In this article, Tim O’Sullivan provides a comprehensive insight into the foundation of the Old Cork Milk Board.
Annual land purchase annuities in the Irish Free State amounted to about £3 million, a significant sum (considering that total income intake in the early 1930s was over £25 million).
Although the annuities only cost the typical farmer around 10% of their net revenue every year, this set sum became a greater hardship during lean years.
At the beginning of the 1930s, Irish agriculture went through a disastrous time due to the worldwide Great Depression and the Economic War between the Irish Free State and Great Britain.
By the middle of the 1930s, the situation had deteriorated to the point where even the wealthiest and most skilled farmers were forced into social misery as a result of the myriad factors and events that had inflicted so much damage upon an industry on which a large portion of the country’s population relied.
On August 13th, 1934, approximately 3,000 Blueshirts protested in Cork city against cattle seizures resulting from the non-payment of annuities and rates. Marsh’s Yard, where the cattle were being held for sale, was the focus of the protests.
Fifteen Blueshirts drove a lorry through the police cordon and the closed yard gate, followed by a small group on foot.
Armed Special Branch detectives inside the yard opened fire, injuring six and killing 22-year-old Michael Patrick Lynch from Carrignavar, Co. Cork.
Uniformed Gardaí clashed with hundreds more protestors outside the gates. Farmers, big and small, had become increasingly attracted to the interventionist policies of the Blueshirts and the Labour Party, endorsed by the heavily influential Catholic Church.
The British government imposed severe tariffs on Irish agricultural products in response to the Fianna Fáil government’s decision to withhold the payment of annuities.
This was exacerbated domestically by a drastic compression of milk and tillage prices, with many of the most prolific farmers becoming quickly impoverished.
It was against this background that a new movement arose for the re-organisation of agricultural supports and representation in Co. Cork.
The key figures behind this movement were Patrick Joesph Manley and Martin Corry. Manley was brought was up in a big farming family after being born about 1905 to Patrick Manley Sr. and Bridget Manley.
On the 1911 census, Patrick Joseph was listed as a resident of Coole, Carrignavar, Co. Cork.
His grandmother, Margaret, a widow, was living there with two attendants. They were all devout members of the Catholic Church.
Approximately ten years after Bridget’s death in 1936 (at which public condolences were delivered by the Blueshirts, by then officially known as the ‘League of Youth,’ in a public ceremony held at Desmond’s Hotel, Cork City), Patrick Sr. died.
It seems that Patrick Joseph’s grandfather, also named Patrick Manley, had another large farm in the Blarney area.
Their ancestors came to Co. Cork during the plantations of Ireland carried out by the English Cromwellian Republic (the ‘Protectorate’) in the middle of the 17th century, and they originally hailed from the civil parish of Manley, which is situated in the ceremonial English county of Cheshire.
Around 1920, Manley won the Munster Schools’ Rugby Senior Cup with CBC Cork (Christians). In 2008, his winners’ medal was loaned to the school and is now on permanent display.
He was known as ‘Packie’ to his friends and family. Despite his relative youth at the time, Manley was a prominent agriculturalist in Co. Cork during the 1930s.
Manley was a member of the Cork County Executive of the old Irish Farmers’ Union (also known locally as the Cork Farmers’ Union) and the Management Committee of the annual Cork County Ploughing Championship.
As of 1931, Manley also served on the national executive of the Farmers’ Party, shortly before its dissolution.
He co-authored a document titled ‘Agriculture & The Corporate State’ (a fashionable ideology at the time, supported in part by the Catholic Church).
He also served on the Co. Cork Divisional Executive of the League of Youth (the Blueshirts), before a conversion to Fianna Fáil, induced by Corry.
Taken from homes
It was in the spring of 1935 when Manley and four other men were taken from their homes in Co. Cork.
All of them were supposed to testify as state witnesses in a military tribunal of farmers from Co. Cork in Dublin City, but they vanished without a trace.
The first three witnesses reappeared a week after the trial ended; Manley and Mr. Michael Fitzgerald of Whitegate, Co. Cork, returned two weeks later.
According to the Press Association, upon their release, all of the men claimed that they had been abducted.
In 1936, Manley presided over the joint conference of the Milk Producers’ Association and the Milk Vendors’ Association in Cork city for the purpose of establishing a milk board in Co. Cork.
In July of that year, he was a main instigator and co-founder of the Cork and District Milk Producers’ Association.
Manley served as the inaugural honorary secretary of the association. Manley was a member of the team that negotiated the establishment of the Cork Milk Board with Dr. James Ryan, then Minister for Agriculture of the incumbent Fianna Fail government. F
Fianna Fail, politician and former Anti-Treaty IRA commander Martin Corry was present, having facilitated the introduction and negotiation between the related parties.
Ryan announced to the delegation that it had been decided to establish in Cork “a milk board, somewhat similar to the Dublin board, to control and regulate the sale and distribution of milk in the city.”
Corry was elected to the Cork & District Milk Producers’ Association’s board in 1937. At the association’s annual general meeting in October 1937, the annual report declared that Manley initiated the movement “to take some steps to give the milk producers a reasonable return for their capital and labour.
The price of milk had reached a very low level in the summer of 1936, and milk was selling far below the cost of production.
The members of the Association foresaw that the then-existing prices and the enforcement of the Milk and Dairies Act 1936, would place the producers in an impossible position.
The association then learned that a milk board had been set up in Dublin and decided to make every possible effort to have a similar board established in Cork. The Milk Board was set up in Cork on March 25th, 1937.
Manley himself bred and reared a large herd of Dairy Shorthorn cows. He acted as a main point of contact for many politicians and was regarded as a prolific lobbyist in his time.
Manley and Corry appear to have had a formidable relationship in particular, with Manley becoming a strong supporter of Corry.
Manley later became a regional ‘boss’ within Fianna Fáil, which cemented a strong grip over the farming vote in Co. Cork.
The association’s work, however, did not stop at the foundation of the Milk Board. Martin Corry played a major role in promoting the Cork & District Milk Producers’ Association’s work in the Dáil, frequently referring to research, projects and proposals up until he left politics in the 1960s.
Corry’s political base lay among the small farmers and agricultural labourers of east Cork; he was an outspoken advocate of tillage and land division.
Through his influence, east Cork became the leading beet-growing area in the country; a sugar factory was established in Mallow, and Comhlucht Siucre Éireann (Irish Sugar Co.) established East Cork Foods Ltd, with Corry as chairman.
As long-time national chairman of the Irish Sugar Beet Growers’ Association (BGA), he organised the sugar-beet growers and represented their interests.
After becoming weak and easily abused as a result of the Great Depression, coupled with extensive cattle seizures due to mounting commercial and personal debt, farmers were able to rely on the new milk board to provide guaranteed pricing for their products (decades before comparable programs by the EEC were implemented).