Given the major role it was to play in the development of the Irish dairy co-operative movement, it is surprising how late in the day Dungarvan Co-op was actually set up. The creamery system grew out of the invention, in the late 1870s, of the power-driven mechanical separator by the Swede, George Laval. The separator allowed much quicker and more efficient separation of cream from milk than the previous slow and labour-intensive method used on farms. The separator was followed quickly by the invention of the mechanical churn which turned the cream into butter. This led to the centralisation of milk processing in plants which became known as creameries. Two types of creameries emerged – auxiliary or branch creameries where cream was separated from milk, and central creameries to which the cream was brought for churning into butter.
The first creamery using a mechanical separator in Ireland was set up in 1886. Ireland's earliest creameries were all privately-owned. The first co-operative creamery, owned and run by the farmers which supplied it, was established in Drumcolliher in County Limerick in 1889. The main focus of early creamery formation was the Golden Vale region of East Limerick & West Tipperary, from where it expanded into Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and then up to the northern counties stretching from Sligo and North Roscommon across to East Derry and West Antrim.
Although Waterford was one of the leading counties in terms of the density of dairy cows, creameries of any kind, and co-operative creameries in particular, were very slow to set up there. The first co-operative creamery in the county was established in Gaultier in 1894, followed in 1895 by one in Ballinamult which subsequently became Knockmeal Co-op. No other co-op was established in the county until Dungarvan in 1920. While there is plenty of documentary information available on co-ops through the Office of the Registrar of Friendly Societies (where co-ops were registered) and the umbrella body for co-operatives, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS), there is little overall information on private creameries. However, a national list of all creameries was compiled for a directory which was published in 1908. This showed that, in addition to Gaultier and Knockmeal co-ops, there were 13 private creameries in County Waterford at that time. This compares with 128 creameries each in both Cork and Tipperary, 111 in Limerick and 78 in Kerry (according to the 1906 Agricultural Census). There were two creameries in Dungarvan at this time, Stokes's creamery and Shandon Dairies, owned originally by a Mr Dunlea but subsequently taken over by Paddy Dunne. Stokes's creamery was located on the Youghal Road opposite where the Garda Station is today and Shandon Dairies was opposite where the Civic Offices are now located.
Author: Proinnsias Breathnach