The Co-op

Inishowen Co-op
Inishowen Co-op

The Co-op Movement

In 1889, Ireland’s first co-operatives were established in Doneraile, Co. Cork and the first co-operative creamery was opened in Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick. Adopting the Danish Co-operative Model, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society Ltd. (later renamed the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society Limited - ICOS), was formed in 1894 by Sir Horace Plunkett and his friends. On the recommendation of the poet and playwright W.B Yeats, one of the first ICOS employees was the poet, painter, mystic and practical economist, George William Russell. The seeds for the Credit Union movement in Ireland were sown within ICOS by Fr Tom Finlay. Based on the Raiffeisen system, Ireland’s First Co-operative Agricultural Credit Society was set up in Co. Cork in November 1894. The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland (DATI) was formed in 1899.

A Co-Op was established outside Donegal Town in 1901. This was a small store and was followed by Templecrone Co-Op founded by Paddy ‘the Cope’ Gallagher. He succeeded in getting the IAOS to support a store at Dungloe in the face of stiff opposition from local traders and shopkeepers. Among those who supported him were George Russell (the writer AE) ANS Tom Finlay, a Jesuit priest. A large number of Co-operative banks were also set up including one at Malin in 1901, Ardmalin in 1901 and Dunaff in 1903.

During the 1940s, in spite of the fact that the Co-operative movement had been in existence for over half a century, the turbulence of recent Irish history meant that the workers’ or producers’ Co-operatives had not yet become widespread. Looking back it could be said that the first seeds of the Farmers’ Co-Op were sown when one of the founders with great vision and imagination, Donal Noone, suggested to local councillor, Manus Harkin, to organise an agricultural winter class for the Culdaff area in order for farmers to share new knowledge to and expertise on how best to manage their land.

From humble beginnings in 1959, the Inishowen C-Operative Society Limited attained a lofty stature, generally regarded as one of Ireland’s most progressive and forward-looking societies. While many people contributed to its development perhaps the outstanding guiding light was the late Jim McCarroll, the Carndonagh veterinary surgeon who was chairman of the founding committee which in February 1959 got the Society into business with the establishment of the Inishowen Co-Operative livestock mart. That original committee had Paddy O’ Doherty as secretary, William McLaughlin, James Anthony McColgan and Robert Carey.

This was the starting point. Within four years the Stores, properly known as the Inishowen Farmers’ Co-Op, were established with the original committee being comprised of Denis Toner, Donal Noone, Joe McCauley, James Morrison and Eddie McLaughlin. But it was nine years, in June 1972 before the major move into the pig market was taken. First set up was a fattening unit, and when this proved to be a step in the right direction a sow unit was built in 1975. Once again Mr. McCarroll was involved, along with other committee members Gerard Monagle, Charlie Scott and Robert Carey. A major development took place in August 1970 when the Inishowen and Clonleigh Co-Ops went into a joint venture to form the Inisleigh Co-Op outside Newtoncunningham. It was an amalgamation that proved beneficial to both.

The whole philosophy behind the co-op movement is that it is best to come together and work from a position of strength. Farming has always been an important industry in Ireland and a co-operative, which is a community organisation, is best suited to meet the needs of an ever expanding and developing farming community.

See the publication: ‘Inishowen Co-Op: The First 50 Years 1963-2013’ edited by Margaret Farren and colleagues for a detailed history of the organisation.