The Land of Milk and Money
Limerick’s Co-operative Creameries
With the news that Limerick City and County Council is to redevelop the former Cleeve’s Factory site I decided to revisit the first job I officially work on with my father with my MUBC under my belt, the former Glin Co-operative Creamery. I also like to think I have managed to find the most tenuous of links between creameries and Easter (milk,,,,,chocolate….Easter eggs!) and even to Nationalism and Home Rule. My father’s practice carried out an historical report and photographic survey of this former co-operative creamery, a building type completely alien to me. The Cleeve’s Factory site was bought from Golden Vale by the local authority in 2014. Thanks to it being a location for eva International in the same year I got to walk around this impressive complex so close to the city centre.
In 1889 Ireland’s first Co-operatives were established in Doneraile Co. Cork and in the same year Limerick has the title of having the first co-operative creamery in Dromcollogher. The site is now a National Dairy Co-operative Museum (For contact details click here). The importance of the practice and rituals of the dairy farmers conveying their milk to the co-operative creameries is recorded in papers such as this excellent one by Dr Maura Cronin of MIC ‘Remembering Creameries’. The delivery of your cows’ produce was your opportunity to catch up with the daily news (before the invention of Twitter). Even as we get more urbanised we cannot forget Ireland’s bovine servitude; we assist in their conception, birth, milking, feeding, death. It was this job that I got to meet the wonderful Tom Donovan, an authority on the history of the area (and much more) and editor of the Old Limerick Journal which I have been honoured to contribute to on two occasions and hopefully more in the future. I have yet to ask him how much this city girl shocked him asking why the creamery laid off staff during December and my complete ignorance of the fact that dairy cows did not natural produce milk all year round. There is no farming on either side of my family. The closest anyone came to a cow was the short spell my grand-uncle Tommy spent in his late teens in the tannery. He described the hellish smell to me as a child to help me understand who he could not move to Dublin fast enough. Perhaps it is why he settled in Howth with its freshest of air.
Glin Co-operative Dairy Society was one of the first co-operative diary societies to be established in County Limerick in 1891. The official opening was attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Horace Plunkett, and the Knight of Glin, R.A Anderson, Lord Emly and Lord Monteagle. Addresses were also read from the committees of the Ballyhahill and Castlemahon Co-operative Dairy Societies. The idea was that it would be owned and managed entirely by the farmers who have taken shares serving a radius of approximately 3 miles. This predates the founding of the Irish Agricultural Organisation (now ICOS) in 1894, the brainchild of its President Horace Plunkett set up to help and advice the fledgling co-ops. Limerick had a formidable tradition of dairying, being a stronghold area in the Golden Vale region. Glin was a natural choice logistically for the site of a creamery as there were several large dairy farms and an established butter market held in the town as well as nearby Limerick and Cork cities in the nineteenth century. The railway and port of nearby Foynes along with the Glin pier built in 1876 and the addition of the jetty on the banks of the Shannon in 1895 facilitated the exportation of the butter to the Irish and English market.
The first manager of the Glin Co-operative creamery was Thomas Normile of Killacolla and the committee had eleven members. The earliest known President is recorded as Patrick Fitzgerald and the venture was financed by loans from the Munster & Leinster Bank in Tarbert. Along with the manager they would decide the price band for the milk. Unlike many early creameries the local clergy had no involvement in the committee. The main product manufactured by the creamery was slightly salted sweet cream butter with cheddar cheese production commencing around the 1930s when a second building was constructed on the site as store room, cheese room and poultry rearing. The cheese made by the Glin creamery was known as Country Squire and turkey plucking took place in the adjoining room to the main store. The managers over the years after Normile were Timothy Donovan, Michael O’Connor, Maurice Fitzgerald, Donie Cusack, Patrick Roche and Davie O’Sullivan.
The butter produced by the Glin Co-op creamery was of a renowned high quality partly due to its cooling which was aided by the importation of ice from Norway for the ice houses built for the thriving Glin fish market where salmon taken locally were bought and then sent directly from there to Billingsgate, London for sale. Ice was needed to pack the fish to keep them fresh. A dairy inspector report dated 13 August 1897 confirms this As the creamery is now receiving ice daily and I gave them information how to use this to the best advantage, I expect good results in the future both in quantity and quality. The idea was to set up a factory where farmers could bring their surplus milk and dispose of it for so much a gallon. In the creamery the milk would be separated into whey (or backmilk), which the farmer received for calf and pig rearing, and butter milk. This separation was achieved by separators powered by steam engines run by coal brought in through Foynes. Large amounts of uniform colour, texture and flavour was produced and exported. A lease was signed between the Glin Co-operative Dairy Society Ltd and the Knight of Glin on the 15 April 1925 for the yearly rent of £11.10.0 and stating that the term of the lease was 70 years from 29 September 1919. The property is described as ‘the parcel of ground and yard with a creamery and buildings therein having a frontage to Church Street of 111 feet.’ This replaced the original lease between the creamery and James O’Driscoll who was owed money by the Knight of Glin and therefore sub-letted the house and garden at the back to recoup his money. This co-operative creamery was successful in its day with the participation of 149 dairy farmers at its height as well as employing fifteen people. The milk was delivered by horse, donkey, jennet and cart in wooden churns which were made locally by the coopers Mangans, O’Briens, Culhanes and Lynches. The farmers would queue up Church Street in their carts from 7am until 11am to get their milk processed and on the train to the Dublin and British markets by the evening. This was not only business but an important social aspect to rural life for the dairy farmers to keep up with the local news and goings on. The creamery constructed the commercial premises across the road in 1948 as a co-op farm store to sell goods such as feed and fertiliser and remains as one to this day.
The original creamery building as it stands today is simple in appearance consisting of a long, gable-fronted, multiple-bay, detached double-height building with a pitched roof with cast-iron louvered vents and two metal rooflights. Its cast-iron rainwater goods and slates have been replaced in recent years as well as the square headed casement windows. Exterior walls constructed with locally quarried stone and smooth rendered. Internally the ceiling was lined with plain rebated timber for hygienic purposes. A sliding timber battened door to weightbridge platform was added later to the side of the creamery accessed by concrete steps.
The creamery was extended thanks to the designs of Limerick born architect Conor O’Brien who I wrote about back in June 2015 in my post on the AK Ilen– Concrete Stew. O’Brien was a Home Ruler and in 1910 he was elected a council member of the Dublin Industrial Development Association, which promoted Irish manufacturers and the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (I.A.O.S.). Left is a plan attached to letter from I.A.O.S. secretary in the National Archives to the creamery manager in 1912 for extension of main building at the gable end up to the boundary line to provide an office designed by O’Brien.
The functions of the creamery would have been in a typical linear arrangement such as the mechanical separators, centrifugal pump to elevate skim milk, water pump, rolling churns, measuring drum (used before the advent of scales), test churns and a butter worker. The engine room had to be separate from the dairy because of all the coal dust and fumes. Initially seven people were employed full time; a secretary, manager, manager’s assistant, manager’s helper, fireman (to stoke the steam engine), dairymaid (whose wages were second to the manager) and the assistant dairymaid. The yard is substantial as it was required for deliveries. Along with the main creamery building later additions included the ‘cheese house’ for the manufacturing of cheddar cheese in 1928 and in the mid thirties turkey rearing. The cheese factory building is a single story construction with asbestos slate roof with the verge pointed in cement, metal roof lights and a small atrium. The original terrazzo floor can be seen in the entrance hall which runs halfway up the walls, employee toilets and underneath the modern flooring in the main part of the building.
On the 24th of Sept 1928 Glin Co-operative Dairy Society Ltd amalgamated with Turraree Co-operative Creamery Ltd, a small creamery 3 miles away which began in 1902 on the land belonging to Daniel Geoghegan. Glin Co-operative Dairy Society joined Golden Vale Co-operative Creameries, Charleville, Co. Cork in 1973. It established a processed cheese plant with the objective of providing a centralised outlet for the cheddar cheese being produced by the smaller co-ops in the Golden Vale hinterland. Ireland’s entry into the EEC in 1973 lead to two rounds of rationalization resulting in amalgamations that reduced the number of creameries substantially throughout the country. This situation was compounded by the introduction of milk quotas in 1984. This intensified the movement out of small scale milk production and led to the concentration of milk supplies on a smaller number of larger holdings. After the amalgamation with Golden Vale, the Glin no longer functioned as a creamery but instead milk was now delivered to this branch by local suppliers where it was chilled and, in the summer, transported daily to the factory at Charleville. Instead of milk separation it now just pasteurised about 30 gallons of milk a day for sale to local people. The first bulk collecting lorry came in the same year with Joe McGrath and Joe Buckley as the collectors. This was deemed an uneconomic and troublesome exercise by Golden Vale for the benefit of the locals and so the company decided that this would cease during the summer of 1975. Shortly after this decision was made the Glin Development Association approached the company to see if the decision could be reversed but, in spite of further consideration, the company decided that the operation would have to stop from September 1st. On being informed that there was no pasteurised milk for sale local man Mortimer McElligott positioned himself outside the creamery and lay on the road so as to obstruct the lorry taking milk to Charleville and had to be removed by the gardaí. The premises remained unused and were sold for £20,000 in 1988 to Seamus Danaher who set up a furniture business there.
A year after this report I was given the task of getting objects for the Ranks Exhibition put on by Limerick Museum & Archives in collaboration with the Hunt Museum with no money as budget did not stretch that far. When I saw the old photograph of the flour being weighed I remembered the butter scales abandoned in the Glin Co-op creamery and rang the current owner who was more than happy to give us a loan of it for the duration of the exhibition. It wasn’t an exact match but it gave visitors an idea of how far industrial machinery has come. I quite like the old machines and the original idea of the co-operative movement.
There are calls by councillors to give this huge site a single use, as a convention centre. It is the hope of this blogger that somebody influential might stumble across this article online- I ask you to please consider donating part of the complex to the Ilen School ilen.ie/ to help continue a part of Limerick’s heritage. Please do not allow the history of Cleeve’s to dry up, continue the co-operative spirit.
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