I recently came across a copy of the first annual report of the Athy Farmers Club which was founded in 1944. As the printed report of the activities and workings of the club for 1944/45 confirms, it was on the night of 21st February 1944 that the farmers of Athy met to consider the possibility of forming a group to promote knowledge of the agricultural sciences and arrange social activities amongst its members. The meeting followed on lectures given in the Vocational School on the Carlow Road by Bill Brickley, the local agricultural instructor and Stephen Cullinane who was the rural science instructor in the school. A provisional committee was formed that night under the Chairmanship of J.J. Usher, the local horticultural instructor who was later to live in the first house in Aughaboura Lane, just behind the Vocational School. This committee later met and drafted, what with a few later amendments, were to be the objects and composition of the Athy Farmers Club. Within a fortnight a public meeting of the local farmers was convened for the Vocational School and at that meeting which took place on 5th March 1944 the Athy Farmers Club was formally established.
The honour of proposing the formal motion setting up the club fell to Juan Greene of Kilkea who would become the Club’s first President. The seconder of the Motion was Eugene Minch of Cardenton whose family had been involved for generations past in the milling concern, Minch Nortons. On that same night 30 farmers enrolled as members and before the year was out the membership had increased to 130. Those primarily responsible for the formation of Athy Farmers Club were Stephen Cullinane, Bill Brickley and J.J. Usher, a fact which was readily acknowledged in the Club’s first annual report.
The names of the officers and committee members of Athy Farmers Club of 65 years ago is a roll call of men and women who contributed to the commercial life of Athy during and after the Second World War. Eugene Minch of Cardenton and Len Spiers of Burtown were Vice Presidents of the Club, with Paddy Kehoe of Kilcoo as Chairman. The Honorary Treasurership was held by Des Greene of Kilkea Lodge, while Stephen Cullinane was Honorary Secretary.
The Committee comprised Miss M. Donnelly who was the local poultry instructor, Anna Hosie of Coursetown, John Walsh of Grangebeg, George Spiers of Burtown, J.J. Pelin of Ballindrum, Arthur Lynch of Cloney, Con Maloney of Foxhill, Trevor Cotton of Kilkea Lodge, M. Byrne of Gallowshill, J.J. Usher of Athy, J. Nolan of Ardreigh, M. Byrne of Foxhill and P. Tomlinson. Patrick Kavanagh, agricultural instructor, Athy would later take the place of Bill Brickley on his transfer to Dublin.
Rather uniquely Athy Farmers Club, while welcoming all farmers large or small, confined membership of the committee to those no older than 40 years of age when first elected. The committee held 27 meetings during its first year of office and co-opted five additional members to help with its work and in particular with the drafting of the club’s constitution which when adopted proved to be a model of legal draftsmanship.
A number of lectures and talks were held in the Vocational School, Athy under the auspices of the newly formed Farmers Club, with the first such lecture on 17th April 1944. A month later a visit to Dr. Juan Greene’s farm at Kilkea was arranged for the club members and a photograph taken on that occasion, a copy of which I have but unfortunately it cannot be found in time for this article. Instead I am showing a group photograph of farmers, and presumably their wives, taken in the mid to late 1920s. I wonder how many of those photographed were members of the Athy Farmers Club and how many can be identified today?
A produce show was held in the Vocational School on 1st November 1944 and this was followed by further lectures on topics as wide ranging as ‘Tobacco Growing’ and ‘Land Registration’. The social aspect of the Club’s activities was well catered for with the farmers first annual dance in the Town Hall on 15th November 1944, followed by its first annual dinner on 10th January 1945. I don’t know where that annual dinner was held, but I would imagine it was probably in the Leinster Arms Hotel. I’m sure somebody can confirm this for me. But even these activities did not satisfy the farmers’ need for socialising for on 4th February 1945 a further social evening was held in the local Golf Club where the Farmers Club members were the guests of the Golf Club committee.
All of this activity went hand in hand with the weekly discussions held in the Vocational School on Monday nights when topics of interests were discussed following opening remarks by three nominated members. Reviewing the activities of Athy Farmers Club in its first year confirms that it very successfully met its key objectives of promoting education and social activities amongst its farming members.
Despite the fact that the Athy Club was not a young farmers club, at least not in title, some of the club officers attended a meeting at Newman House in Dublin in September 1944. This meeting was called to discuss the formation of a national organisation of young farmers clubs. Stephen Cullinane, Bill Brickley and Paddy Kehoe represented Athy at that meeting and with representatives from Mooncoin and Kilmallock also in attendance a National Young Farmers Organisation was set up which eventually became known as Macra na Feirme.
The subsequent history of Athy Farmers Club is not sufficiently well known to me to permit me to write of its later activities. However, one of the men who at just 26 years of age helped pioneer the concept of farmers club at local and national level was Galway man Stephen Cullinane who was employed in Athy Vocational School. He acted both as Secretary and Treasurer of Macra na Feirme for a while, operating from his flat at Mansfields in Duke Street which he shared with Denis Cahalane. It was there that the Macra na Feirme headquarters was based until they moved in 1947 into what had previously been the Mechanics Institute Room in the Town Hall, Athy.
Stephen Cullinane died suddenly on the 11th of January 1951, just a few weeks short of his 33rd birthday. Many of the men and women who formed the first committee of Athy Farmers Club have passed away. Their legacy is in part to be found in Macra na Feirme whose first half century was marked with the unveiling of a monument in Emily Square, Athy.