The recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the I.F.A. brought to mind Stephen Cullinane, the young Vocational school teacher in Athy who with local Horticultural Instructor J.J. Usher was largely responsible for setting up the Athy Farmer’s Club in 1944. Just four months previously a similar club had been set up in Mooncoin in County Kilkenny, while another club in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick completed the triumvirate which would lead to the founding of Macra na Feirme in September 1944. Out of the Macra organisation developed the National Farmers Association which was later renamed the Irish Farmers Association (I.F.A.). The first President of Athy Farmers Club was Juan Greene of Kilkea Lodge and he was also the first President of the N.F.A.
I don’t recall Stephen’s Cullinane’s name being mentioned in the press reports of the I.F.A. 50th celebration, but hopefully his part in the organisation’s foundation was acknowledged in whatever material was published for the event. Another who played an important role in the development of Macra was the late Paddy Keogh of Kilcoo. Indeed the very first issue of the Young Farmers Journal which appeared on 1st July 1948 under the editorship of Stephen Cullinane carried a photograph on its front page of the central executive of Macra na Feirme at a meeting with the then Minister for Agriculture, James Dillon in his office at Merrion Street, Dublin. Included in the eight man delegation was Stephen Cullinane and P.J. Keogh. Another couple of men who played significant roles in the developing years of the I.F.A. were Bill Diamond from Athy and Gus Prendergast, formerly of Co. Mayo and now of Ballyroe. Both men participated in the famous protest march of October 1966 and indeed Bill spent some time in Mountjoy as a result of his involvement. Another Athy man whose name is inextricably linked with that of Macra na Feirme is Ivan Bergin who in 1949 designed the logo which is still used by the organisation. The links between South Kildare and the I.F.A. and its sister organisation Macra na Feirme are many and include the 1987/’89 National Chairman of Macra, local man Liam Dunne.
The changing times in Irish agriculture were for me confirmed by a report I read recently in the Nationalist and Leinster Times of 3rd February 1917. Under the headline, “Tractors at Work in Athy” appeared the following report.
“It was for all the world like watching the tanks go into action with ‘the townies’ behind to observe the two Overtime farm tractors at work last week” says a machinery expert in the Irish Times, in a field belonging to Mr. C.W. Taylor at Forest Farm, Athy. Each of the machines was followed by a knot of a dozen or twenty persons in its steady progress across the field and back ……the keenest of the interest shown in the demonstration which was arranged by Ms. Duthie Large & Co., Athy was manifested by a large number of persons who attended it ……as far as Athy is concerned motor ploughing has already instituted a new epoch for there are three Overtime tractors in the district. One owned by Mr. Taylor who has it three months. Mr. Taylor says the tractor can be taken anywhere that an ass can drag a cart. He confirms that a tractor will plough three and a half acres in a day consuming 12 gallons of paraffin, while a good man and a pair of horses will plough a half acre a day by doing their best”.
This of course was during the first World War at a time when a huge number of farm labourers had enlisted to fight, resulting in a shortage of labourers at home. 1914-18 was the first time farmers had experienced such difficulties. Inevitably those who remained behind seized the opportunity to organise and to negotiate better terms of employment. The Agriculture and Minimum Wage Board was established as a direct result of the labour shortages experienced during World War I. This same period marked the beginning of the Farm Labourers Union and the gradual improvement in work conditions for farm labourers which culminated in the strike in 1946.
An unusual development which occurred in Athy in May 1917 was the setting up of a factory in Convent Place to wash, grade and process scutch root plants. From Athy the processed material was shipped to England and then on to America where it was utilised in the preparation of medicine. The factory employed women in what the paper referred to as “extensive premises in Convent Place where machinery has been installed.” I have never previously heard of this factory and have no knowledge of how long it lasted, but presumably it lasted for the duration of the war at least. Apparently the scutch root was previously harvested and processed in Belgium but because of the ongoing war the operation had to be transferred to Ireland.
Two queries for my readers this week relate to two men who were involved on opposite sides during the War of Independence. The Leinster Leader of 5th March 1921 reported the funeral through Athy of Sergeant Joseph Hughes on its way to Wolfhill. Sergeant Hughes who was a member of the R.I.C. had been fatally wounded in an ambush at Maynooth on the previous Monday night. The police with firearms reversed marched behind the hearse as it went through the town and a mourning coach covered with wreaths followed. All the shops in Athy closed while the funeral passed through the town. Can anyone give me any background information on Sergeant Hughes?
My second query relates to John Hayden of Offaly Street who was charged at Portlaoise in January 1919 with having in his possession a copy of the first edition of the Irish Volunteer dated 15th August 1918. John was a member of the I.R.A., as was his brother Paddy, and even though he did not recognise the military court set up under the Defence of the Realm Act he was nevertheless sentenced to six months imprisonment. An interesting comment in the newspaper of the time refers to John Hayden as “one of the most brilliant pupils turned out by Athy C.B.S. He won a County Council Scholarship but instead of taking his degree as a professional man he has taken out his degree as a rebel.”
I have often heard of John Hayden whom I believe went to the U.S.A. after the death of his wife. However, I have very little other information in relation to him and I would be delighted to hear from anybody who could give me some background information on John Hayden, his involvement in the I.R.A. and his subsequent life and career in America.