For Drinagh, the year 2023 will be a very special one as the west Cork based co-op celebrates its centenary.

A number of events are being planned to celebrate the milestone, including the publication of a book compiled by Philip O’Regan, telling the story of the society, which is scheduled for the autumn.

“In 1923, Drinagh was probably one of the most unlikely places in the country that one would set up a creamery cooperative,” Philip said.

“However, the catholic curate in Drinagh, Fr. John Crowley, and a number of local farmers defied the odds and established what was, for many years, the biggest business west of Cork city.

“The initial plan in Drinagh was to establish a butter blending factory and not a creamery at all. However, two local farmers, Charlie Ellis and Robert Ellis – who were not related – went to England to meet with butter merchants with a view to establishing a market,” Philip continued.

The two men apparently reported back that what the consumer in England wanted was properly regulated, consistent quality creamery butter, and not blended farmers’ butter.

It was then decided that a creamery and not a blending factory should be established in Drinagh.

“Fr. Crowley was already showing signs of his remarkable shrewdness in business matters. He understood the importance of the producer knowing what the consumer wanted,” Philip said.

Drinagh centenary
The front cover of Drinagh’s special edition centenary calendar 2023 which is already becoming something of a collector’s item in west Cork

Drinagh Co-operative Creamery Ltd., was officially registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act on November 13, 1923 with its registered office in Drinagh village, Dunmanway, Co. Cork.

“On 12 May 1924, the creamery opened in Drinagh, and 2,268 gallons of milk were taken in. By June, the average daily supply had increased to 4,000 gallons,” Philip explained.

“Very quickly Drinagh expanded its operation, opening retail and egg-buying outlets and by the end of the decade the society had six auxiliaries operating at Kilmeen, Hawthorn, Castlehaven, Adrigole, Cononagh and Clohane.

“Despite setbacks and some very difficult periods, Drinagh grew exponentially. In 1955 Drinagh’s turnover exceeded £1,000,000 for the first time. It was only the fourth co-op in the country to hit this milestone.

“Mr. W.J. Quirke, general manager of Drinagh, played a crucial role in convincing Express Dairies to establish a milk processing plant in west Cork in 1965 and the Carbery Group is now entirely owned by the four dairy cooperatives in the area, with Drinagh having the largest shareholding at 40%. “

Carbery is a dairy, ingredients and flavouring business and has eight manufacturing facilities across the globe.

“A number of significant acquisitions, especially the taking over of the West Cork Creameries group in 1975 and the Biggs Farm Centre and James Lyons Hardware outlets in Bantry in 2012, further established Drinagh’s prominent place in the economic and social life of west Carbery,” Philip continued.

“At one time Drinagh had 28 branches, some covering the more remote parts of west Carbery.”

Drinagh centenary
Canon John Crowley, founder of Drinagh and who played a crucial role in the early years of its development

“Drinagh now has four pharmacies, at Bantry, Dunmanway, Schull and Skibbereen, and this is another important progression in the diversification of its business and the role it plays in the community,” Philip stated.

“Drinagh will continue to diversify to meet the needs of its 2,000 shareholders and the community it serves. It is now a large multi-purpose cooperative with 15 outlets throughout west Carbery supplying a wide range of products and services.

“As a little taster of what is to come during 2023, Drinagh produced a special edition centenary calendar containing a very interesting selection of photographs, and that is already becoming something of a collector’s item in west Cork.”