Map of Ireland

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page


In the preceding chapter I attempted to give to the reader a rough impression of the general purpose and miscellaneous functions of the new Department. I described in some detail the constitution and powers of the Council of Agriculture--a sort of Business Parliament--which criticises our doings and elects representatives on our Boards; and of the two Boards which, in addition to their advisory functions, possess the power of the purse. I laid special stress upon the important part these instruments of the popular will were intended to play as a link between the people and the Department. I gave a similar description and explanation of the Committees of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, appointed by local representative bodies, by means of which the people were brought into touch with the local as distinct from the central work, and made responsible for its success. The details were necessarily dull; and so also must be those which will now be required in order to indicate the general nature and scope of the work for the accomplishment of which all this machinery was designed. Yet I am not without hope that even the general reader may find a deep human interest in the practical endeavour of the humbler classes of my fellow-countrymen to reconstruct their national life upon the solid foundation of honest work.

The Department has at the time of writing been in existence for three years, the term of office, it will be remembered, of the Council of Agriculture and of the two Boards. It would be unreasonable to expect in so short a time any great achievement; but the understanding critic will attach importance rather to the spirit in which the work was approached than to the actual amount of work which was accomplished. He may say that no true estimate of its value can be formed until the enthusiasm aroused by its novelty has had time to wear off. Those of us who know the real character of the work are quite satisfied that the interest which it aroused during the period in which the people had yet to grasp its meaning and utility is not likely to become less real as the blossom fades and the fruit begins to swell. The attitude of the Irish people towards the Department and its work has not been that of a child towards a new toy, but of a full-grown man towards a piece of his life's work, upon which he feels that he entered all too late. Indeed, so quickly have the people grasped the significance of the new opportunities for material advancement now placed within their reach, that the Department has had to carry out, and to assist the statutory local committees in carrying out, a number and variety of schemes which, at any rate, proved that public opinion did not regard it as a transitory experiment; but as a much-needed institution which, if properly utilised, might do much to make up for lost time, and which, in any case, had come to stay. The amount of the work which we were thus constrained to undertake was somewhat embarrassing; but so general and so genuine was the desire to make a start that we have done our best to keep pace with the local demands for immediate action. The staff of the Department caught the spirit in which the task had been set by the country, and showed a keen anxiety to get to work; and I am glad to have an opportunity of acknowledging that both the indoor and outdoor support it has received leaves the Department without excuse if it has not already justified its existence.

I shall deal as mercifully as I can with my readers in helping them towards an understanding of what has been actually done in the three years under review. I am aware that if I were to attempt a description of all the schemes which the variety of local needs suggested, and in the execution of which the assistance of the many-sided Department was sought and obtained, I should lose the patient readers, who have not already fainted by the way, in a jungle where they could not see the wood for the trees. These things can be studied by those interested,--and they I hope, in Ireland at any rate, are not few--in the Annual Reports and other official publications of the Department. For the general reader I must try to indicate in broad outline the nature and scope of that side of the new movement which seeks to supplement organised self-help and open the way for individual enterprise by a well considered measure of State assistance. I shall be more than satisfied if I succeed in giving him a clear insight into the manner in which the delicate task of making State interference with the business of the people not only harmless but beneficial has been set about. It is obvious that the fulfilment of this object must depend upon the soundness of the economic policy pursued, and upon the establishment and maintenance of mutual confidence between the central authority and the popular representative bodies through which the people utilise the new facilities afforded by the State.

I think the best way of giving the information which is required for an understanding of our somewhat complicated scheme for agricultural and industrial development under democratic control is first to explain the line of demarcation which we have drawn between the respective functions of the Department and the people's committees throughout the country; and then I must give a rapid description of some of the most important features of the Department's policy and programme. I shall add a sufficiency of detail from the actual work accomplished in these organising and experimental years, to illustrate both the difficulties which are incidental to such a policy, and the manner in which these difficulties may be surmounted.

When it became manifest that both the country and the Department were anxious to drive ahead, the first thing to do was to lay down a modus operandi which would assign to the local and central bodies their proper shares in the work and responsibilities and secure some degree of order and uniformity in administration. This was quickly done, and the plan adopted works smoothly. The Department gives the local committee general information as to the kind of purpose to which it can legally and properly apply the funds jointly contributed from the rates and the central exchequer. The committee, after full consideration of the conditions, needs and industrial environment of the community for which it acts, selects certain definite projects which it considers most applicable to its district, allocates the amount required to each project, and sends the scheme to the Department for its approval. When the scheme is formally approved, it becomes the official scheme in the locality for the current year; and the local committee has to carry it out.

Although harmony now usually exists between the local and central authorities to the advantage and comfort of both, a considerable amount of friction was inevitable until they got to understand each other. The occasional over-riding of local desires by the 'autocratic' Department, which in the first rush of its work had to act in a somewhat peremptory fashion, was, no doubt, irritating. Now, however, it is generally recognised that the central body, having not only the advice of its experts and access to information from similar Departments in other countries to guide it, but also being in a position to profit by the exchange of ideas which is constantly going on between it and all the local committees in Ireland, is in a position of special advantage for deciding as to the bearing of local schemes upon national interests, and sometimes even as to their soundness from a purely local point of view.

Passing now from the conditions under which the Department's work is done, we come to review some typical portions of the work itself so far as it has proceeded. This falls naturally, both as regards that which is done by the central authority for the country at large and that which is locally administered, into two divisions. The first consists of direct aid to agriculture and other rural industries, and to sea and inland fisheries. The second consists of indirect aid given to these objects, and also to town manufactures and commerce, through education--a term which must be interpreted in its widest sense. Needless to say, direct aids, being tangible and immediately beneficial, are the more popular: a bull, a boat, or a hand-loom is more readily appreciated than a lecture, a leaflet, or an idea. Yet in the Department we all realise--and, what is more important, the people are coming to realise--that by far the most important work we have to do is that which belongs to the sphere of education, especially education which has a distinctly practical aim. To this branch of the subject I shall, therefore, first direct the reader's attention.

It must be remembered that, for reasons fully set out in the earlier portions of the book, I am treating the Irish Question as being, in its most important economic and social aspects, the problem of rural life. The Department's scheme of technical instruction, therefore, need not here be detailed in its application to the needs of our few manufacturing towns, but only in its application to agriculture and the subsidiary industries. I do not suggest that the questions relating to the revival of industry in our large manufacturing centres and provincial towns are not of the first importance. The local authorities in these places have eagerly come into the movement, and the Department has already taken part in founding, in our cities and larger towns, comprehensive schemes of technical education, as to the outcome of which we have every reason to be hopeful. Not only that, but it is highly necessary for the Department to consider these schemes in close relation to its work upon the more specially rural problems, for, as I have said elsewhere,[48] the interdependence of town and country, and the establishment of proper relations between their systems of industry and education, is a prime factor in Irish prosperity. But the rural problem, as I have so often reiterated, is the core of the Irish Question; and to deal at all adequately with technical education, so far as we carry it on upon lines common both to Great Britain and Ireland, would lead us too far afield on the present occasion. I must, therefore, content myself with indicating my reasons for leaving it rather on one side, and pass on to a brief description of the Department's educational work in respect of its two-fold aim of developing agriculture and the subsidiary industries.

In the case of agriculture our task is perfectly plain. We know pretty well what we want to do, for we are dealing with an existing industry, and with known conditions. The productivity of the soil, the demand of the market, the means of transport from the one to the other, are all easily ascertainable. What most needs to be provided in Ireland is a much higher technical skill, a more advanced scientific and commercial knowledge, as applied to agricultural production and distribution.[49] This, in our belief, depends, more than upon any other agency, upon the soundness of the education which is provided to develop the capacities of those in charge of these operations. Our chief difficulty is that of co-ordinating our teaching of technical agriculture with the general educational systems of the country--a difficulty which the other educational authorities are all united with us in seeking to remove.

When, on the other hand, education--again, I believe, the chief agency for the purpose--is considered as a means for the creation of new industries, we come face to face with a wholly different problem. We have no longer an industry which we are seeking to foster and develop going on under our eyes, steadying us in our theorising, and in our experimenting upon the mind of the worker, by bringing us into close touch with the actual conditions of his work. Our chief aim must be to develop his adaptability for the ever-changing and, we hope, improving economic industrial conditions amidst which he will have to work. But unless we can satisfy parents that the schemes of development in which their children are being educated to take their place have an assured prospect of practical realisation, they will naturally prefer an inferior teaching which seems to them to offer a better prospect of an immediate wage or salary. The teachers in the secondary schools of the country, who, so far, have shown a desire to assist us in giving an industrial and commercial direction to our educational policy, would also in that event have to meet the wishes of the parents; and thus education would fall back into the old rut with its cramming, its examinations and result fees--all leading to the multiplication of clerks and professional men, and preventing us from turning the thoughts and energies of the people towards productive occupations.

The natural trend of our educational policy will now be clear. Leaving out of account large towns, where our problem is, as I have said, the same as that which confronts the industrial classes in the manufacturing centres of Great Britain, we are chiefly concerned with the application of science to the cultivation of the soil and the improvement of live stock, and of business principles to the commercial side of farming; with the teaching of dairying, horticulture, apiculture, and what has been called farm-yard lore, outside the rural home, and with domestic economy inside. On the industrial as distinct from the agricultural side of the work in rural localities, technical instruction must be directed towards the development of subsidiary rural industries.

We early came to the conclusion that we could not expect to find a system which we could simply transplant from some other country. The system adopted in Great Britain, where each county or group of counties maintains an agricultural college and an experimental farm, and many more elaborate systems on the continent, were all found on examination to be inapplicable to our own rural conditions, unsuitable to the national character, and unrelated to the history of our agriculture. Many of these schemes might have turned out a few highly qualified authorities on the theory of agriculture, and even good practical directors for those who farm on a large scale. But we are dealing with a country with great possibilities from an agricultural point of view, but where, nevertheless, agriculture in many parts is in a very backward condition, and where it is probably safe to say that three-fifths of the farms are crowded on one-fourth of the land. We are dealing with a community with whom the systems of elementary, secondary and higher education have not tended to prepare the student for agricultural pursuits. A system of agricultural and domestic education suited to the wants of those who are to farm the land must recognise and foster the new spirit of self-help and hope which is springing up in the country, and must be made so interesting as to become a serious rival to the race meeting and the public-house. The daily drudgery of farm work must be counteracted by the ambition to possess the best stock, the neatest homestead and fences, the cleanest and the best tilled fields. The unsolved problem of agricultural education is to devise a system which will reach down to the small working farmers who form the great bulk of the wealth producers of Ireland, to give them new hope, a new interest, new knowledge and, I might add, a new industrial character.

We were met at the outset by the difficulty which would apply to any system--that of finding trained teachers. This deficiency was felt in two directions--first, in the secondary school, in which the preliminary scientific studies should be undertaken, which are necessary to enable a lad to profit by more advanced instruction later on; and, secondly, in the special training of technical agriculture. It would not have been desirable to overcome these difficulties by any very extensive importation of teachers from without. I certainly hold the occasional importation of teachers with outside experience to be most desirable, but these should not form more than a leaven of the pedagogic lump; for it is a serious hindrance when to the task of familiarising students with a new system of education there is added that of familiarising a large body of teachers with the intellectual, social and economic conditions of the people among whom they are to work.

The manner in which the teacher difficulty was surmounted may be briefly stated, first, as regards the school, and, secondly, as regards the teaching of agriculture. Those already engaged in the teaching profession could not be relegated again to the status pupillaris. There was only one way in which they could assist us to overcome the difficulty, and that involved a great sacrifice on their part, the sacrifice of their well-earned vacation, but a sacrifice which they willingly made. The teachers most urgently needed were those of practical science, with knowledge of experimental work; and about five hundred teachers from secondary schools, in order to qualify themselves, have attended summer courses specially organised by the Department at several centres in Ireland, while about four hundred have availed themselves of special summer courses in such subjects as drawing, manual instruction, domestic economy, building construction, wood-carving and modelling.

For the provision of a future supply of thoroughly trained teachers of science and of technology, including agriculture, the Royal College of Science has been re-organised. Although this institution was brought under the new conditions little more than three years ago, it will be seen that no time has been lost when I state that the first batch of men who have received a three years' course of training under the new programme are already at work under County Committees. For the training of these teachers, scholarships had to be provided, and new professors and teachers, particularly in agriculture, had to be appointed.

In regard to agricultural instruction we had to begin by carefully considering what, among many alternative plans, should be our immediate as well as our more remote aims. The Department's officers had studied Continental systems, and some of them had taken part in establishing systems of agricultural education in Great Britain. But it was not until the summer of 1901 that we had sufficiently studied the question in Ireland itself, with direct reference to the history, the environment, and the ideals of the people, to justify us in initiating a policy or formulating a definite programme for its execution.[50] The main object was to secure for the youth of the present generation who will later be concerned with agriculture, sound and thorough instruction in its principles and practice. Everyone who has given any thought to the subject knows how difficult it is to teach technical agriculture unless provision has been made in the general education of the country for instruction in those fundamental principles of science which, recognised or unrecognised, lie at the root of, and profoundly influence agricultural practice. This foundation, as I have shown, is now being laid in Ireland. In our scheme the boy who has managed to avail himself of a two or three years' course of practical science in one of the secondary schools is then prepared to take full advantage of courses of technology, and will have to make up his mind as to the career he is to follow. We are now considering the case of a boy who is going to become a farmer, the class to which we chiefly look for the future well-being of Ireland. It is necessary that he should be taught the practical as well as the technical side of agriculture. The practical work he can learn upon his father's farm during spring and summer, and the technical by continuing his studies during the winter months in a school of agriculture. The establishment of such winter schools is in contemplation. But, in the meanwhile, to bring home to farmers the advantages of a first-class agricultural education for their sons, and at the same time to teach these farmers the more practical application of science to agriculture, the Department decided on a preliminary period of Itinerant Instruction.

The teacher difficulty, experienced on all sides of our work, was probably felt more acutely in regard to the specialised teachers of agriculture than in any other connection. Here it was necessary to take the young men brought up upon farms and possessed of the normal qualifications of the Irish practical farmer. We then had to make them into teachers by adding to their inherited and home-manufactured capacities a scientific training. In the training of agricultural teachers the Albert Institute, Glasnevin, has been utilised by the Department. This school has also been re-organised to meet the new programme, and it will probably form in future a link between the winter schools of agriculture and the Royal College of Science in the training of our agricultural teachers.

Partly by these methods, partly by the temporary engagement of lecturers on special subjects, and partly by the appointment of trained teachers from England or Scotland, the system of itinerant instruction has been brought into operation as fully as could be expected in the time. Already half the County Committees have been provided with County instructors, while the remainder have nearly all drafted schemes and allocated funds for a similar purpose, ready to go to work as soon as more teachers have been trained.

The Itinerant Instruction scheme, it may be pointed out, besides one obvious, has another less immediately recognisable purpose. The direct business of the itinerant instructor is, by the aid of experimental plots, simple lectures, and demonstrations, to teach the farmers of his district as much as they can take in without the scientific preparation in which, as adults who have grown up under the old system of education, they are still lacking. But he does more than that. He not only conducts a school for adults, but in the very process of instruction he necessarily makes them aware of the vital necessity of a school for the young; and they begin, as parents, to understand and to desire the kind of instruction in the schools of the country which will prepare their children to take more advantage of the advanced teaching in agriculture than they themselves can ever hope to do.

This preparation is provided for as follows. To the Department, as has already been explained, was handed over the administration of the Science and Art Grants formerly administered by South Kensington. The Department accordingly drew up a programme of experimental science and drawing, carrying capitation grants, for day secondary schools. The Intermediate Education Board, acting on the suggestion of the Consultative Committee for Co-ordinating Education,[51] adopted this programme and at the same time undertook to accept the reports of the Department's inspectors as the basis of their awards in the new "subject." These steps insured the rapid and general introduction of this practical teaching in secondary schools, and, owing particularly to the spirit in which their authorities and teaching staffs accepted the innovation, the work has been carried out with the happiest results.

I now come to the subjects grouped together under the classification of 'domestic economy.' These differ only in detail in their application to town and country. To these subjects the Department attaches great importance. In the industrial life of manufacturing towns I am persuaded that far too little thought has been given to this element of industrial efficiency. From a purely economic point of view a saving in the worker's income due to superior housewifery is equivalent to an increase in his earnings; but, morally, the superior thrift is, of course, immensely more important. "Without economy," says Dr. Johnson, "none can be rich, and with it few can be poor," and the education which only increases the productiveness of labour and neglects the principles of wise spending will place us at a disadvantage in the great industrial struggle. When we come to consider domestic economy as an agency for improving the conditions of the peasant home, not only by thrift, but by increasing the general attractiveness of home life, the introduction of a sound system of domestic economy teaching becomes not only important, but vital.

The establishment of such a system and the task of making it operative and effective in the country is beset with difficulties. The teacher difficulty confronts us again, and also that of making pupils and their parents understand that there are other objects in domestic training than that of qualifying for domestic service. A corps of instructresses in domestic economy is, however, already abroad throughout the country, nearly all the County Councils having already appointed them. Some of these teachers, who have made the best contributions towards the as yet only partially determined question of the ultimate aim and present possibilities of a course of instruction in hygiene, laundry work, cookery, the management of children, sewing, and so forth, have told me that the demand in rural districts seems to be chiefly for the class of instruction which may lead to success in town life. I have heard of a class of girls in a Connaught village who would not be content with knowing the accomplishments of a farmer's wife until they had learned how to make asparagus soup and cook sweetbreads. No doubt they had read of the way things are done in the kitchens of the great. This tendency should never be encouraged, but neither can it always be inflexibly repressed without endangering the main objects of the class.

Women teachers of poultry-keeping, dairying, domestic science and kindred subjects are trained at the Munster Institute, Cork, and the School of Domestic Economy, Kildare Street, Dublin, both of which have been equipped to meet the needs of the new programme. The want of teachers, and not any lack of interest on the part of the country, has alone prevented all the counties from adopting schemes for encouraging improvement in all these branches of work. I may add that more than one hundred and fifty of these qualified teachers are now at work under County Committees.

I have already, in this chapter, indicated that outside large industrial centres, our educational policy is, broadly speaking, twofold. We seek, in the first place, through our programme in Experimental Science and its allied subjects, now so generally adopted by secondary schools in Ireland, to give that fundamental training in science and scientific method which, most thinkers are agreed, constitutes a condition precedent to sound specialised teaching of agriculture as well as other forms of industry. We seek further, by methods less academic in character--for example, by itinerant instruction which is of value chiefly to those with whom 'school' is a thing of the past--to teach not only improved agricultural methods but also simple industries, and to promote the cultivation of industrial habits which are as essential to the success of farming as to that of every other occupation. Classes in manual work of various kinds--woodwork, carpentry, applied drawing and building construction, lace and crochet making, needlework, dressmaking and embroidery, sprigging, hosiery and other such subjects, have been numerously and steadily attended.

I do not ignore the argument that such home industries must in time give way before the competition of highly-organised factory industries. The simple answer is that it is desirable, and indeed necessary, to employ the energy now running to waste in our rural districts--energy which cannot in the nature of things be employed in highly-organised industries. To the small farmer and his family, time is a realisable, though too often unrealised, asset, and it is part of our aim to aid the family income by employing their waste time. Even if we can only cause them to do at home what they now pay someone else to do, we shall not only have improved their budget but shall have contributed to the elevation of the standard of home life, and thus, in no small measure, to the solution of the difficult problem of rural life in Ireland.

I think the reader will now understand the general character of the problem with which we were confronted and the means by which its solution is being sought. Our policy was not one which was likely to commend itself to the "man in the street." Indeed, to be quite candid, it was a little disappointing even to myself that I could not immortalise my appointment by erecting monuments both to my constructive ability and to my educational zeal in the shape of stately edifices at convenient railway centres, preferably along the tourist routes. We have had to stand the fire of the critic fresh from his holiday on the Continent where he had seen agricultural and technological institutions, magnificently housed and lavishly equipped, fitting generations of young men and young women for competition with our less fortunate countrymen. It is hard to prevail in argument against the man who has gone and seen for himself. It is useless to point out to the man with a kodak that the Corinthian façade and the marble columns of the aula maxima which aroused his patriotic envy are but a small part of the educational structure which he saw and thought he understood. If he would read the history of the systems and trace the successive stages by which the need for these great institutions was established, he would have a little more sympathy with the difficulties of the Department, a little more patience with its Fabian policy.

I must not, however, utter a word which suggests that the Department has any ground of complaint against the country for the spirit in which it has been met; especially as there was one factor to be taken into account which made it difficult for public opinion to approve of our policy. As I have already explained, a large capital sum of a little over £200,000 was handed over to the Department at its creation. During the first year, what with the organisation of the staff, the thinking out of a policy on every side of the Department's work, the constitution of the statutory committees to administer its local schemes in town and country, the agreement, after long discussion, between the central body and these committees upon the local schemes, and all the other preparatory steps which had to be taken before money could wisely be applied, it is obvious that the Department could not have spent its income. In the second year, and even the third year, savings were effected, and the original capital sum has been largely increased. What more natural than that in a poor country a spending Department which was backward in spending should appear to be lacking in enterprise, if not in administrative capacity? But whether the policy was right or wrong it has unquestionably been approved by the best thought in the country, a fact which throws a very interesting light upon the constitutional aspects of the Department. At each successive stage the policy was discussed at the Council of Agriculture and its practical operation was dependent upon the consent of the Boards which have the power of the purse. A Vice-President who had not these bodies at his back would be powerless, in fact would have to resign. Thoughtless criticism has now and again condemned not only the parsimonious action of the Department, but the invertebrate conduct of the Council of Agriculture and the Boards in tolerating it. The time will soon come when the service rendered to their country by the members of the first Council and Boards, who gave their representative backing to a slow but sure educational policy, and scorned to seek popularity in showy projects and local doles, will be gratefully remembered to them.

Already we have had some gratifying evidences that the country is with us in the paramount importance we attach to education as the real need of the hour. Most readers will be surprised to hear that in the short time the Department has been at work it has aided in the equipment of nearly two hundred science laboratories and of about fifty manual instruction workshops, while the many-sided programme involved in the movement as a whole is in operation in some four hundred schools attended by thirty-six thousand pupils.

Nothing can be more gratifying than the unanimous testimony of the officers of the Department to the increasing practical intelligence and reasonableness of the numerous Committees responsible for the local administration of the schemes which the Department has to approve of and supervise. The demand for visible money's worth has largely given place to a genuine desire for schemes having a practical educational value for the industry of the district. County Clare is not generally considered the most advanced part of Ireland, nor can Kilrush be very far distant from 'the back of Godspeed'; yet even from that storm-battered outpost of Irish ideas I was memorialised a year ago to induce the County Council to pay less attention to the improvement of cattle and more to the technical education of the peasantry.

Under the heading of direct aids to agriculture, rural industries, and sea and inland fisheries, there is much important and useful work which the Department has set in motion, partly by the use of its funds and partly by suggestion and the organisation of local effort. The most obvious, popular and easily understood schemes were those directed to the improvement of live stock. The Department exercised its supervision and control with the help of advisory committees composed of the best experts it could get to volunteer advice upon the various classes of live stock. It is unnecessary to give any details of these schemes. The Department profited by the experience of, and received considerable assistance from the Royal Dublin Society, which had for many years administered a Government grant for the improvement of horses and cattle. The broad principle adopted by the Department was that its efforts and its available resources should be devoted rather to improving the quality, than to increasing the quantity, of the stock in the country, the latter function being regarded as belonging to the region of private enterprise.

It is impossible to over-estimate the importance to the country of having a widespread interest aroused and discussion stimulated on problems of breeding which affect a trade of vast importance to the economic standing of the country--a trade which now reaches in horned cattle alone an annual export of nearly three quarters of a million animals. All manner of practical discussions were set on foot, ranging from the production of the ideal, the general purposes cow, to that controversy which competes, in the virulence with which it is waged, with the political, the educational, and the fiscal questions--the question whether the hackney strain will bring a new era of prosperity to Ireland, or whether it will irretrievably destroy the reputation of the Irish hunter. The discussion of these problems has been accompanied by much practical work which, in due time, cannot fail to produce a considerable improvement upon the breed of different classes of live stock. In one year over one thousand sires have been selected by the experts of the Department for admission to the stock improvement schemes. Probably an equal number of breeding animals offered for inspection have been rejected. Many a cause celèbre has not unnaturally arisen over the decisions of the equestrian tribunal, and there have not been wanting threats that the attention of Parliament should be called to the gross partiality of the Department which has cast a reflection upon the form of stallion A or upon the constitutional soundness of stallion B. On the whole, as far as I can gather, the best authorities in the country are agreed that since the Department has been at work there has been established a higher standard of excellence in the bucolic mind as regards that vastly important national asset, our flocks and herds.

Again for details I must refer the reader to official documents. There he will find as much information as he can digest about the vast variety of agricultural activities which originate sometimes with the Department's officers or with its Journal and leaflets, the circulation of which has no longer to be stimulated from our Statistics and Intelligence bureau, and sometimes emanate from the local committees, whose growing interest in the work naturally leads to the discovery of fresh needs and hitherto unthought of possibilities of agricultural and industrial improvement. I may, however, indicate a few of the subjects which have been gone into even in these years while the new Department has been trying so far as it might, without sacrifice of efficiency and sound economic principle, to keep pace with the feverish anxiety of a genuinely interested people to get to work upon schemes which they believe to be practical, sound, and of permanent utility.

A question which has troubled administrators of State aid to every progressive agricultural community, and which each country must settle for itself, is by what form of object lesson in ordinary agriculture intelligent local interest can best be aroused We have advocated widely diffused small experimental plots, and they have done much good. Probably the most useful of our crop improvement schemes have been those which have demonstrated the profitableness of artificial manures, the use of which has been enormously increased. The profits derivable in many parts of Ireland from the cultivation of early potatoes has been demonstrated in the most convincing manner. To what may be called the industrial crops, notably flax and barley, a great deal of time and thought has been applied and much information disseminated and illustrated by practical experiments. In many quarters interest has been aroused in the possibilities of profitable tobacco culture. Many negative and some positive results have been attained by the Department in the as yet incomplete experiments upon this crop. Much has been learned about the functions of central and local agricultural and small industry shows, those occasional aids to the year's work which disseminate knowledge and stimulate interest and friendly rivalry among the different producers. The reduction in the death-rate among young stock, due to preventible causes such as white scour and blackleg, is well worthy of the attention of those who wish to study the more practical work of the Department.

The branch of the Department's work which deals with the Sea-fisheries can only be very briefly touched on. It falls into two main heads which may roughly be termed the administrative and the scientific; the latter, of course, having economic developments as its ultimate object. The issue of loans to fishermen for the purchase of boats and gear, contributing to the cost of fishery slips and piers, circulating telegraphic intelligence, the making of by-laws for the regulation of the fisheries, the patrolling of the Irish fishing grounds to prevent illegalities, and the attempts which are being made to develop the valuable Irish oyster fishery by the introduction, with modifications suited to our own seaboard, of a system of culture comparable to those which are pursued with success in France and Norway, may be mentioned as falling under the more directly economic branch of our activities. Irish oysters are already attaining considerable celebrity, owing to the distance of our oyster beds from contaminating influences; and it is hoped that when the Department's experiments are complete the Irish oyster will be made subject to direct control for all its life, until it is despatched to market. Attention is also being given to the relative value of seed oysters, other than native, for relaying on Irish beds.

On the more directly scientific side, the Department has undertaken the survey of the trawling grounds around the coast to obtain an exact knowledge of the movements of the marketable fish at different times of their life, so that we may be guided in making by-laws and regulations by a full knowledge of the times and places at which protection is necessary. The biological and physical conditions of the western seas are also being studied in special reference to the mackerel fishery, with the object of correlating certain readily observable phenomena with the movements of the fish, and so of predicting the probable success of a fishery in a particular season. The routine observations of the Department's fishery cruiser have been so arranged as to synchronise with those of other nations, in order to assist the international scheme of investigation now in progress, wherever its objects and those of the Department are the same. While these various practical projects have been in operation, we have done our best to keep abreast of the times by sending missions to other countries, consisting of an expert accompanied by practical Irishmen who would bring home information which was applicable to the conditions of our own country. The first batch of itinerant instructors in agriculture, whose training for the important work of laying the foundations for our whole scheme of agricultural instruction I have referred to, were taken on a continental tour by the Professor of Agriculture at the Royal College of Science, in order to give special advantages to a portion of our outdoor staff upon the success of whose work the rate of our progress in agricultural development might largely depend. And not only have we in our first three years gleaned as much information as possible by sending qualified Irishmen to study abroad the industries in which we were particularly interested, but we also took steps to give the mass of our people at home an opportunity of studying these industries for themselves. With the somewhat unique experiment carried out for this object, I will conclude the story of the new Department's activities in its early years.

The part we took at the Cork Exhibition of 1902 was well understood in Ireland, but not perhaps elsewhere. We secured a large space both in the main Industrial Hall and in the grounds, and gave an illustration not of what Ireland had done, but of what, in our opinion, the country might achieve in the way of agricultural and industrial development in the near future. Exhibiting on the one hand our available resources in the way of raw material, we gave, on the other hand, demonstrations of a large number of industries in actual operation. These exhibits, imported with their workers, machinery and tools, from several European countries and from Great Britain, all belonged to some class of industry which, in our belief, was capable of successful development in Ireland. In the indoor part of the exhibit there was nothing very original, except perhaps in its close relation to the work of a government department. But what attracted by far the greatest interest and attention was a series of object lessons in many phases of farm activities, where, in our opinion, great and immediate improvements might be made. Here were to be seen varieties of crops under various systems of treatment, demonstrations of sheep-dipping, calf-rearing on different foods, illustrations of the different breeds of fowl and systems of poultry management, model buildings and gardens for farmer and labourer; while in separate buildings the drying and pressing of fruit and vegetables, the manufacture of butter and cheese, and a very comprehensive forestry exhibit enabled our visitors to combine profitable suggestion with, if I may judge from my frequent opportunities of observing the sightseers in whom I was particularly interested, the keenest enjoyment.

We kept at the Exhibition, for six months, a staff of competent experts, whose instructions were to give to all-comers this simple lesson. They were to bring home to our people that, here in Ireland before their very eyes, there were industries being carried on by foreigners, by Englishmen, by Scotchmen, and in some instances by Irishmen, but in all cases by men and women who had no advantage over our workers except that they had the technical training which it was the desire of the Department to give to the workers of Ireland. The officials of the Department entered into the spirit of this scheme enthusiastically and cheerfully, some of them, in addition to their ordinary work, turning the office into a tourist agency for these busy months. With the generous help of the railway companies they organised parties of farmers, artisans, school teachers, members of the statutory committees, and, in fact, of all to whom it was of importance to give this object lesson upon the relations between practical education and the promotion of industry. Nearly 100,000 persons were thus moved to Cork and back before the Exhibition closed--an achievement largely due to the assistance given by the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society and the clergy throughout the country.

This experiment, both in its conception and in its results, was perhaps unique. There were not wanting critics of the new Department who stood aghast at so large an expenditure upon temporary edifices and a passing show; but those who are in touch with its educational work know that this novel application of State assistance fulfilled its purpose. It helped substantially to generate a belief in, and stimulate a demand for, technical instruction which it will take us many years adequately to supply.

An American visitor who, as I afterwards learned, takes an active part in the discussion of the rural problems of his own country, disembarked at Queenstown in order to 'take in' the Cork Exhibition. In his rush through Dublin he 'took in' the Department and the writer. 'Mr. Vice-President,' he said, before the hand-shaking was completed, 'I have visited all the great Expositions held in my time. I have been to the Cork Exposition. I often saw more things, but never more ideas.'

With this characteristically rapid appreciation of a movement which seeks to turn Irish thought to action, my strange visitor vanished as suddenly as he came.

* * * * *

Those whose sympathy with Ireland has induced them to persevere through the mass of details with which this story of small beginnings is pieced together may wonder why the bearing of hopeful efforts for bringing prosperity and contentment to Ireland upon the mental attitude of millions of Irishmen scattered throughout the British Empire and the United States, and so upon the lives of the countries in which they have made their homes, is apparently ignored. I fully recognise the vast importance of the subject. A book dealing comprehensively with the actual and potential influence of Irish intellect upon English politics at home, and upon the politics of the United States, a carefully reasoned estimate of the part which Irish intellect is qualified, and which I firmly believe it is destined, to play wherever the civilisation of the world is to be under the control of the English-speaking peoples--more especially where these peoples govern races which speak other tongues and see through other eyes--a clear and striking exposition of the true relation between the small affairs of the small island and that greater Ireland which takes its inspiration from the sorrows, the passions, the endeavours, and the hopes of those who stick to the old home--such a book would possess a deep human interest, and would make a high and wide appeal. Nevertheless, I feel that at the present time the most urgent need, from every point of view on which I have touched, is to focus the thought available for the Irish Question upon the definite work of a reconstruction of Irish life.

Such is the purpose of this book. I do not wish to attach any exaggerated importance to the scheme of social and economic reform of which I have attempted to give a faithful account; nor is it in their practical achievement, be it great or small, that the initiators and organisers of the new movement take most pride. What these Irishmen are proud of is the manner in which the people have responded to their efforts to bring Irish sentiment into an intimate and helpful relation with Irish economic problems. They had to reckon with that greatest of hindrances to the spirit of enterprise, a rooted belief in the potentiality of government to bring material prosperity to our doors. As I have pointed out, the practical demonstration which Ireland had received of the power of government to inflict lasting economic injury gave rise to this belief; and I have noted the present influences to which it seems to owe its continuance until to-day. I believe that, if any enduring interest attaches to the story which I have told, it will consist in the successive steps by which this initial difficulty has been overcome.

Let me summarise in a few words what has been, so far, actually accomplished. Those who did the work of which I have written first launched upon Irish life a scheme of organised self-help which, perhaps more by good luck than design, proved to be in accordance with the inherited instincts of the people, and, therefore, moved them to action. Next they called for, and in due season obtained, a department of government with adequate powers and means to aid in developing the resources of the country, so far as this end could be attained without transgressing the limits of beneficial State interference with the business of the people. In its constitution this department was so linked with the representative institutions of the country that the people soon began to feel that they largely controlled its policy and were responsible for its success. Meanwhile, the progress of economic thought in the country had made such rapid strides that, in the administration of State assistance, the principle of self-help could be rigidly insisted upon and was willingly submitted to. The result is that a situation has been created which is as gratifying as it may appear to be paradoxical. Within the scope and sphere of the movement the Irish people are now, without any sacrifice of industrial character, combining reliance upon government with reliance upon themselves.

That a movement thus conceived should so rapidly have overcome its initial difficulties and should, I might almost add, have passed beyond the experimental stage, will suggest to any thoughtful reader that above and beyond the removal by legislation of obstacles to progress--and much has been accomplished in this way of recent years--there must have been new, positive influences at work upon the national mind. These will be found in the growing recognition of the fact that the path of progress lies along distinctively Irish lines, and that otherwise it will not be trodden by the Irish people. Much good in the same direction has been done, too, by the generous and authoritative admission by England that the future development of Ireland should be assisted and promoted 'with a full and constant regard to the special traditions of the country.'[52] But after all, while these concessions to Irish sentiment, vitally important though they be, may speed us on our road to national regeneration, they will not take us far. It remains for us Irishmen to realise--and the chief value of all the work I have described consists in the degree in which it forces us to realise--the responsibility which now rests with ourselves. We have been too long a prey to that deep delusion, which, because the ills of the country we love were in past days largely caused from without, bids us look to the same source for their cure. The true remedies are to be sought elsewhere; for, however disastrous may have been the past, the injury was moral rather than material, and the opportunity has now arrived for the patient building up again of Irish character in those qualities which win in the modern struggle for existence. The field for that great work is clear of at least the worst of its many historic encumbrances. Ireland must be re-created from within. The main work must be done in Ireland, and the centre of interest must be Ireland. When Irishmen realise this truth, the splendid human power of their country, so much of which now runs idly or disastrously to waste, will be utilised; and we may then look with confidence for the foundation of a fabric of Irish prosperity, framed in constructive thought, and laid enduringly in human character.

Prev | Next | Contents | Main Page

Map of Ireland