Friday, September 01, 2017


So what am I up to now? I hate gardening and I can't grow things for nuts. I'm more at home with fractals than with the real leaves. Why then am I going to a talk on allotments in Clontarf and Marino in 1917 given by Noel Carolan.

Well: my father had a plot in Ballybrack for about 10 years; I discovered some time ago that Noel Carolan was from Creewod in Co. Meath where some of my people are from; the talk was in Raheny library which is my local; and, sure, what had I to lose.

Well I'm glad I went. Apart from sitting in wondrous admiration at what Noel had trained Powerpoint to do, I got a whole new perspective on the home front during WWI, a conflict which had already intruded on my family history but mainly from the purely military side.

Douglas Appleyard

Noel was introduced by Raheny Heritage Society stalwart Douglas Appelyard, a distant relative of Bram Stoker.

It first fell to Douglas to inform those present of the death of Mary Dunne, one of the leading lights of the Society, on the previous Saturday. Her funeral was still to come on the morning after the talk. Some thought had been given to cancelling the talk but due to the short notice and, no doubt what would probably have been Mary's wish, it was decided to go ahead.

In passing I should mention that Douglas himself has a great talk on Jacobs (biscuits) and that he was the force behind the recent handover of his own collection of Jacobs' memorabilia and that company's archive to Dublin City Archive.

Noel Carolan

Once Noel took the floor, the pace accelerated like a roller coaster.

Now I hadn't really thought about all this allotment stuff in any structured way and so it was a complete revelation to me how a modest allotment movement exploded in 1917. The war was well advanced at this stage and the home front was experiencing both food shortages and rapidly rising food prices.

Through cooperation between Dublin City Council and the various allotment-connected committees, land was acquired and distributed and men (yes they were men) trained in the rudiments of horticulture.

This was all achieved to the accompaniment of outside-the-box ingenuity as objects designed for other purposes at other times were pressed into service. Old horse drawn carriages, or what was left of them became sheds - a bit like what was to befall many trams some forty years later. Irrigation systems were constructed from old water tanks and piston mechanisms.

Ploughing had already speeded up over the traditional horse-drawn method. We now had the cable driven plough.

Two engines started at opposite sides of a field. They were connected by a cable which could be wound into a rotating drum.

A plough was connected to the cable and was drawn across the field by one engine. When that furrow had been completed the engines moved to the next position, the plough was rotated and then pulled back to its original side of the field by the other engine. This process was repeated until the field was ploughed. It was faster and much more efficient than horse-drawn ploughing.

In the run up to 1917 the Vacant Land Cultivation Society had obtained land throughout the city, giving "plots at cheap rents to casual workers to enable them to supplement their meagre earnings". By 1917 they had 487 allotments on the go in 13 locations.

On top of this the scale of the Corporation's own allotment operation in 1917 itself was massive. In that year a Land Cultivation Committee acquired 16 areas which were divided into 1,194 allotments of "one-eighth of a statute acre" each, according to records held in the Dublin City Archives. The next year another 10 areas, divided into 914 allotments, were made available.

Amazing the things you learn in your local library. And just look at the concentration on the faces of the audience.

Anyway, as is clear above, the number of allotments rocketed in 1917/18 with the full and enthusiastic backing of the Government of the day. Numbers declined after that though there was a further blip during WWII when food was again in short supply.

Over the years since, the number of Dublin Corporation allotments has waxed and waned. In 1925 there were only 334, but during the Emergency there were 7,413, of which 2,000 were acquired in 48 hours in 1941 by Emergency Powers order. (Thanks to Jane Powers on whose Irish Times piece I have drawn for the above as I didn't take any notes. only photos, at the talk.)

Nowadays, allotments seem to be coming back into fashion with support from the various local authorities within County Dublin. But that's a whole other story.

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