The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction

The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI)


The Albert Agricultural College began life as the Glasnevin Model Farm in 1838 becoming the Albert National Agricultural Training Institution in 1853 after a visit by Prince Albert. The name Albert Agricultural College first appears in the 1902 Report of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. Its foundation was an important event in the history of Irish agricultural education, whose primary function in its early years was the provision of instruction for primary school teachers to teach agriculture and meet the requirements set down by Board of National Education in Ireland. The Board was established in 1831 to create a nationwide system of primary education. By 1837 it had decided that agriculture should be taught in all its schools and therefore teachers would need training in modern farming methods and the provision of this instruction was the main purpose of the college during the first sixty years of its existence. The Board’s 1938 Report mentions the beginning of Glasnevin’s teaching responsibilities and indicates also that from the earliest days, the Albert College also taught those who wished to make a career in agriculture.

The Board extended its policy of primary-level agricultural education by establishing twenty Model Agricultural Schools and provided many National Schools with small holdings or gardens. There were forty-seven of these Ordinary Agricultural Schools by 1859. From 1850 the Board adopted a policy of teaching agriculture in the workhouse schools and by 1859 lessons in agriculture was being given in fifty-nine workhouse schools. Despite its success, the Board met opposition from members of all religious denominations as one of its aims was to establish non-denominational education and various accommodations had to be made. However, no accommodation was possible with the prevalent laissez-faire economic policies. The Liverpool Financial Reform Association attacked the use of public money for agricultural education, and in parliament, Liberal MPs and several Chief Secretaries opposed the Board’s policies. The Board was forced to discontinue support for the workhouse schools in 1863 and in 1874 disposed of most of the model farms. The Albert Agricultural College survived, probably because it was not exclusively concerned with the Board’s educational policies (the Board’s own inspectors reported that both textbooks and teaching skills were inadequate)—it also carried out research work in new crop varieties, farming methods and breeding livestock. From the 1870s, valuable work was being carried out in the college in experimenting with new crop varieties and new farming methods, and in improving breed of livestock, especially pigs. In 1890 the college pioneered the use in Ireland of a French method of treating fungal infection. This turned out to be the first successful treatment for potato blight.

An 1896 report by the “Recess Committee” stated that big increases in agricultural production could be achieved by Organisation, Representation, and Education of the farming population. The Recess Committee was an unofficial committee organized, and chaired by Sir Horace Plunkett and composed of prominent Irishmen of all political and religious persuasions. Its function was to consider a wide range of matters concerned with Ireland’s economic and social future. The Agricultural and Technical Instruction Act, 1899, was passed as a result of this report. The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction [DATI], which began work in 1900, determined that the problems with the development of agriculture in Ireland would be better addressed through higher education and a Faculty of Education was established at the College of Science. Most of the teaching was carried out in the Albert Agricultural College and the college continued to teach courses of its own as well. Many of the students at the Faculty had first completed one of the college’s own courses. Peripatetic instructors were considered particularly important, and, by 1913–14, 175 of these had been trained by the Faculty. Further Agricultural training courses were offered by University College Cork from when it was established in 1845. However, the Agricultural Department ceased to exist in 1868. According to Professor John A. Murphy the course on offer was ‘theoretical dilettantish and at best availed of by small numbers of prospective managers’.  

DATI began to appoint Agricultural Instructors around the country in the County Committees of Agriculture and Technical Instruction under Local Government Act of 1898, to both teach and demonstrate the science of food production.  All counties complied and raised the rate to finance it. Plunkett described the agricultural instructor as ‘the guide and friend of the existing farmers’ County Tyrone was the first to appoint an itinerant instructor in agriculture and a poultry instructress. Later problems arose as DATI brought in a rule that all instructors appointed had to be from outside the relevant county. The IAOS were also getting substantial funding while Plunkett was Vice President of DATI, however when T.W. Russell took over from Plunkett, he recommended that DATI should phase out the subsidy to the IAOS by 1910. In his opening address to the Council of Agriculture on 19 November 1907, Russell described the existing arrangement between DATI and the IAOS as ‘the most unbusiness-like arrangement I have ever heard of’. He also accused the IAOS of setting out to create shopkeepers. Plunkett had resumed the presidency of the IAOS and he used his presidential address in Dec 1907 to launch an attack on ‘gombeen’ men and their political supporters. A major political row followed and Russell had the last word, he got the DATI board to confirm a £3,000 subsidy to the IAOS and that a monthly audit had to be carried out on its spending by DATI and that this would be the final grant to it. The matter continue to fester:  When the IAOS applied to the Development Commission for a grant of £6,000 in 1911. Russell contended that DATI should be responsible for developing co-operation, and he launched bitter attack on Plunkett and the IAOS, rehearsing the events of 1907/08 at considerable length. (Ref: The First Dept by Mary E. Daly). The row continued in 1911 when the IAOS objected to a key clause in DATI’s Dairying Industry Bill, which was designed to ensure the quality of Irish butter exports……………………………… The growing antagonism between DATI and IAOS and the withdrawal of subsidies are often regarded as triumph of evil over good, with the Irish Parliamentary Party and its allies, the gombeen men, triumphing over the noble and interested people who wished to improve the lot of Irish farmers. This according to Daly is too simplistic. Despite trumpeting the merits of self-help, the co-operative movement relied heavily on DATI’s money. ……………………….the IAOS were not good at reporting in comparison to the Committees of Agriculture, there was not a place for two bodies acting separately i.e. the local Itinerant Instructor and the IAOS Organiser-Instructor. Russell emphasized that DATI was responsible to Parliament, whereas the IAOS was an ‘irresponsible body’. Village shops had become more numerous in the second half of 1800s’. They were sometimes situated beside the post office whose role was itself a pointer to changing times. It was part of the changing improvement in living standards, however, it was also a shift in being less self sufficient. With increasing mobility, the bicycle, the pony and trap, the towns with a much larger selection of goods became more accessible. The Co-op creameries also put in shops, selling a fairly wide range of farmer requirements.  

There was modest improvement of Irish Agriculture for the years leading up to the First World War. Poultry was one sector that improved thanks to DATI. By then Ireland became the largest exporter of eggs to Britain. On the eve of the War poultry accounted for nine percent of agricultural output compared with 5-6 percent in the 1880s’/90s’. Instructresses trained in the Munster Institute (MI)-Cork city suburbs, under DATI control, advised the farm women. They also insured that the eggs were clean leaving the farm. In 1907 DATI employed an instructor in the packaging and grading of eggs and poultry and made his service available to shippers. Irish dairy cow numbers stayed static, as did the average milk yield, while the home consumption of butter increased, because more families now switched to bread and less maize and oatmeal was consumed. On the eve of the war just thirty nine percent of Irish butter was produced in creameries. According to Daly ‘it was quite possible that the dairy industry was a casualty of the division of labour and the disagreement between DATI and the IAOS.  The DATI’s concentration on beef cattle may also have been a contributing factor’. The DATI investigated the possibilities of establishing a dead meat trade and its London Office worked on the promotion of Irish fruit and early potatoes.

By 1920 agricultural prices were approximately three times higher than they were in 1913 figure. War brought unprecedented government regulation – compulsory tillage orders, guaranteed prices for grain, maximum prices for fertilizer, minimum wages orders and perhaps the temporary suspension of land purchase and distribution. Although farmers benefited from higher prices, labourers and smallholders felt frustrated at being denied their share of wartime prosperity. Emigration came to a halt because it was extremely difficult to get to the United States and the fear of conscription if they entered Britain. A volatile atmosphere resulted particularly after the 1916 rising. Wages ran behind food prices and labourers went on strike in Cos’ Clare, Cork, Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wexford. Moribund rural land and labour unions were revived and new organizations emerged, demanding minimum wages for farm labourers, the redistribution of land to smallholders and the provision of allotments. Men were entering grazing land, driving cattle away, and ploughing or digging land for tillage – using compulsory tillage orders as justification for their actions. In other instances they disrupted auctions for conacre land. They were fuelled by economic conditions but also by militant nationalism. On the 13th November, two days after the Armitice, the Council of Agriculture debated a motion calling for labourers wages to be linked to maximum grain prices. However this was not carried The Irish Transport and General worker Union (ITGWU) launched a campaign for higher agricultural wages in 1919 and succeeded in bringing labourers out on strike in Meath and Kildare and there was a threat of a nationwide strike if Kildare farmers persisted in their plan to lock out all agricultural labourers unless they returned to work.

On March 1919  senior officials of DATI met a deputation of farmers who were demanding an end to compulsory tillage; the deputation included two representatives of North Kildare Farmers’ Federation, the Clare landlord and maverick Colonel O’Callaghan Westropp (An estate of over 8,000 acres in 1876) and farmers from Meath, Cork and Wexford. Devere, a large farmer from North Kildare, commented that the tillage order was ‘one great weapon’ that labourers could employ against farmers. During the previous summer he had been unable to harvest thousands of acres of corn when his labourers went on strike; he objected to the fact that farmers were compelled to till their land, while labourers were free to strike and ‘to demand whatever wages they liked’. When Gill – the Secretary reminded the deputation that Irish Farmers were receiving higher guaranteed prices than farmers in Britain, O’Callaghan Westopp countered, that guaranteed prices were worthless unless farmers had a guaranteed market,  guaranteed labour and a guaranteed season to harvest the crops. By March 11 1919 the British Ministry of Food conceded that while, the case for decontrolling the price of oats in Britain was ‘irresistible’, in Ireland, ‘the conditions are rather different’, and it agreed to honour its undertaking to buy 10,000 tons of oats a month in Ireland at the previously-announced price until July 1919. It also agreed to restrict exports of British oats and oatmeal into Ireland Compulsory tillage still applied for the 1920 season, but early in 1921 the DATI revoked it. It had become apparent that Irish farmers would no longer benefit from the guaranteed prices paid under the Agricultural Act of 1920, following the enactment of the Government of Ireland Act in the same year (establishing parliaments in Dublin and Belfast). The Agricultural Wages board was abolished in October 1921. From 1919 there were two Government Authorities for Agriculture namely the Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland and DATI for the Twenty Six Counties – later to become Republic of Ireland. The two organizations pretty well worked together in the earlier years as many of the staff of the existing DATI had worked in the old DATI in Dublin.


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