Mountbellew Agricultural College in Mountbellew, Co. Galway, will hold a special event this month to mark major historical milestones in its own history, as well as local agricultural veterinary history.

The ‘Harvesting our Heritage’ event, to be held on July 11, is organised by the college, Galway County Council, Atlantic Technological University (ATU) – of which Mountbellew is now a campus – and the University of Galway.

Three key aspects of local agricultural history will be celebrated on the day: the 120th anniversary of the founding of the college by Franciscan Brothers Mountbellew; the 200th anniversary of a major statistical survey of Co. Galway; and the work and life of Aileen Cust, the first woman to be recognised as a veterinary surgeon in the UK or Ireland.

Mountbellew Agricultural College was founded in 1904 by the Franciscan Brothers, who previously ran a secondary school on the location. Mountbellew was the first agricultural college in Ireland.

The presence of the Franciscan Brothers community in Mountbellew began in 1820, when they were invited by the local landlord, Christopher Dillon Bellew – who was active in Daniel O’Connell’s catholic emancipation campaign – to establish a school.

After the community was incorporated into the Archdiocese of Tuam, it established more communities and schools under the direction of the archbishop. However, only the communities at Mountbellew, Clifden and Corrundulla remain active today.

Over the ensuing two hundred years, brothers in these communities set up and worked in schools as far away as Los Angeles in the US, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya and Uganda. Their educational work in African countries has a particular focus on agricultural development.

The July 11 event will also delve into the Hely Dutton Statistical Survey of Co. Galway, which was published in 1824.

The survey, carried out by the Royal Dublin Society, was part of a series that was meant to cover all Irish counties, but due to funding issues only Connacht counties saw their surveys completed.

A wide range of topics were surveyed, including geography, agricultural practice, land tenure, and farm size. Detail was also collected on social customs, language and religion.

The author of the survey, Hely Dutton, was, by profession, involved in landscape design and cultivation. He had previously worked for the Bellew family on their estate. The survey of Co. Galway provides detailed insight into farming and agriculture in the county 200 years ago.

Copies of the survey can be read at Galway Local Studies and Ballinasloe Libraries, and can be read online on Google Books and Internet Archive.

Finally, the day of commemoration will celebrate Aileen Cust, who was acknowledged as a veterinary surgeon (the first woman to be so recognised) by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in London…over 20 years after qualifying as one.

She qualified through the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1900 but the RCVS said it had no power to admit women to its ranks.

Cust was born in 1868 at Cordangan Manor, Co. Tipperary to Sir Leopold and Lady Isabel Cust. She was regarded as an excellent student during her studies at Edinburgh.

Despite not being recognised as a veterinary surgeon, she found work as a vet’s assistant in Roscommon and, in 1906, was appointed as a veterinary inspector for Galway County Council (but due to opposition from the RCVS her official title could not include the word ‘veterinary’).

In 1915 she took a leave of absence from the council to volunteer her veterinary services in France, for the treatment of horses in the First World War (horses were used for pulling artillery and various other types of work during the war, particularly in its early years).

She was eventually awarded her diploma by the RCVS in 1922 after legislation was passed prohibiting the exclusion of women from professions. Aileen Cust died in Jamaica in 1937, leaving £5,000 in her will for a veterinary research scholarship with a preference for female candidates.

The event on July 11 – an all-day event starting at 9:00a.m – will hear lectures from experts from a number of institutions, Mountbellew’s own staff, and farmers and vets.

The event will also see the release of a booklet on Aileen Cust, which will be launched by Martin Blake, chief veterinary officer at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Commenting on the event, Galway County Council Heritage Officer Marie Mannion said: “Harvesting our Heritage promises to be a comprehensive examination of the key developments that have shaped the landscape of Galway. It is an event aimed at anyone with a keen interest in the region’s rich heritage.”