Allotment history in Ireland?
When I think back, allotments always seemed to me to be a typically English pursuit. I always pictured a Jack Duckworth type character from Manchester’s Coronation Street using his allotment for the dual purposes of cultivating cabbages, whilst enjoying some quality time away from his wife Vera. However, my thoughts have changed in past years as I have seen an upsurge of interest in allotment growing right here in Ireland.
My thoughts that allotment gardening was solely English came from the little history that I knew about this practice across the water. As far back as 200 hundred years ago, patches of land each approximately a quarter of an acre were divided from commonage and allocated to the poor under the “General Enclosure Act”.
Although these enclosed and segmented areas of ground helped the poor they also benefited the rich, due to the fact that the peasants could no longer graze their “filthy” animals on the now divided commonage. It’s worth noting that “commonage” in England is where the land is the common property of all, whereas here in Ireland it means private property held jointly by a number of owners, usually farmers.
So under the “General Enclosure Act” allotments of a sort sprang up throughout rural areas, but it was not until the time of the Victorians that they began to make a move into the cities. During the nineteenth century many more people lived in towns than the countryside, however poverty was still rife. As a distraction the poor were offered small plots of land to allow them grow their own fruits and vegetables.
The Irish movement
It wasn’t until 1916 that the allotment movement started to grow in a select few Irish cities. This was half way through World War I, and as you can probably guess food was in short supply, due partly to the threat of naval blockades. This was especially true for those living in cramped conditions without even a square foot of soil to grow some veggies in.
City Allotment Schemes were set up at that time only in Belfast and Dublin. These numbered just eighty plots for the capital and over 1,200 plots up in Belfast. The plots in Dublin were allocated by Dublin Corporation who were stretched to find vacant land within the city limits. If they had it, they could have allocated plots to over 1500 eager families at that time.
The only evidence of other allotments available around that time is of 20 plots in Clonmel that were run by the Society of St Vincent de Paul from 1913 onwards. The Clonmel allotments offered a bit more though, in that the lucky recipients were also offered a cottage next to the plot.
Fast-forward to present day Ireland where private allotment schemes now vastly outnumber those supplied by city and county councils. We are in a time where people are growing their own vegetables less out of base hunger and more-so out of a movement towards healthier living. Exercise through manual labour, fresh air, and tasty organic food are all to be found down on the allotment, alongside a side order of friendliness from other plot holders.
When putting together this piece I would like to thank Andrew King B.Sc Horticultual science, admin of Corrigans city farm and co admin of Irish Community Gardens Facebook….. http://www.facebook.com/CorrigansCityFarmBlackpool?sk=info
More debate about this topic on our forum, click Irish gardeners forum.
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