Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Athenry Agricultural College by Ronan Killeen (Revised 2016)

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Athenry Agricultural College year unknown.

If one looks back to before the Athenry Agricultural College was built in the early twentieth century, this was an era when the prominent Goodbody family held a large estate at Athenry. They were a Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) family who had come to fore in the nineteenth century.

They had initially started flour-milling enterprises, before branching out into the tobacco and the tea trade, as well as more famously into stock-broking and the law. Most prominent in the family was Marcus Goodbody who married the daughter of the Reverend James Perry, and who had inherited Perry’s Athenry estate during the mid-nineteenth century. At the time of Griffith’s Valuation, the Reverend Perry had held land at Ballygurrane West, today the site of the Agricultural College. The land comprised of 102 acres, 3 roods and 33 perches valued at £73.

Interestingly, the Reverend Perry also purchased the former Oranmore and Browne family estates at Athenry from the Encumbered Estates court in 1850. He was a wealthy Quaker who had successfully backed the builders of the Irish railways and invested in the coalmines in the Ruhr district of Germany. According to a report from the Tuam Herald on 22nd October 1904. the ‘Goodbody estate at Athenry’ was then ‘purchased for migration and division purposes by the Congested Districts Board at a cost of £24000. It comprises of 518 acres of tenanted land and 1,790 untenanted land.’ It wasn’t until November 5th 1904 that the Western People referenced that plans for the estate gave notice that ‘the purchase of this large grazing property, containing over 1,600 acres, has been completed.

We learn on very good authority that it is intended to make it the home of the proposed Agricultural College for the Province of Connaught, it is situated near the important railway junction of Athenry being considered a most desirable and convenient one’. There would be a long wait however. In April 1903, an inspector from the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction visited Moyode Castle to see if it was a more suitable site for an agricultural college for Galway.

The location had been proposed by the Chairman of the County Galway Committee of Agricultural Instruction and the Chairman of the County Galway Committee of Technical Instruction. It was though eventually decided that the location was unsuitable for an agricultural college. In 1905, a balance of £35,000 was used to meet expenditure on marine works in the region; new buildings and equipment of the Albert Agricultural College and also Athenry.

 There were nine farm apprentices in residence at the Agricultural station in 1907 and one vacancy. One teacher was employed in addition to the farm manager, whose duties included instruction in practical agriculture. The extent of land crop last year was 230 acres. The cost of maintaining the start was £917, including the salaries, wages, and general up-keep of the station.

Besides the use for teaching purposes the station was utilised as a distributing centre for the operations of the department’s livestock scheme in the West of Ireland. In June 1907, a sum of £10,000 was provisionally allocated for the erection of an Agricultural College at Athenry.

Owing to the unsettled state of the distinct, action in regard to the expenditure was indefinitely postponed and the department were unable to say when any portion of the said sum would be expended. The area of the farm occupied by the department for the purpose of their agricultural station was a considerable 670 acres. During that time 250 acres were under rotation crops, 20 were under plantations, 80 were permanent meadow, and the remainder was pasture. The number of livestock, exclusive of premium cattle disposed of at the station, was between 400 and 500 head, including lambs.

Still the wait continued for work to begin on the new college. In 1908 the station was attacked and £425 worth of damage caused. In 1909 plans were again in preparation for an Agricultural College and the sum of £370 10s. 3d. was expended due to the chaos of agrarian and labour troubles to which Captain Craig retorted in the House of Commons ‘Will the right hon. Gentleman have any objection, seeing that there is so much agrarian trouble about Athenry, to building this college in one of the law-abiding counties?’ . Pictured right is the Connacht Tribune of 14 August 1909.

 By 1910 there was still no college as we know it today, but the plans were for ‘an agricultural station where livestock for the Department’s schemes for the West of Ireland are distributed, and where certain apprentices are taken in connection with the farming operations carried on there. The cost of acquiring the lands and providing the buildings has been £23, 117. The annual cost of maintenance is approximately £2000. The station has been established five years. The Athenry station serves chiefly the western congested districts. No county committees have made contributions in respect of the cost”.

That same year Mr. Duffy asked the Chief Secretary ‘Whether he is aware that a large farm of land was acquired some years ago by the Congested Districts Board in the neighbourhood of Athenry; that the farm was subsequently acquired by the Estate Commissioners; and that later on the greater portion of the farm was sold to the Agricultural Department for the express purpose of building a college thereon and maintain the farm for the training and education of the young men of Connaught in the science of agriculture; will he state at what date the farm was purchased by the Department; what sum of sums of money have been earmarked for the purpose of building the college’ to which Mr. Redmond Barry replied ‘I have given nothing to add to the reply given by the Vice-President of the Department to a question on the same subject asked by the hon. member for South Mayo on 29th July 1909’.

In 1910 agitation in Athenry was at its height, the agricultural station and the wider farm belonging to the department were protected by no fewer than sixteen police; of whom eleven belonged to the free force and five were extra police. Half the cost of the extra police was charged to the county, and no part was paid by the department. The agrarian unrest meant that the town would have to wait still longer for their ‘formal’ college but, famously, the next major reference to the site was for its being home to Volunteers on Easter Week a century ago. Athenry town would have to wait for independence for its college status but the wheels were now in motion for the agricultural station to become an agricultural college, with the final approval confirmed in the Connacht Tribune on 5 August 1922.

Other Sources The Goodbodys, Millers, Merchants, and Manufacturers: The Story of an Irish Quaker Family by Michael Goodbody which is available in Galway City Library; Patrick Melvin’s book Estates and Landed Society in Galway; and the URL ---http:// hansard.millbanksystems.com/search/athenry+agriculture+college

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