There are few families in the Athenry area who have not had some contact with the happenings in the Teagasc complex over the last ninety years. OK — the name Teagasc is a very recent tag, bringing together agricultural education, research and advice for rural communities.
Since 1905 when the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction established an agricultural station here, with a farm and school, the place has been colloquially known as ‘The Department’ (no frills), ‘The College’ or ‘The Farmyard’.
Each of these is descriptive but none gives the complete picture. It is a combination of all of these — and more.
Reason for a State Agricultural School and Farm
It is difficult for us to have any real understanding of the poverty in rural Ireland at the end of the last century and well into this one. Virtually all the land was owned by a small number of landlords but worked by a multitude of small tenant farmers. When Horace Plunkett set the machinery of The Department of Agriculture in motion in 1900 his stated goal was ‘better farming, better business, better living’.
Towards this end the department set up an agricultural station in each of the four provinces. Progress was impossible without improved knowledge and skills. Improved seeds and stock were also required and these were propagated on these farms.
The Athenry farm of 640 acres was part of the Goodbody estate of 2,000 acres. The rest of the estate was divided amongst people by The Congested District Board.
The college was established in 1905 and was administered by the Department of Agriculture until 1980 when Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta (ACOT) was formed.
This State-sponsored organisation became responsible for agricultural education and advice.
Five years later ACOT was superseded by TEAGASC, a state-sponsored body with responsibility for agricultural research in addition to education and advice.
The Teagasc Complex 1995 Teagasc Athenry has several linked areas of operation: The Farm; The Agricultural College; Agricultural Advisory Services for County Galway; Specialist Advisory Service; Sheep Research; Rural Development Headquarters; Department of Agriculture; Food & Forestry Trials.
The Agricultural College and Farm The farm consists of 640 acres of which 600 approximately are usable with 30 acres, of woodlands. Individual farm units are devoted to dairying, cattle production, sheep production and research and tillage crops. The farm has an intensive pig unit and a poultry unit.
The Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry conduct trials on cereals, potatoes, roots and grasses.
The college has been providing training courses for young farmers since 1905. In 1966 the new college building was officially opened. Because the college was occupied by the Irish Volunteers under the command of Liam Mellowes during the rising in 1916, the college was named Mellowes Agricultural College in commemoration of that historic event.
Mellowes Agricultural College provides a residential one year course in General Agriculture for fifty five students each year. Students are educated and trained in the general knowledge and scientific principles of modem farming. Practical ‘hands on’ training is combined with classroom work.
This course is designed for young entrants to farming.
The college provides a Pig Production Training Course. This is a specialised two year course for people who wish to follow careers in the commercial pig industry.
The Poultry Production Training Course is a two year specialised course for those who wish to follow careers in the commercial poultry industry.
The college also conducts a number of short Block Release courses for Farm Apprenticeship Board trainees and for young farmers who cannot avail of the residential courses in general agriculture. These short courses take place in the summer months when the main corps of students have completed their residential courses.
The Rural Development Centre The County Galway Headquarters for the Agricultural Advisory Services is at Athenry in the refurbished original college building, now named by its colour ‘The White House’.
Farmers in the county who are seeking any of the advisory services can make contact there.
The Rural Development Centre
The brown brick building on the Galway side of Mellowes College is The Rural Development Centre. This is a conference centre with office accommodation. Local, regional and national events are hosted there. The Rural Development Team work from this building providing specialist back-up to Rural Enterprise Advisers around the country. Rural development through enterprise is a key sector of the Teagasc programme.
Declining rural populations and low farm incomes make it imperative to focus seriously on rural enterprise and ‘alternative’ farm enterprises.
This building also accommodates a small number of specialist advisers who provide support, up-dating and in-service training for the general advisory service.
Teagasc has responsibility for agricultural research. Sheep research is conducted at Athenry with specialised researchers working on various aspects of sheep production.
The results are brought to sheep farmers on an on-going basis.
The Teagasc complex is indeed ‘complex’ with a wide variety of activities and functions. Eighty people are employed. This total includes farm staff, office staff, teachers, domestic staff, agricultural advisers, researchers, Department of Agriculture staff and the Rural Development specialist Team. Teagasc is and has been the largest employer in the area for almost ninety years. Most of the staff live in the Athenry area.
If, for any reason, you have never set foot in the complex and would like to, you will gladly be facilitated, by arrangement.
It is incumbent on all of us to treat with the utmost respect that national resource that is Teagasc/Mellowes College. It is not ours but rather a part of the heritage of future generations.
Written by Nuala King
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published July 1995
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