A remarkable story in West Cork’s rich agricultural heritage chronicled to mark Drinagh co-op centenary

As part of the celebrations to commemorate the centenary of Drinagh co-op, Phillip O’Regan has written a book ‘100 Years of Drinagh Co-operative Creamery Limited’. Expected to be published at the end of October 2023, Tommy Moyles says it is the remarkable story of how a small community, in what was then one of the most deprived parts of the country, established a dairy business.

On Tuesday 26 February 1957 11 pure-bred TB-free Jersey in-calf heifers arrived at Shannon Airport from the Jersey Islands for Drinagh. They were purchased from the Jersey Countrymen’s Association and were considered the best registered animals on the island.

In late July, over 3,000 people attended two open family days at ithe co-op’s headquarters in Drinagh, where the Drinagh 100 exhibition took place; with an archive of photographs and memorabilia, the main attraction. The collection of hundreds of photographs, letters and documents chronicled the story of Drinagh from its inception. The release of the book will be one of the stand-out chronicles of West Cork’s rich agricultural heritage.

Author Philip O’Regan said. “Researching and writing a history of Drinagh Co-operative Creamery Limited has been a pleasure. It has also been a great privilege. I believe the story of Drinagh is one of the single most important developments in west Carbery in the past one hundred years. The founding of Drinagh in 1923 sparked an economic and social revolution in what was then one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. It is the story of innovation, perseverance and tenacity. It is a wonderful success story.”

In 1923, a group of farmers in Drinagh, led by Fr John Crowley CC, decided to establish a creamery co-operative, an enterprise that was as much about self-preservation as anything else. Drinagh was an unlikely place to set up a creamery co-operative. The fertility of the land was poor, it was not on a railway line, the road network was in an appalling state, making it more expensive and time-consuming to cart goods and materials in and out of the place. However, by their own sweat and toil, the pioneers of the co-operative movement in Drinagh created what became a thriving concern within a few years. From the beginning, Drinagh confounded the odds and exceeded all expectations.

The members of the first committee of management in Drinagh were pioneers in every sense of the word. They were visionaries. The ethos and spirit of co-operation were central to their thinking and their legacy is an enormous one with successive management committees/boards of directors continuing that spirit of enterprise and co-operation down through the decades. The contribution that Drinagh has made to the economy and life in west Carbery over the past century is incalculable. There is scarcely a family that has not had some connection with the Society at some point. Drinagh has evolved as times changed and has diversified into a large multi-purpose co-operative, but it is still completely rooted in the community. It is of the community and for the community. The concept of co-operation is not an outdated one, far from it. As farming and business models will change substantially in the years ahead, the support and protection of a strong, vibrant, and diverse co-op will be even more crucial.

Tommy Moyles

Tommy Moyles runs a suckler to beef herd at Ardfield, Clonakilty, Co Cork.

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