The first creameries were started at the end of the last century, and the beginning of this one. The first was a Co-Op. Creamery at Droumcollogher, Co. Limerick.
The setting up of Co-Op. creameries was pioneered by a man called Horace Plunkett, after whom the Irish Co-Operative Society (I.C.O.S.) (the umbrella organisation of the Co-Op movement) was founded. The idea was that the farmers would join together and take shares in, and set up, and run the business at a central point, employing a creamery manager, where the farmers would bring their milk to have it separated, that is to have the cream taken from it, and churned into butter, and the skim milk, about 80% of the whole, returned to the farmer, as excellent feeding for calves and pigs.
At the creamery every farmer had a number, and had a pass card bearing that number, on which would be recorded his daily milk supply for every day in a one month period. Also there was kept at the creamery a bottle for every supplier, bearing his number, and in which was kept a sample from every days supply, to be tested at the end of the month for butterfat, and butterfat only, as this was the only thing that mattered at that time.
The price he received for his milk varied according to butterfat content. The supplier was paid for his milk about three weeks after the end of the month, for all the previous months supply.
The creamery was an advance from the farmer separating his milk at home, and indeed from the older method of skimming the cream from the milk and making their own butter.
The creameries were slow to catch on, indeed in some parts of the country none at all. In the early part of this century we had Co-Ops. in Drinagh, Clondrohid, Muskerry Lisarda, Ballyclough, Mitchelstown, Kilcorney among others. There were a number of small Co-Ops., and private creameries existed too, near each other, and because of poaching of milk, and competing with one another, got into financial difficulties.
Arising from that, and the fact that there were no creameries in some areas, the Government of the day set up a Semi-State Company called 'Dairy Disposal Board' to set up, and operate creameries in the said areas.
The idea was, as the name Disposal Board implied, that when these creameries were organised they would be handed back to the farmers, however this did not happen. There were seventeen Groups of these creameries, principally in Kerry and Clare, with a few in Tipperary, and four in Cork - Tarelton, Coachford, Aughadown and Castletown Bere. They were controlled and run by a Board of Directors, principally made up of civil servants and creamery managers.
This Board was set up in 1926, and from that time until 1966 when, from pressure from the I.C.M.S.A. and the N.F.A., consultative committees were set up, we never saw, not to mind meet, the Directors.
The Tarelton Group initially consisted of the Central at Tarelton, and branches at Killowen, Mossgrove, Bengour, Toames, Teergay, and Shinaugh. Inchigeela was built in 1926/27, and while some farmers still kept making their own butter, there were two lorries bringing milk from Ballingeary, and a lorry from Kilnadhur. Ballingeary creamery was next built, and there was a travelling creamery i.e. a big separator and reception tank, on the back of a lorry, operating from Shanacrane Cross, to Inchicorca, Aultagh and Gloun. Later on there were new creameries built at Togher and Shounlara, bringing the number to ten branches and the Central.
In the intervening period, James Dillon, when he became Minister for Agriculture in 1948, offered to sell Coachford and Tarelton, back to the farmers. Coachford did nothing, but we made a bold bid in Tarelton. We set up a provisional Co-Op. named St. Michael's Co-Op. of which I was treasurer. Soon a terrible opposition surfaced, composed of most of the creamery managers and workers, and farmers for political reasons. At that time farmers would sell their souls for politics, and they did not want Dillon to get credit for giving the farmers the opportunity to get control of their business. A certain creamery manager offered some farmers a free car to come to the meeting to oppose the take over.
We travelled around with Share Books to get farmers to sign for shares, based on so much per cow, and he had to pay one shilling as making his commitment legally binding. We got 60% to sign. The opposition also went around asking the farmers to sign against and they claimed too that they had 60%, which they had, because some farmers signed for and against. We did not mind, as the shilling made our signatures binding.
We had several stormy meetings and got several threats. I and two others of my colleagues, with the late John F. Goold solicitor, travelled to Dublin on the 7th of March 1950 to take over the Group. We met the Minister, Mr Dillon, and reps.of the 'Dairy Disposal Board', the I.A.O.S. The conditions and terms laid down to us at home were completely changed.
At home we were told we need not pay the debts owed by the farmers to the company but when we went to Dublin that was changed. We would have to pay the debts, and they had gone up fourfold because there were lorry loads of fertiliser taken out by the opposition. That, and the fact that nearly half of the farmers opposed, and that the managers and workers wouldn't be co-operative, we decided to abandon the idea, which left the farmers taking a lower price for their milk until 1972.
As I have said there were consultative committees set up in 1966, which consisted of one delegate elected by each branch, to meet from time to time with the Head Manager. I was elected to represent Inchigeela branch, and the late Dick Cronin, Keimcoraboula, to represent Ballingeary, followed by the late Con Cronin, Carrig Lodge, and John Moynihan,Currahy. Timmy Galvin ,Gortaneadin was also on the committee. I was elected chairman of the committee at its first meeting. At this time there were 1,065 suppliers with 7,028,223 gallons of milk in the group.
At this point in time the Government brought in a consultant, Dr. Knapp, to study the dairy industry and make recommendations for its improvement.
The I.A.O.S. (later to become the I.C.O.S) the umbrella organisation of the Co-Ops. was asked to make recommendations for the rationalisation of the industry. I got 11 copies, one for each committee member, and we saw that they recommended that we, as well as Coachford, would become a member of a Co-Op. and amalgamative with Ballyclough in one step. At this stage I must state that the approach of farmers at this time was vastly different from 1949/50. Politics were left outside the door, and the vast majority were united that we, in tandem with Coachford, should negotiate the amalgamation with Ballyclough.
While there were only a few opposed to this course, there was nevertheless, a formidable opposition, which delayed the amalgamation for four years, causing us umpteen meetings, and anonymous phone threats to me.
I got all my creamery documents for Terelton for the years 1969, 1970, and 1971, sent to Ballyclough to ascertain what I would have received if I had been sending the same amount of milk with the same tests to Ballyclough and the result showed that I would be receiving about £10 per cow more, which was a considerable amount at that time.
I got over 1,000 of this data printed and sent a copy to each supplier in the Group. Eventually we concluded the negotiations, and it had to be approved by the suppliers. To this end the branches of Inchigeela, Ballingeary, Teergay, Toames, Shounlara and Togher met at Inchigeela, on March 1st. 1972 and all approved. That night the remaining branches of Tarelton, Bengour, Mossgrove, Killowen and Shinaugh met at Enniskeane, all except one approved. There were 256 people at the Inchigeela meeting and 261 at the Enniskeane meeting.
However there were still hurdles to overcome with the unions. Frustrated with the delay, we got our suppliers to sign a petition, copy of which we sent to the Dept., D.D.B. Ballyclough, and the unions, seeking permission to transfer their milk elsewhere from the D.B.B. 92% of the suppliers signed, Ballingeary returning 100%, with Inchigeela having 66 out of 71.
Finally the amalgamation took place on June 1st. 1972, thereby achieving for me a life long ambition.
Some of the changes we have seen take place since, include changing from delivering our milk to the creamery, to bulk collection, thereby making the creameries obsolete, so this completes the rise and fall of the creameries as such, within the century.
Title of photo to go with article on the Creameries:
Committee that negotiated Amalgamation of Terelton Creamery group with Ballyclough Co-Op. in 1972:
Front: Michael McSweeney, Mossgrove; Eugene O'Riordan, Gortnalour; Ernie Jennings, Killowen; John P. Kelleher, Tarelton.
Back: Joe O'Sullivan, Gruanreagh; Paddy Lynch, Toonsbridge; Richard White, Ardcahan; Andy Kelleher, Carrigboy; Sonny Donovan, Gortanvre
(not included - John Riordan Toames ).