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The Allotment Movement

Ireland's Forgotten Allotment Scheme

1. The Allotment Movement

The events of Easter 1916 have long dominated Irish history. However these events lasted less than a week, indeed for many in Dublin the last thing on their mind was open rebellion. A more pressing concern that year was to provide food for yourself and your family, what's more with the constant threat of famine lingering throughout the course of the war and the very real threat of a German blockade forced many people to find alternative ways of producing food. Indeed, it was for this very reason that city allotments scheme was established in both Dublin and Belfast in early 1916. [1]

During a lecture by W.H. Johns to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Belfast in January, the difference in the availability of allotments between the two cities was shown. [2] In Belfast, the number of allotments for the month of January 1916 stood at 1,200. [3] This was in stark contrast with Dublin that only reached eighty plots for the same time. [4] Another difference was the social background of the people who rented the plots. In Belfast, people came from all occupations - from 'trades, occupations and professions' to rent the allotments. [5]

In Dublin, those who took up the call to use allotments were the working class people. Other differences existed. The growth of flowers over vegetables and fruit was viewed as worth continuing, not considering the constant scarcity of foodstuffs. The need for flowers was considered as just as important as they could be used in hospitals where wounded soldiers were, creating an aesthetic ambience, thus making recuperation easier for those who were sick or wounded. [6]

However, not all allotments were in Dublin and Belfast. The Society of St Vincent de Paul had established another scheme as early as 1913 in Clonmel. [7] The allotments, which were divided into twenty plots, also consisted of a cottage, housing two people, which kept the scheme going. [8]

Dublin was again in the news in March. The scheme that only consisted of fifty persons in Dublin in January – all who were lucky to win their plots in a draw - had by now stiff competition. [9] This became even more evident when a deputation representing those who were looking for land asked Dublin Corporation for assistance. Dublin Corporation could not secure enough vacant land within the city limits in which people could grow vegetables. The most striking aspect of the story was the number of people who were represented by the deputation. The figure stood at fifteen hundred families, all of whom were living in nine distinct districts in and around Dublin city. [10] The need for more land did not end here, the representative for Dublin's allotment applicants contrasted Dublin's poor record with Belfast, which had achieved a further five hundred extra spaces. [11] Moreover, many of these later plots were once wastelands covered with cinders and other refuse, a point made by J.P. Quinn; the Dublin Allotments representative who used the lecture given in Belfast in January to sway the corporation. [12] The call for allotments did not end here. Within a month, the Dublin Vacant Land Society [who represented those who wanted land] received a grant of £400. [13] Nevertheless, the call for land continued, but other events would in time over-shadow that call, what became known as the Easter Rising was about to take place.

Author: Dave Hennessy

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