Preparations are underway to celebrate the centenary of Drinagh Co-Operative Creamery Ltd. with the publication of a history book on the society, for which information and photographs are being sought.
“Founded in 1923, Drinagh is rooted in the community in west Carbery,” said Philip O’Regan, who has been engaged to write the book.
“In 1923 Ireland was just emerging from a period of extraordinary turmoil which culminated in the War of Independence and Civil War.
“Rural Ireland was in a very depressed state and the industry of agriculture was completely underdeveloped. Drinagh Co-operative Creamery Limited was born out of necessity. Poverty was endemic and emigration was still a blight on the fabric of rural Ireland.”
The story of Drinagh represents in microcosm the social history of west Carbery over the past century. It is a story of innovation, perseverance, a willingness to adapt and change; it is a success story, Philip said.
The founding of Drinagh creamery
“Fr. John Crowley, who was appointed Catholic curate in Drinagh in October 1922, was the main motivator behind the founding of the creamery in Drinagh,” said Philip.
“On September 31, 1923, he wrote to Horace Plunkett, president of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS), saying they were organising a co-operative society in Drinagh and asking that an IAOS organiser be sent to help them.
“Patrick Courtney, an IAOS organiser, visited Drinagh and attended a meeting of 200 farmers in the local school. In a letter dated October 31, 1923, Courtney gave a glowing endorsement of Fr. Crowley.”
The letter said: Fr. Crowley, who is a young man of considerable energy and very keen on the co-operative movement, had already got a canvass made of the district and had in his possession some £1,3,00 collected from the farmers for shares. Fr. Crowley believes that the salvation of Ireland is in economics rather than politics. … He has with him a lot of very fine young men of different religious persuasions but of the one mind in doing their bit to build up the country on safe lines.
“Situated in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, Drinagh Co-Op defied the odds and exceeded all expectations,” Philip continued.
“The society affected what amounted to a bloodless revolution in the economic and social lives of thousands of people in west Carbery.
“Transport costs militated against the establishment of creameries in areas such as west Cork, as the milk supply was geographically dispersed among a multitude of small producers in remote areas. But Drinagh overcame this and many other obstacles to become a thriving concern,” Philip added.
“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.”
While butter remained its main output until the early 1960s, Drinagh quickly grew and diversified into a multi-purpose co-operative. It became one of the largest manufacturing and wholesaling concerns in creamery butter in Ireland.
In the mid-1970s, Drinagh had 28 branches situated over a wide geographical area.
“Drinagh played a leading role in convincing Express Dairies to open a milk processing plant in west Cork in 1965 and the Carbery Group is now entirely owned by the four dairy co-operatives in the area, with Drinagh having the largest shareholding at 40%. Carbery is a leading dairy, ingredients and flavouring business and has eight manufacturing facilities across the globe,” said Philip.
“Drinagh has contributed an extraordinary amount to the economic and social life in west Carbery over the past 100 years.
“Whatever challenges the dairy industry will face in the next decades, and they will be many and varied, Drinagh is in rude health to lead the way for its shareholders and the community in west Carbery.”