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Chewing the cud on the sweet pastures of South Kildare

Leinster Leader 10 April 2008

Chewing the cud on the sweet pastures of South Kildare



A first impression of county Kildare is one of motorways, roundabouts, business parks and housing estates which in the northern part of the county have created a suburban type of settlement pattern.  But driving recently towards the south of the county the biggest impression was that of a pastoral landscape. South of Kilcullen the big rolling fields – many of them ploughed – fill the windscreen and the strength of the agricultural sector in the county becomes apparent.   The role of farming as a mainstay of the Kildare economy is a constant theme in the back issues of the local press when farming repor were considered part of the general news material and not relegated to a separate section as happened in later years.

In the first week of April 1958 the Leinster Leader carried a report of a meeting in Athy which was devoted to encouraging cattle farmers to adopt a scheme to eradicate TB – a perennial scourge of Irish farming – and get their herds to a standard that would be acceptable to the all important English market.

More than 300 farmers packed Athy Town Hall for the meeting which was chaired by Mr. John Farrell, chairman of the Athy branch of the National Farmers Association (forerunner name of the modern IFA). Among the speakers were Mr. Joseph Daly, Veterinary Inspector who used a slide show (quaintly termed in the report as ‘lantern slides’) to illustrate the effect of TB on cattle. Also on the  panel was Mr. P. Kavanagh, agricultural instructor for South Kildare who made a strong appeal to the farmers present to act as organisers in their own districts to promote the anti-TB drive.  Local vet Mr. M. T. Byrne told the audience that earlier that day he had made three first- tests on cattle on three small holdings in the locality and that the results were very encouraging.  And Mr. Michael Cunningham, chairman of Kildare County Council, said that the scheme had the full backing of the Co. Kildare Committee of Agriculture.

The principal speaker was Senator John D. Sheridan, Chairman of the Irish Liverstock Exporters and Traders Association who stressed the importance of TB eradication by pointing to the standards expected by English buyers. He was reported as saying: ‘ If in each county men sufficiently enthusiastic can be got to come together to support the scheme, the drive for TB eradication can be got under way quickly. I read that at Ganly’s sale last week 1,180 of the 1700 cattle on offer had passed the first test.’ He went on to explain that there was a two-test procedure for testing the animals for TB and this had a bearing on the price paid by the cattle buyers: “ First-tested cattle are more valuable than untested ones and fully tested ones are more valuable still. In England they make something like £10 a head more than untested animals.’  Of course a meeting of farmers inevitably touched on the question of subsidies and grants. Senator Sheridan pointed out that in Britain a farmer whose cattle had been tested was paid a subsidy of £2 per head. The Irish Government of the day when challenged to give a similar subsidy said it did not have the money.  Senator Sheridan was not impressed and made a provocative comparison with the grants then available for new industries setting up in Ireland: ‘ I take a poor view of the Government’s failing to subsidise farmers. Any foreigner can come into this country and start a factory to make shoddy goods and get a grant of £50,000 for the erection of a new factory. For agriculture which is the mainstay of our economy and the only export industry we have, the Government gives no money.’   Notwithstanding the lack of grant-aid the Kildare farmers present endorsed the scheme unanimously by a show of hands. One of their number Mr. J. Clarke of Maynooth was particularly positive saying that the drive for eradication of bovine TB was receiving the support of all the farmers in his area.

Still on a farming theme a note headed ‘ Famous Herd Sold’ related how ninety animals from the Fruitfield Dairy Shorthorn Herd of Messrs. Lamb Bros farm near Fontstown had been sold for over £9,000. However not all of the Lamb Bros herd was let go. Among the six matrons retained to spend their remaining days as houses cows at the Barley Hill farm was the supreme show champion cow, Fruitfield Royal Dafney the 2nd.

No doubt Fruitfield Royal Dafney chewed the cud for many years after on the sweet pastures of South Kildare.   Series no. 62

Liam Kenny in 'Nothing New Under the Sun', in the Leinster Leader of 10 April 2008, explores the challenges of farming in Kildare in 1958.

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