Century of Endeavour

Barrington Lectures in the 40s

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

In 1945/6 JJ appears again as a Barrington Lecturer, this time in his capacity as a Senator, along with Prof John Busteed of UCC for Munster, Prof Collison Black of QUB for Ulster and MJ Gorman of Albert College for Connaught. The Black lectures were widely reported (dates given).

The JJ lectures took place in Bagenalstown on December 12 1945, Kilkenny December 13 and Nenagh December 14; the topic was 'Our Agricultural Prospects'. Also in Athlone March 21 1946, Tuam October 21 1946 and Ballina October 22, the topic being 'Public Enterprise and Economic Development'. They were reported in the Nenagh Guardian, the Western people, Irish Times, and the Tuam Herald. Kilkenny local press thought it 'too dry' and declined to report.

I have so far been unable to trace most of the local press reports, but it is reasonable to assume that the arguments used are those which he used to develop his 'Irish Agriculture in Transition', published in (1951). I have however been able to trace reports from the Tuam Herald, thanks to Maurice Laheen the Tuam local historian. There was advance notice on the October 19 issue, which previewed the lecture listing as topics the provision of national services (defence, police, judicial), and the importance of scientific research into problems of agriculture and industry. Rural electrification and the Shannon Scheme would also be covered. The pre-publicity went on: "Professor Johnston is one of the foremost authorities in the country on social matters, and his lectures in the city and the provinces have been highly praised. Such lectures as these help the average citizen to a greater understanding of social policy and make for a greater interest in national affairs...".

The lecture took place on October 21, and was reported in the issue of October 26. Very Rev J Killeen presided, and the subsequent discussion was said to involve Rev Dean Jackson, RM Burke and Sean O'Neill, but regrettably there was no indication of its flavour. The report concentrated on the role of the national electricity supply, and mentioned the other topics somewhat marginally by name only.

As a consequence of his participation in the Post-Emergency Agricultural Policy committee JJ contributed to a series of articles in the Irish Independent entitled 'Post-war Planning in Irish Agriculture', along with others, including E Richards Orpen, JN Greene, Henry Kennedy. Bro Jarlath Edwards and others. He used the opportunity to promote the idea of State leasing of large farms to trained people having access to the necessary working capital, and estimated that there would be opportunities for employment of 50,000 wage-workers created by this means. This was the alternative he counter-posed to 30-acre subsistence farming. He used comparisons with new Zealand and Denmark.

I have also traced a report of an Athlone lecture, under the auspices of the Vocational Education Committee, in the Irish Times of April 16 1947, thanks to the fact that he referenced it in the Seanad on the same day. It would appear that he must have done a re-run of at least some of the 1946 series in 1947, because the title is 'Economic Development under Public Enterprise'.

In this wide-ranging and radical paper JJ laid down criteria for recognising situations in which the public good would best be served by public enterprise, instancing utilities, education and scientific research. He drew on the experience of the Tennessee Valley Authority regarding demonstration farms, run on a scientific basis, with good record-keeping accessible to their neighbours.

He welcomed the rural electrification programme of the ESB as a factor in the future development of farm productivity, but urged the need for co-operative pooling of investment in machinery, along the lines seen in Britain under the influence of the War Agricultural Executive Committees.

His most radical proposal was the taking over of derelict farms by the local authority, and their leasing to worker co-operatives, or to existing farmer co-operatives, to be run under the direction of people properly trained in agricultural best practice. He pointed out that the local authorities had the power to do this, under Section 99 of the Local Government Act 1946, conventionally considered as being related to housing needs, but extensible by implication towards a process of agri-village development.

(The nearest he ever came to seeing this happen was at Dovea, which he visited around then, following its development in successive years; he wrote the experience up in 'Irish Agriculture in Transition'. He used this Barrington event to try to bring the Dovea model to the attention of the local authorities as an opportunity for municipal enterprise. The idea, which was sound, never caught on. It may however be undergoing a potential resurrection with the contemporary 'eco-village' movement. RJ Sept 2000)

This was the last of his official Barrington assignments, but I am taking the liberty of continuing the thread of his popularising and pamphleteering under the 'Barrington' header, from now on in quotes. The material is certainly in the Barrington spirit.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999