayo-born parish priest of Tub­ber­curry, first wrote to the na­tional body in the sum­mer of 1898 to pro­pose the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent cream­ery in the town. IAOS sec­re­tary Robert An­der­son was not en­tirely op­posed to the idea but be­lieved that if a dairy was founded in Tub­ber­curry, it should be op­er­ated as an aux­il­iary to Achonry. Canon Staunton was of a dif­fer­ent mind al­to­gether, stat­ing in cor­re­spon­dence that an aux­il­iary was out of the ques­tion.

A pub­lic meet­ing was duly held on June 29, 1898, but Canon Staunton’s ef­forts ap­pear to have come to noth­ing and the project was moth­balled for sev­eral years. The IAOS or­gan­iser in Sligo, Pres­by­te­rian Henry Shaw, was se­cretly de­lighted, con­fid­ing in An­der­son that he wanted noth­ing to do with that “God Almighty of a Parish Priest”!

But the parish priest was not a man ac­cus­tomed to re­jec­tion. In early 1901, Canon Staunton re­vived the cream­ery project and this time the for­mi­da­ble padre would not be thwarted. His mes­sage to An­der­son was un­equiv­o­cal: an in­de­pen­dent cream­ery was be­ing es­tab­lished in Tub­ber­curry whether the IAOS wanted to sup­port it or not.

The priest con­vened a pub­lic meet­ing for the lo­cal court­house on Jan­uary 8, 1901, to “con­sider the ques­tion of es­tab­lish­ing a cream­ery at or near Tober­curry”. An­der­son and Shaw, in an ef­fort to out­ma­noeu­vre their ad­ver­sary, en­cour­aged De­nis Gal­lagher, the sec­re­tary of Achonry Co-op­er­a­tive, to hold his own pub­lic meet­ing with a view to lo­cat­ing an aux­il­iary in Tub­ber­curry. Shaw, mean­while, re­fused to at­tend Canon Staunton’s gath­er­ing and promised An­der­son he would do his best to “squelch” the nascent move­ment.

The court­house meet­ing at­tracted a muted re­sponse from lo­cal farm­ers but the town traders were over­whelm­ingly sup­port­ive of a co-op­er­a­tive dairy.

Fields of Gold: A his­tory of Aurivo Co-op­er­a­tive and farm­ing in the West is avail­able from all lo­cal book­shops in Co Sligo and from Aurivo’s Home­land stores or on­line at www. aurivo.ie.

Pic­tured at Aurivo head­quar­ters in Finisklin Buis­ness Park, Sligo, were Pat Duffy, chair­man, Aurivo Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd; Aaron Forde, chief ex­ec­u­tive, Aurivo Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd; James Laf­fey, au­thor, Fields of Gold. Ed­i­to­rial com­mit­tee mem­bers for the Fields of Gold project Michael Mor­ley, Peadar Kivle­han, Jim Kelly and Pat McHugh. Pic­ture: Henry Wills.

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