Every phase of the life of the Irish peasant along the whole of the western seaboard has been made brighter and more hopeful by the beneficent operations of the Board. Its activities have been manifold, including the purchase and improvement of estates prior to re-sale to the tenants; the re-arrangement and enlargement of holdings; the improvement of stock; the provision of pure seeds and high-class manures; practical demonstration of various kinds, all educational in character; drainage; the construction of roads; improvement in the sanitary conditions of the people’s dwellings; assistance to provide proper accommodation for the livestock of the farm, which too frequently were housed with the people themselves; the development of sea fisheries; the encouragement of many kinds of home industries for women and girls; the quarrying of granite; the making of kelp; the promotion of co-operative credit; and many other schemes which had practical regard to the needs of the people, and have contributed in a variety of ways to raise the standard of comfort of the inhabitants of these impoverished areas.
It will be noticed that among the other activities of the Congested Districts Board, I have specially mentioned the work of promoting co-operative credit by means of village banks managed on the Raffeisen system. The actual work of organising these co-operative banking associations has not been carried out directly by the Board, but through the agency of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (generally known by the shorter title of the I.A.O.S.), to which the Board has for many years past paid a small subsidy—a subsidy which might well have been on a more generous scale, having regard to the immense advantages which co-operation is capable of conferring on the small farmer.
The I.A.O.S. is a voluntary association of a strictly non-political character. “Business, not politics,” has been its principle of action; and partly, perhaps, for this very reason it may claim to have contributed more than any other single agency towards the prosperity of rural Ireland. To its work I now turn.
The movement which the I.A.O.S. represents was started by Sir Horace Plunkett, and he has remained the most prominent figure in it ever since. Sir Horace Plunkett bears an honoured name wherever the rural problem is seriously studied; but, like other prophets, he has received perhaps less honour in his own country than elsewhere. At all events, in the task to which he has devoted his life, he has had to encounter the tacit, and indeed at times the open opposition, of powerful sections of Nationalist opinion. Happily he belongs to the stamp of men whom no obstacles can discourage, and who find in the work itself their sufficient reward.