independent

Sunday 18 November 2018

Tribute to pioneer of the Co-Op movement

MIKE MCGRATH

THE man who organised the co-operative movement all over the country in the 1890s with Horace Plunkett, R.A. Anderson, was honoured with a commemorative plaque last Saturday at the house where he was born at Mount Corbett, Churchtown, Buttevant.

Ms Máiread Nagle, widow of Billy Nagle, a former president of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), unveiled the plaque at the house, which is now the property of former National Hunt champion jockey Jim Culloty and his wife Susie, who run their stud farm there with their two children Art and Eliza.

The couple have restored the house magnificently, which is set in the lush, rolling countryside of North Cork. Here, Robert Andrew Anderson was born on June 26, 1860, the son of Andrew Anderson, a native of Scotland, while his mother was of Canadian origin.

In the keynote address, Mr. John Tyrrell, director general of ICOS, traced the life of Anderson, who, he said, was, prior to being recruited by Plunkett to help him found and organise the fledgling coop movement throughout Ireland, a clerk of the Petty Sessions in Doneraile. His new task was no easy one, it entailed traversing the length and breadth of the country, travelling by bicycle, horseback and by train to hold meetings explaining the ideals of the new movement to the farming community.

Over 50 meetings were addressed before they had their first success. Farmers were suspicious of a venture spearheaded by a landlord and Protestant, and co-operation was seen as a threat by traders and shopkeepers. Anderson, whose life was threatened on at least one occasion in Co. Clare, graphically described it as hard and thankless work, facing the apathy of the people and the active opposition of the press and politicians.

But they persevered and opened the first co-op creamery in Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick in 1899 and the movement went on from there to become a major force in the history of the Irish dairy movement.

R.A. Anderson took over as manager of the IAWS in 1922 and went on to become President of the IAOS in 1932, a position he held until he died in 1942.

His private life was marred by tragedy — estranged from his wife, Canadian Mary Teresa Leahy, he lost two sons to the First World War.

Anderson himself died on Christmas Day 1942 in a nursing home in Clontarf in Dublin and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. There is no record of any family member at his funeral and his grave lies untended.

Mr. Tyrrell paid tribute to the outstanding work of R.A. Anderson on behalf of the cooperative movement and said a great debt of gratitude is due to him as he left a great legacy to those who have come after him working in the movement.

The plaque and ceremony was organised by Noel Linehan, Gerard Murphy and Denis Hickey, all members of the Churchtown Village Renewal Trust and the ceremony was attended by members of farming organisations and local co-operatives.

"We have two plaques, the one unveiled here this morning and the second one will be displayed in the village square in Churchtown near the present monument," said Gerry Murphy, chairman of the Churchtown Village Renewal Trust.

He also commended the late Billy Nagle, whose brainchild it was to erect the plaques.

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