My colleague Marie Boran and I gave a talk for culture night on 22nd September. Marie focused on James Hardiman and I focused on Muintir na Tíre. The common thread we weaved through or talks was community development. Marie looked at how James Hardiman got involved in community groups in Galway in the 19th century and I looked at how Muintir na Tíre conveyed the message of community development and showed it in action in Rural Ireland and The Landmark in the 20th century.
Rural Ireland, an annual publication, was first published in 1941 and was initially titled ‘Muintir na Tíre Official Handbook’ and renamed in 1948. Contained within Rural Ireland were reports from guilds, agricultural advice, short stories, historical articles and articles on community development, vocationalism, rural sociology, rural electrification, water schemes and afforestation. Details of the National Executive and affiliated guilds were published annually. It ceased publication in 1972 when the last Rural Ireland was published.
The Landmark, a monthly publication, was first published in August 1944. It was hoped that The Landmark would ‘pass into many hands, and will also be a binding force for the guilds of Muintir na Tíre scattered throughout the country. It will serve as a platform for their views, and it will tell them what others are doing in the country’. …..The Landmark goes forth as a banner to lead and unite the vocation of agriculture and bring Christianity to our fields’.
The Landmark had more recurring themed articles which were targeted at women, agricultural workers, young people, gardeners and those interested in GAA. Articles on The Parish Plan, agriculture, vocationalism, electrification, forestry, water schemes, youth in the community, agricultural improvements and guild updates were published. It ceased publication in 1973.
Muintir na Tíre came into contact with the term community development in the late 1950s. The definition of community development that Muintir na Tíre adopted was from the United Nations who defined community development ‘as a process designed to create conditions of economic and social progress for the whole community with its active participation and fullest possible reliance upon the communities own initiative’.
Looking at the two publications we can see many examples of how Muintir na Tíre were involved in community development before it became the organisation’s focus after 1958. Before 1958, an example is the development and the promotion of the Parish Plan which was devised by Professor Joseph Lyons UCC and P.J. Meghen, county manager for Limerick. Muintir na Tíre believed that any reform of Irish agriculture should be based on the parish as a unit. The plan was to be administered by the Parish Council (the guild), with the co-operation of all sections of the parish in the interest of balanced agricultural effort. It was also intended that the Plan would utilise to the fullest the existing schemes offered by the Department of Agriculture for agricultural improvement.
We see articles on what the plan will mean for parishes, how productivity will be increased and how it will improve farming in both publications. ‘Better Farming by the Parish’ by Professor J. Lyons in Rural Ireland 1949 lays out how the parish council can establish a plan and how it should be organised. A second article in the same issue titled ‘The Parish Plan’ states that the plan is to increase agricultural production so that the country may have an increased income and thus a greater spending power.
Muintir na Tíre were also involved in the promotion of the use of electricity in rural Ireland. Bansha was one of the first guilds involved in the promotion and use of electricity with electricity switched on on May 23 1948. Fr Hayes stated on the day that “rural electrification has given a new life and new light to our community” The Landmark, June 1948.
Articles on rural electrification began to appear in Rural Ireland in 1945. In 1947 we see articles discussing how Muintir na Tíre can help with establishing rural electrification in your area and in 1949 discussing how the scheme of rural electrification is progressing. There are numerous examples of the work of the guilds with the ESB and rural electrification found in both publications.
Post 1958 we see an increase on the number of articles on community development. An article by Rev M. Morrissey in Rural Ireland 1959 entitle ‘Canon Hayes – Pioneer of the Community Idea in Ireland’ looks at how Canon Hayes was developing a community spirit through his work in Muintir na Tíre.
Muintir na Tíre was supported by Professor George F Thomason, from Cardiff University who was known for his research and work in industrial relations. He wrote numerous articles and publications on community development for Muintir na Tíre. He notes in his article ‘Community Development – A view of Society’ in Rural Ireland 1960 that the term community development and the application of the principles of community development that is changing the face of India, Ghana and other countries is not something that need worry Muintir na Tíre as they have been doing the same thing themselves.
Another big scheme that Muintir na Tíre got involved in in the 1960s was in local group water schemes and getting piped water to communities. The guilds got involved in the planning of group water schemes and piped water. In The Landmark in February 1962 there is information provided on how to form a group water scheme and when it is best to do this “many groups of people throughout the country have found that where suitable water is not readily available, big economies may be effected by a number of householders getting together and utilising one source of water and one pump for the whole group”.
Other examples of community development shown in the two publications include the involvement of guilds in the Tidy Towns competition. This was very much encouraged by headquarters as it was something that the guilds could lead on. In 1963, 66 guilds provided entries to the Tidy Towns Competition. This was an increase of 11 on 1962. For Muintir na Tíre this showed great community spirit.
While only a sample of how community development is discussed and evidenced in both publications it shows how heavily involved Muintir na Tíre were involved in improving local communities and aimed to “organise the different elements of rural life in Ireland into one body for the common good. It strives to promote the true welfare of Ireland, spiritual, cultural and material based on a wider and better knowledge and practice of Christian social principles”.