Thursday, August 12, 1999

George Potters 1949 Report of Athy and Juan Greene

Continuing the Article which was published in the Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin in 1949, where author George Potter recounted his meeting with Juan Greene of Kilkea who discoursed eloquently on farming in South Kildare.

“The farm is run on a five year rotation plan, and the purpose all through is fertilizing. Fertilizing is the secret of good tillage, and we work at it all the time. Let me explain and then later I’ll show you the fields himselves. We sow a field to hay and then plow in after grass, that is, rye grass and clover ploughed in as green manure. The second crops is oats and to that we apply artificial fertilizer. Next for sugar beets we use heavy farmyard dunging and artificial. The fourth, for peas, we use potash manure only. Finally the pea ground is sown with mustard seed and is plowed in for wheat or barley and under-sown with rye grass and clover.

“We could not run this tillage farm without cattle. They are absolutely essential for their manure. We buy from 400 to 500 cattle in October from the adjoining grasslands in North Kildare, Leix, Kilkenny or from Westmeath or from Tipperary. These cattle are stall fed under cover during Winter and as we sell them we replace them . Eight hundred cattle will pass through our barns in Winter until they are disposed of in the spring. We are not cattle farmers, understand, and we buy and sell irrespective of profit. What we want them is for manure. They are sold to cattle buyers, shipped to Dublin and then to England on the hoof. The poorer ones that we cannot dispose of we turn out to graze in the Summer. It’s a constant process of replenishing cattle.

“There are sixty permanent farm labourers working for us and during the peak that number will be doubled, and we hire any number of casual labourers. Farm labour is paid £3=2=6 for a fifty hour week. Our annual payroll for farm labor runs to between £15,000 and £16,000. Yes, they are unionized. They live away from the farm in their own homes built by the County Council; and they are good looking houses. The farm labourers are easy going people, and the great difficulty is to get them to speed up their pace of work. The steward (farm manager) tries every sort of persuasion but they are geared to that pace - and that’s that. With more effort they could make better wages.

“We could mechanize and reduce the number in help but that would create a social problem for the whole area.

“Imagine what a disaster it would be to throw, say, 50 of our labourers out of work because of machinery. Even that raises a problem within the farm. The men who run the machines have to be skilled and they have to be specialized to repair the tractors and therefore they get more money and that creates dissatisfaction among the unskilled help who are getting less.

“Mechanization will make farm work more attractive and take the heavy burden of brute work off the shoulders of the farmers. Ireland. remember, is a small agricultural country. Fifty per cent of the people around here live off the farms. The problem, remains of mechanizing for greater efficiency without upsetting the social pattern. It will have to be done gradually.

“There is a general grumbling of dissatisfaction among farmers and farm help. They see the difference between the £3=2=6 for farm pay and for 50 hours and the £5 for work for 48 hours in industry. They are out in all kinds of weather and those in industry are covered. The people in plants have weekends off; and now we simply cannot get a farm laborer to work weekends, no matter how badly we need him. Farm labor gets scarcer every year.

“The race of small propertied farmers feel that they are being put on by the government. Agrarian policy and city-town policy are coming into open conflict. The rates (taxes) are a very heavy burden on the small farmer. The increasing demands of social security in the cities and towns, mostly for unemployment payments and old - age benefits, make the farmers feel that the cities and towns are living off them and that they are paying the bills and not getting any benefits for themselves. There is a feeling in the country that there is no need of unemployment if only the people will consent to work”.

Mr. Green praised the work of Muintir Na Tire in teaching the farmers self - reliance and co - operation for rural development and a more attractive social life. He spoke of the drabness and isolation of the farm villages and the dreadful monotony and boredom of social life.

“In this district, for instance,” he said “there is one bus in the morning into town and one at night. This sort of service does not work against emigration of the restless and dissatisfied. Emigration is taking the best; the unambitious remain.

“Now, if you wish, I’ll show you the farm. We call the road around the farm the Burma Road. You’ll understand why.”

It took some two hours just for a sightseeing tour around the Greene farm. The narrow road was rather joggy, but he farm itself was a delight to the eye; field lay out in order, well kept, with the satisfactory air of well being, and farm buildings well appointed, clean and in apple - pie repair. Walls and hedges separated one field from another, oats from barley and wheat from sugar beets. In the midst of green field one caught sight of the gold of a field sown to mustard, a combination of utility and loveliness. Standing on a bridge Mr. Greene pointed out each field on the large farm and what it was growing.

Three rivers ran through the land and supply all the water it needs. Small groves of trees here and there break up the pattern of the fields.

Mr. Greene took me to the top of a hill and pointed out another large farm in the distance - the Wright farm - where pedigree bulls are raised for Argentine.

“From this hill” he said, “you can see seven countries of Ireland - Leix, Carlow, Kildare, Wicklow, Waterford, Kilkenny and off there in the haze the Dublin mountains”.

The author concluded with the wish that he might see something of the future of rural Ireland in the well run Greene Farm of 1949. The Fifty years which have since passed has seen Irish Agriculture develop into a multi billion pound business where farm machinery has replaced farm labourers.

On Wednesday, 8th September at 8.00 p.m., I will give a talk in the Heritage Centre entitled “Heroes or Scoundrels - some reflections on Athy and men and women of the past”.

No comments: