Brighter Homes Exhibition, Athenry 1909

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Extract from  Weekly Irish Times, Saturday 11 September 1909

That the cottager in many districts of Ireland does not make the most of his tiny dwelling place as a shrine of domestic comfort and brightness has been very frequently remarked by those who have compared what they have seen in this country with their observations elsewhere. The question is not one of cleanliness, but of attention to the many small points which go to enforce the aspect of homeliness. The small patch garden, with its squares and borders of more less commonplace blooms, in front of almost every dwelling in the villages of England, the rose bushes creeping about the lattice, and the shining coppers and brasses within, account for much of the affection with which English authors write of the country cottage. Lack of such elements of simple comfort and attractiveness is one the things which cannot be laid the account of poverty, and it is surprising to find how little has been done to remedy it.In the districts close to Dublin small flower show organisations have induced the cult of the cottage flower garden to some extent, and now a more comprehensive movement has been started in the West.

On Wednesday the Brighter Homes Exhibition at Athenry afforded an opportunity of observing what has been done in the few cases which have so far been affected by the movement. These comprise some twenty cottages which are fairly entitled to the description “model’’. They are neither owned nor superintended by any co-operative or philanthropic society; they are in most cases cottages built under the Labourers Act, and tenanted the ordinary way. But the difference lies in the manner in which the cottages and the half-acre plots surrounding them are kept. What is at the bottom of this difference? “Some of us looked over the wall,” said Captain Shawe-Taylor to a Weekly Irish Times representative on Monday, “and offered advice and encouragement where it was acceptable.” That is to say, the tenants have been induced and helped to take an interest and a pride in making their houses neat and cosy, and in cultivating their plots to the best advantage. Hence the” brighter homes.” The result is certainly a good one, and if all the cottages in the neighbourhood of Athenry and other and villages in the West were similarly tended, they would be bright and cheery spots in that bleak tract of country.

The Exhibition

It was with the object of calling attention to what has been achieved at Athenry, and so that the example can be followed elsewhere, that the Brighter Homes Exhibition was organised. The idea of an industrial exhibition has been grafted on to the ” Brighter Homes” scheme, and although the latter is the feature of more useful and permanent interest, the industrial exhibition and the attractions associated with it, were, of course, the immediate popular draw. They were located in the courtyard of the Castle, now only a ruined remnant, known as the King of Connacht’s Castle. Built in 1211,  this site was the scene of a terrible conflict between the forces of Myles de Bermingham and Philamy O’Connor, and 8,000 men were left dead on the field. Myles de Bermingham, who was one of that family which came over with Strongbow, and were given the extreme western territories to hold and extend as they could, and who were the ancestors of all the Berminghams of Ireland, was made Baron of Athenry, a title held by him and his heirs for a long period.

The battlements which once overhung the place of slaughter now shelter the things of peace and industry. The visitor was able to pass from the courtyard, which overlooks some of the model cottages and gardens, into the gardens themselves. Perhaps it would be more fitting, however, to approach them from the front, for the neatly tended bit of grass and flower border stands as a symbol of the improvements which will be noted elsewhere. The cottagers-cheery folk all-welcomed with evident pleasure the little preliminary party which visited their homes on Monday.

Good Design of Cottage

One row of cottages near the Castle seemed to be of particularly good design. The kitchen was very lofty and airy, extending full to the roof. The other side of the house was divided into two storeys, and the lower room was arranged, without any inappropriate expense, as a thoroughly cosy boudoir, probably called the parlour. Everything was neat and bright; in the kitchen everything was tidily kept together, the china on a neat plain range of shelves, beside which was quite a dazzling array of shining saucepan lids. The outside walls of the cottages were covered with well-trimmed creeper and ivy, and the window ledges each carried a pot of ferns. The half-acre plot is at the back, and the men who cultivated it pointed out with pride to the fact that not an inch of space was wasted. Where a crop had turned out badly some other vegetable or root was planted in the same patch, and the crops were varied at each planting. The holdings have been in hands little more than a year, yet it was clear that much had been learnt by experiment, and the keen way in which the holder told of his experiences and his plans showed that every opening for improvement would be availed of. A good deal of the family food requirements are, of course, met from the gardens, and the surplus produce finds a ready market in the town.

Half the model cottages and plots are at the south-eastern end of the town; the rest are at Kingsland and at Ballygowran, both these places being about 1½ miles out on higher ground. Visitors to the exhibition on Wednesday were driven out and back for 1shilling. In all these model plots the seeds and roots have been obtained from Messrs. Alex. Dixon, of Dawson Street, Dublin, and the cottagers have had the benefit of advice from the County Horticultural Instructor, Mr. J. P. MacNicholas. These cottages were built in some cases on the sites of derelict dwellings, and in other instances the plots were formerly given up to grazing. The cottages, each in their own district, are bound to exercise a great influence: the little touches which mean so much in the brightening of the home will be easily acquired by neighbours, and it can hardly be doubted that the psychological effect will be a good one in every case.

Industrial Activity

Some features of the industrial side of the proceedings may now be touched on. Several local tradesmen were showing samples of their wares, in many instances in process of manufacture. Thus, among the industries in operation were bacon-curing, dressmaking, wheelmaking, boot making (with Irish tan leather, thread, and Galway nails), whip-making by hand, and tailoring: Among the articles exhibited were a ‘’Brighter Homes” furniture polish, placed on the market at this opportune moment; a model poultry house, hen coop, and run, made by George Perry, of Camden Row, Dublin, and presented as prizes for competition among the ‘’model’’ cottagers; examples of iron, saline, and sulphur waters and chalybeate from springs at Athenry, to which doctors at one time used to send patients to take these waters; boxes for marketing eggs, vegetables, and garden produce; egg boxes and sprouting boxes for early potatoes, shown by Mr. Samuel Taylor, who owns the ground where the exhibition was held ; bread in various shapes in various shapes; in historical succession from the ancient gandoug loaf to the modern cottage loaf; a patent gate fastener, invented by an Athenry man; an exhibit arranged by Mr. Neilan, Manager of the Red Bank Restaurant; an observatory hive, shown by the Athenry Beekeepers’ Society; and coal from Castle Lambert, two miles from Athenry. There were cookery demonstrations by the County Instructress, Miss Mahon, and a display of methods of packing, grading, and marketing produce by the County Horticultural Instructor, Mr. MacNicholas. In one marquee were the exhibits of flowers and fruit entered for competition by the “model” cottagers, and in another marquee a display of Bawneen flannel, drawn thread-work, and crochet, arranged by a ladies’ committee. A great attraction was the presence of the O’Neill War Pipers, whom Mr. F. J. Biggar had sent from Belfast, with drummers and standard-bearer complete in ancient costume. The Galway Industrial School band was in attendance and some Irish dances were performed.

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About this record

Written by Weekly Irish Times

Published here 17 Jan 2024 and originally published Saturday 11 September 1909

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