In the summer of 1949 George Potter, an American journalist employed by the Providence Journal & Evening Bulletin paid an extended visit to Ireland. He visited what he later described as “all parts of Ireland” and wrote a number of articles which were published in his newspaper. Intended to give his American readers a picture of the people, life and culture of Ireland of the day the articles read fifty years later continue to provide us with many interesting insights. One of the articles written by Potter referred to his visit to Athy and reads :-
“In Athy the busy little center of this tillage area with a population of some 3000, I was introduced by a friend, who had accompanied me from Dublin, to Matt and Sidney Minch, of the well known maltser family whose output is consumed entirely by the mammoth vats of Guinness & Co., of Dublin, the world’s largest brewery, makers of the famous stout.
In Matt Minch’s office, surrounded by samples of grains in saucers, I commented on the busy town and the number of trucks, tractors and automobiles in the main street. I remarked further that I had rarely come across a Kildare man in the United States.
`Kildare,’ Mr. Minch explained, is a comparatively prosperous region and has a fairly consistent ready market for the tillage crops. People who have a reasonable amount of prosperity and can see ahead with some degree of surety for the future do not emigrate.
Besides, we have two new industries in the town. One, about 10 years old, makes asbestos cement and employs 200 people. The second, just started, makes wall boards from straw pulp and employs 100 people. Both are backed mainly by Irish capital. These industries take up the farm youngsters who otherwise might be restless to emigrate and flee the land. The wages in these industries average £5 a week and being higher than farm wages they offer inducements to leave the land without leaving Ireland. They have other attractions. The workers are under cover and not subject to all kinds of weather. The hours are fixed and there are unions. All these contribute to a fair standard of living. If the small towns in Ireland could have such small industries in connection with farming and have power from the Shannon scheme as we have, the emigration picture might not look so black.
The oldest industry here is malting and it is so ordered as to give the region a balance. Malting is a seasonal industry, and most of the work is done in the Winter when things are slack on the farms. That means that the people we employ in that season can go out on the farms in the Summer haymaking and harvesting. This way they manage to keep working all year round.
Yes, mechanization goes on steadily. The area is heavily mechanized in comparison to other areas in Ireland, but nowhere near the degree of America. Even now we are introducing the Massey Harris Canadian type combined harvester, and the donkey of Kerry and the horse are gradually being replaced.
But we Irish will never give up our love of horses. Right beyond here is the Curragh where they breed the finest horses in the world. Here in South Kildare the English have bred their great cavalry horses since the time of Napoleon and now we’re breeding stakes winners in Ireland and England - and in America, too.
Sidney Minch interrupted to say that he was going to take me to his home for a bite to eat and then go on to the green farm. Mr. Minch, an affable man, drove me to his pleasant country house on an Island, with drawbridge and all, in the River Barrow and the `bite to eat’ turned into one of the sizeable meals I had in Ireland.
During the drive out, he told me that the Athy Dramatic Society, an amateur group, had won the All-Ireland drama contest with the play, `The Righteous Are Bold,’ and he complained that the local library stocked up too much with fiction and not enough with serious works. He pointed out tillage farms on the way and explained that the average farm in the area was 100 acres.”
The Green’s like the Minch’s, have long been in South Kildare, and they are close social and business intimates. The elder Green has divided
the farm with his two sons but it is run as a single enterprise. In addition, the Green’s manage the estate of the Duke of Leinster. Most of this area once belonged to the Leinsters, which is the famous Anglo-Norman family of the Fitzgeralds, so prominent in Irish history, and whose Kilkea Castle, now occupied by the Earl of Kildare, son of the Duke, can be seen sheltered in a grove of trees on a ride around the Green farm. This section is also the ancestral home of the late Sir Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer; and Edmund Burke’s early education was in near-by Ballitore, a village founded by Quakers.
Juan Green, a pleasant and interesting young Anglo-Irishman, bound up in modern farming, graciously placed himself at my service. He was born in the Argentine and had practised medicine until a siege of sickness and an inbred love of the country called him back to his father’s farm. (Incidentally, the so-called Anglo-Irish prefer to be called Irish). In the large living room and library, Mr. Green under questioning talked easily and intelligently of large-scale Irish farming and of rural life generally.
The major crops on this farm, he explained, are barley, oats wheat, peas, sugar beets, belladonna and tobacco. We have a guaranteed price for beets, wheat, tobacco of quality and belladonna and have no trouble in disposing of our other crops by contract with private firms.
There is a beet sugar factory nearby, the first in Ireland, and it handles all the beets we grow. Ireland is now self-sustaining in sugar. The peas go to a large house in Dublin - Batchelor’s - and become canned, frozen, garden or package peas. All our barley we sell to our friend here, Sidney Minch, for malt. The belladonna is contracted for by a London medical house. The wheat goes to the neighbouring millers in Carlow. The hay and oats are for the race horses in the Curragh stables. Tobacco is a government - sponsored crop, since 1934, and is not a popular crop with farmers. It’s not self - sustaining and I think that within five years it will be out”.
….. TO BE CONTINUED