Just a month after the first newspaper notice of the Society, it advertised for a ‘first rate Agriculturist’, with the promise of a ‘liberal salary’. Applications were to be sent to; Edmund Lombard Hunt, Treasurer; James Lahiff or Edward Blaquiere, both of whom were Secretaries. Or to Mr. Patrick Burke, Assistant Secretary, Bridge Street, Gort.
On 23 September, the Society held their first half yearly exhibition in the court house. At 5 o’clock that day, about 300 people sat down to a ‘sumptuous dinner’. John Martyn of Tullyra was chair. On his right sat Lord Gort, Daniel MacNevin, James Mahon, Northampton, and on his left sat Hon. S Daly, Thomas N. Redington M.P., Rev. William O’Grady. Captain Shaw Taylor was Vice Chair, supported by Christopher St. George, James H. Burke, Edmund Lombard Hunt, Robert Gregory, Denis Daly, J.P. Vereker, and Rev. Michael Nagle.
T.N. Redington addressed the crowd ‘The first object was to bring together both Tenant and Landlord, to meet in good fellowship, and by every possible means promote each other’s happiness. Their practical aim in founding the Society was to improve the state of Agriculture in that district. He had heard it said outside that their views in founding the society was to get more rent from their tenants; but they would say to persons who made these observations – do not condemn us without giving us fair trial, or a fair examination as to the result of our exertions. ..By sustaining the cordiality with which they had commenced, and going on as they had begun, they would raise attractions in that part of the country, which would prevent its being said that the landlords of that district were absentees like the gentry of other places.
Lord Gort followed by saying that the pleasantest moment a landlord experience was when he met his tenants in a court house, not as a criminal but as a friend at the festive board. As a member of the committee of the Society, his sole wish and object was to promote the interest of his tenants and to see them live happily. He (Lord Gort) was a resident Irish landlord. He never absented himself from home – he constantly kept a number of workmen employed. He had not put his foot out of Ireland for the last 15 years – he trusted that he and his tenants in this province would live on as good terms as he did with those he had in Limerick. They had no politics in that society – persons of all shades both in religion and politics were united. He concluded by proposing the health of the Clergy.
The first meeting of the Society was held in the Barrack-square, Gort on 30 September 1845. The show of stock and of green crops exhibited was considerable. Here we get further details of the speeches outlined above. Lord Gort said it was the duty of every man amongst them to make the soil as productive as possible…there could be no doubt that if proper encouragement were given to agriculture, the land would yield a most abundant crop. . . It was in his opinion, a matter of pride to the landowners of the district that they were all , in the strictest sense of the word, resident at home. The Very Rev. Dean Nagle responded to Lord Gort with thanks.
After the exhibition dinner was provided in the courthouse and a t 4 o’clock, 150 people (the most the courthouse could hold), sat down to an excellent entertainment, supplied by Miss Forrest of the Hotel. Mr. Lambert of Aggard addressed the crowd, followed by Mr. St. George. Captain Taylor followed by saying he was ‘anxious for an improvement in the mode of agriculture of the county’. Mr. Redington M.P. followed and said ‘he should remark if people generally endeavoured to cultivate their lands according to the system recommended by Mr. Christoson, whom he had for some time known as an experienced agriculturist, they would find their advantage in the large increase of produce which would reward their labours. . . He was convinced that by following up the plans laid down by the society, they would soon be enabled to live happily in their homes, and every man amongst them would be prosperous and contented.
Rev. Nagle ‘For his own part he did not dread that any of his flock would become converts to the faith of his friend Mr. Robinson, and if he had any apprehension of such, it would arise from his benevolent kindness to the poor, and from the unbounded charities and mild demeanour of the very gifted and eloquent Dean Kirwan. A toast was made to Lord Clancarthy, the originator of district Agricultural Societies.’ Mr. Christoson was called upon to read his report, which detailed the progress made by the Society since its formation.
First; John Martin Esq., ploughman Tom Cloran
Second; John Martin Esq, ploughman Michael Lyons
Third, Robert Gregory Esq., ploughman John Noon
First; John Swift £1 10s
Second; Tom Cloonan £1 2s 6d
Third; Martin Crehan, 13 shillings
Fourth; John Bermingham, 10s
Fifth; Thomas Moran, 7s 6d
On Thursday 2 April 1846 the Society held their second half yearly meeting, when 60 members sat down to an excellent dinner provided by Mrs. Forrest. Rev. Michael Nagle V.G., P.P., congratulated the Society upon the good feeling which had hitherto marked its course. He dwelt upon the necessity of mutual confidence between landlord and tenant, the former performing the duties as well as exerting the rights of property. Captain F. M. Shawe Taylor was the Chairman, while James Lahiff was the Vice Chairman. T.N. Bagot responded to a toast mad to ‘the landlords of the district’ by toasting to ‘the tenant famers’, which Mr. Michael O’Neil returned thanks and proposed ‘the officers of the society’. E.L. Hunt, Treasurer of the Society, read the report of the Society’s preceding since its establishment in April last, and the following premiums, earned since September, were distributed.
Rev. B. O’Hara R.C.C., said he ‘occupied an intermediate position amongst them; placed between the aristocracy on one hand, and the tenantry on the other and therefore swayed by no party...He was not prone to flattery, and no man despised it more than he did, yet he could not avoid saying that he had never heard a more beautiful or moral discourse than that which had just fallen from the lips of his reverend friend (Dean Kirwan)….He observed that the establishment of a loan fund in connection with the Society might be productive of much advantage to both landlord and tenant.
Major Vereker had obtained much information on the savings bank and loan fund systems from Mr. Phillip Reade, and he was convinced it could be easily carried out at Gort. Captain Lahiff and the Chairman (Shawe Taylor) stated their will to contribute £100 each for such a purpose – all present agreeing to assist according to their abilities. Lord Gort then concluded that they should ‘thorough drain’ their glasses, and hoped Mr Reddington and other valued members who were unavoidably absent in March would all be present in September.
On Tuesday 22 September 1846, the Gort Union Farming Show, the second since its formation, went off well, and but for the wetness of the day, would have been numerously attended. J.S. Lambert exhibited a beautiful lot of ewes. The specimens of turnips and mangolds good – cabbages still better – carrots and parsnips rather poor – honey very fine, and linens and friezes excellent. One large lot of turkeys was exhibited; they were very excellent, and having lost their hen, had been reared by the cock turkey. Mr. Gregory of Coole’s wild boar, which had no competitor, excited much curiosity and amusement.
Captain Shaw Taylor presided at the dinner provided again by Mrs. Forrest, to which Lord Gort contributed some venison. Speakers at the dinner included Lord Gort,James Molony, Rev. Mr. Nagle PP, E.L. Hunt, Major Vereker, Dean Kirwan, Robert O’Brien, Robert Bodkin, and D.J. Wilson. In the evening the hospitable doors were thrown open at Loughcooter Castle, where song and dance enlivened the scene until morning. Among the company were Count Cazzoria, Mr. Gregory, the Hon. John, William and Mrs. O’Grady, and the Misses Hewit, Miss O’Grady, Mr and the Hon Mrs. Lambert, Mr. and Mrs. (Anna) Bodkin, Mrs Misses and Mr M. Lynch (Kenmare), Mr. and Mrs. Kilcaldy, Mr. B. O’Brien, Mr. Wilson, Mr and Mrs. Mulville, the Misses Roy, Lieutenant Grove, and the officers of the Enniskillen Dragoons, Mr. Balfe, Mr. Talbot, Rev. J Darcey.
Grace before meat was pronounced by Dean Kirwan, and after by Dr. Nagle. Robert Gregory expressed that he was proud to be ‘one of the originators of the society’. He proceeded to read a report detailing that in 1845, they had 102 competitors for the prizes, in 1846 they had 171 ‘but bear in mind that this year the hand of God has been upon us, and we have no competitors for potatoes because alas! There are none, or but very little in the country’. He then proceeded to talk about the difference of expense between thatching and slating, which for a house 30 feet by 14, he suggests would only be around 1 pound.
Shawe Taylor then made an address ‘since the failure of the crop, it is evident that we must redouble our exertions to render the situation of the peasantry less miserable that it otherwise would be, and this can best be done by securing proper advantages in the sowing and cultivating of other crops. I refer particularly to flax’.
Lord Gort ‘believe me your kind reception of our names will urge us to co-operate heartily together for the safety of our tenantry from the horrors of famine, caused by failure of the potato crop…But we must work cordially together, and I say, if ever there was a time for the landlords to stand by their tenantry, that period is the present and we will stand by them. We sacrificed a great deal last year, and there is no sacrifice we are not ready and willing again to make for the honest, improving tenant who shows himself to act fairly and justly. …The Gort Agricultural Society is founded on no sectarian grounds; it is wholly independent of political or religious questions: it is merely based upon the principle of introducing a better mode of cultivation, and of encouraging the growth of green crops…The tenant and the landlord must rise or fall together; for the interests of the one are essentially promoted by the prosperity of the other.
Edmund L Hunt, as an officer of the Society, returned thanks, and alluded to the fact that since 12th March last, the society had disposed of clover seed in small quantities to no less than 160 people in the district, where before the soil was used to yield nothing but impoverished weeds. 265 individuals also received a quantity of spring vetches, and there were a few instances where people required more than a stone and a half. More than 100 of the peasantry required turnip seed, which was supplied, and in mangel wurzel and other crops they were ready to meet the demand. One of the great draws with the Society was the funds are nearly exhausted ‘that we are cramped in our endeavours for the general good, and that for the last 6 months we were unable to have the services of the agriculturist who was for some time in our employment. …without the aid of such a person, we cannot go on as we might wish, and that for 6 months, at least from this date, we should have the assistance of 3 agriculturists who would be able to go from house to house and from farm to farm, showing people how best they might supply the deficiency created by the failure of that crop[. All I ask at present is £100, to enable us to secure the services of 3 agriculturists for the next 6 months to go about the peasantry.
Honourable Major Vereker then proceeded to read the list of the competitors, the state in which the judges found the several crops and farms contending for prizes, and to declare the prizes of those entitled to the same.
Robert Bodkin, Annagh, member of the Tuam Agricultural Association. Mr Hazlitt, of Belfast, made a speech regarding the suitability of the area for growing flax and remarked; ‘he was satisfied from an inspection of some specimens he had seen at the exhibition, that the country about Gort was well adapted to its cultivation. It was not, he said, the custom to take a second crop off the land, which would afterwards be well prepared for wheat or oats, 2 or 3 ploughings being made as soon as the flax was gathered in.
D.J. Wilson Esq (Belvoir), relative of Mr Lambert of CreggClare said the subject of failure in the potato crop has been spoken of this evening, and how to find a substitute is a question that has puzzled many; but I maintain that you must increase the growth of parsnips, carrots and mangel wurzel, and to do this effectually you must adopt the subsoiling system, for unless in a deep and dry soil, they will not grow.
No further newspaper reports relating to the Society could be located
Interestingly, however, from 19 March 1850 to 6 August 1850, a number of references regarding agricultural instruction are to be found in the Minute Books of Gort Poor Law Union, which seem to suggest an effort of agricultural improvement was still occurring, which would seem to correspond with the continued entry of the Gort Union Agricultural Society in Thom's Almanac up until 1850.
- 19 March 1850 p19 vol c; Messrs James S Lambert, John Martyn, and James Galbraith were requested to act as a committee on the part of the Board of Guardians for Gort Poor Law Union to communicate wit the Royal Agricultural Improvement Society relative to the appointment of a practical instructor and supply of seeds
- 9 April 1850; Letter of Mr Butler Secretary of the Royal Agricultural Society having been read it was resolved that the board of guardians of this union be a committee to assist the practical instructor in husbandry, and to distribute the seed supplied by the society, and Doctor Hynes of Kinvara be appointed to act as secretary to the committee
- 23 Jul 1850; Advertisement for an agriculturist to direct the paupers in their labour at a salary not exceeding £20 per annum and rations
- 6 Aug 1850; Poor Law Commissioners reminded the board of guardians that a portion of the land belonging to the union was limited in its use to the instruction of boys of 16 years of age and under, and requesting the guardians to organize a class of that age to whose instruction the attention of the agriculturist should be chiefly given
I could find no further references to agricultural improvement in the Minute Books or newspapers after 1850, so it appears the Society was short lived, lasting from 1845 to 1850.
Thom's Irish Almanac 1846 page 288
Thom's Irish Almanac 1847 page 281, 286
Thom's Irish Almanac 1848 page 285, 286
Thom's Irish Almanac 1849 page 285
Thom's Irish Almanac 1850 page 286
Tuam Herald 5 April 1845, page 2
Dublin Evening Post 17 April 1845, page 4
Dublin Evening Post 30 September 1845, page 4
Limerick Chronicle 1 October 1845, page
Farmer's Gazette and Journal of Practical Horticulture 7 February 1846 page 11
Galway Mercury and Connaught Weekly Advertiser 11 April 1846 page 2
Limerick Chronicle 30 September 1846 page 2
Farmer's Gazette and Journal of Practical Horticulture 10 October 1846 page 342, p 343
G01-12-009 Minutes 19-10-1849 to 30 Jul 1850; Gort Poor Law Union Minute Books, Volume C