Tuesday 16 July 2019

Memories come flooding back in Campile as Co-op marks 100 years

Mary Jo Kent in the old pharmacy
Mary Jo Kent in the old pharmacy

David Looby

Campile was a hive of activity for a day of celebrations marking 100 years of Shelburne Co-op in the village.

Over the century the co-op overcame a WWII bombing with the tragic loss of life of staff, the economic uncertainty of wartime Ireland and a massive fire at the start of the harvest season in the 1950s which nearly spelled disaster.

Along with the changing face of the Irish agriculture scene, it moved from once trading in rabbits and poultry to becoming a modern-day commercial enterprise with a strong turnover through the innovative actions of its staff and farmers. At the celebration day, Glanbia Group managing director Siobhán Talbot paid tribute to the work of the current staff and those that had gone before as the vision of the founding farmers in setting up the co-op in 1919 was marked. There was a party mood as the BEAT FM Fleet provided the music, while children enjoyed face painting, art competitions and treats such as the popular Avonmore Mooju drinks. An evening barbecue was held, with Wexford strawberries and Avonmore summer cream among the tasty offerings. With the GAA season heating up, there were visits from players on the Wexford GAA teams which are sponsored by GAIN Animal Nutrition.

The day was a chance for the people of Campile to reminisce over the years gone by with the unveiling of a new book on the centenary of the Shelburne Co-operative compiled by former employee and local historian Michael Walsh for the occasion. The book paints a picture of the difficult era in which the Co-op was set up as it shows determination to give farmers a better price for their produce after the price of grain and livestock had plummeted following the end of World War I. It spurred farmers to band together to create the Co-op in 1919 to service the vast area stretching from the Hook to the White Mountain.

However, there were many notable occasions throughout the century as the 1930s saw the Co-op blossom. The rise of the Co-op saw the installation of a seed cleaning plant by a German firm, growth in staff numbers and it became an agent for most of the leading brands of agricultural machinery. During WWII, it faced the same travails as all businesses as the war brought difficulties including a shortage of fertilisers, animal feeds and coal. It was in August 1940 that the reality of the war was really brought home when a German plane dropped four bombs on the Co-op.

Tragically, three female members of staff - Kathleen Hurley, Kitty Kent and Mary Ellen Kent - lost their lives. The Co-op went on to overcome a fire at the start of the harvest season in the early 1950s that nearly spelled disaster for it. However, it resulted in the installation of a new, clean, modern plant. The staff at the co-op helped bring about its evolution over the decades as it expanded and grew into the facility that stands on the site today.

Ms Talbot said the book charts the ups and downs of the company over the years and gives a good glimpse into agricultural life in Ireland down through the decades.

Among those in attendance at the celebrations were Glanbia Ireland's Jim Bergin; Glanbia group chairman Martin Keane; Glanbia board member, Wexford farmer Eamon Power; members of the Wexford senior hurling team; farmers and staff members, both past and present.

Eamon Power said the centenary marked a momentous occasion for everyone in Campile. 'When the Co-op opened in 1919 the turnover was £3,000, it shows the innovative and industrious committee that were able to set it on its path to what it is today,' he said.

Another piece of Campile history occurred on the day when the ribbon was cut to officially open the refurbished and re-branded Campile Allcare Pharmacy. Former pharmacy worker Mary Jo Kent (née Foley) was in attendance on what she described as an emotional and great day. Mary's father Jimmy and brothers Jim and Mick worked at the Co-op, as did her husband Tom, for 42 years. She worked there for 38 years and returned to her old post behind the counter - if only for a few minutes - to mark the occasion.

'People were coming up to me and recalled me serving them years ago. I had a serious operation a year and five months ago so it was a big deal (for me). I started work there when I was 14. You earned very little; a few shillings, that's all. It was the mainstay for work for teenagers then as very few of us went to secondary school. We started work at 7.50 a.m. and finished at 5.50 p.m. When we finished we said the rosary before going home; they were different times.'

She said the new pharmacy is beautiful, adding that she loved the day, saying it gave people a chance to meet up. 'I met a lot of people I wouldn't have met for a long time,' Mary Jo said.

New Ross Standard