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Prometheus's Fire: Abstracts

Chapter 16: Agricultural Education in Ireland

Austin O'Sullivan and Richard Jarrell

This extensive chapter (36 pages) covers the successive attempts to develop an Irish agricultural education system during the past 3 centuries. The English and Scottish improvers of the 18th century (Townshend, Young, Bakewell and others) found emulators in Ireland primiarily via the Dublin Society, founded in 1731.

Earlier the Royal Society, of which the scientific work had motivated some of the early English improvers, had its echo in the Dublin Philosophical Society (1684-1708). Lectures, demonstrations and exhibitions were held, and itinerant instructors employed. Apprenticeship schemes were initiated.

The first residential agricultural school was at Bannow in Wexford from 1821 to 26, which was run on a non-denominational basis. The RDS initiatives were supplemented later by locally-based organisations such as the Irish Agricultural Improvement Society (1833). The impact of this work in the pre-famine subsistence agriculture environment was however negligible.

The foundation of the National School system of primary education in 1833 provided a framework for basic training in agricultural techniques, and 'model farms' were started, for teacher training purposes. These initiatives however ran up against the problem of land tenure, with its improvement-related rent increases. The Model Farms were mostly closed in the 1870s under pressure from the Liverpool Financial Reform Association, who were agitating against any state support for anything useful. The Model Farm in Cork however was saved by the intervention of local business, in support of the maintenance of butter export quality.

Things began to turn around in the 1880s, with the increasing awareness of the importance of the British market for quality food imports. There was awareness of the Danish model. Horace Plunkett founded the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS), helped to build the co-operative creameries, and became the head of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (1901), which laid the basis of the modern system.

Post-1922 the authors trace the development of the County Committees of Agriculture, the farmers organisations, the emergence of the Irish Farmers Journal, the Agricultural Institute etc in some detail. The influence of accession to the European Common Market (now the European Union) is traced; the disbanding of the County Committees and the initiation of ACOT, followed by the integration of this with the Agricultural Institute to form the present Teagasc.

Overall however there is an impression given of a sense of unfinished business, with a multiplicity of attempted approaches to an ongoing problematic and changing situation. Many questions are raised an left unanswered. This chapter however would constitute a good starting-point for a book dedicated to analysing the dynamics of the relationship between the education system, the political system and the educational needs of the primary agricultural producers.

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