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The Congested Districts Board.

(1891)
 

Living conditions for some people particularly in the west were very poor, even though some of the farmers now owned their land, the farms were of such a small size that it was virtually impossible to make a living from them. It was in this climate the the Congested Districts Boards were set up in an effort to help people to help them selves. It encouraged cottage industries such as lace making, the weaving of tweed, the fame of Donegal tweed an industry which still survives can be traced to this time. Linen embroidery was also promoted, as was the making of lace Carrickmacross in County Cavan, the towns name came to be synonymous with high quality lace today Carrickmacross Lace is much sought after.

The development of fishing was encouraged with the building of piers, and funds were made available for the purchase of boats and nets etc. Bridges and roads were built which not only gave much needed short term employment opportunities, but made access to remoter regions more convenient. The West Clare Railway from Ennis to Kilkee was constructed, previously railway companies were reluctant for economic reasons to put branch lines in the poorer regions.

The combined effect of the provision of road and rail facilities encouraged tourists to explore the west of Ireland. Probably the most important schemes the Board embarked upon was in buying large estates and dividing them among small farmers giving each enough land from which to make a living.

Although not directly connected with the Congested Districts Board, in 1899 the government set up the Department of Agriculture, in an attempt to teach farmers modern agricultural practices. An agricultural college was set up and instructors were sent out to advise farmers. At the same time schemes were introduced to try to eradicate animal disease, the head of this department was Sir Horace Plunkett, who had previously distinguished himself in the agricultural field, and could be described with some justification as the father of the Cooperative Movement in Ireland.