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History of Bandon Co-Op

Sir Horace Plunkett, founder of the co-operative movement in Ireland encouraged producers to form themselves into co-operative units to enable them to market their produce in a better manner. The first such co-op had been founded in Dromcollagher, Co. Limerick in 1889 and after a slow start, many more were founded in the following decade mainly in the North Cork / Limerick area.

The founding of the Bandon Co-operative Agricultural & Dairy Society in 1903 was the first to occur in West Cork. The first recorded meeting was held on 5th June 1903. A committee of 14 members were elected at this meeting and a further 2 members were elected at the next meeting one week later. A local medical doctor Dr. Denis Hennessy was elected the President / Chairman of the Committee.

The site at Watergate Street was leased from the Murphy family at a rent of £10 per annum and the tender from Mr. John Buckley of £135 for the construction of the building was accepted, the installation of a Steam Separator cost £370, this enabled the co-op to start separation after a very short time. Mr. Thomas B. Lewis was appointed the very first manager.

Only separation of milk took place in the early years of operation with all the skim milk returned to the farmers and the cream sold to the Cork Co-operatives Creameries Federation, which operated in Cork city. It was only when difficulties arose with delayed payments from the above that a decision was taken to install a butter manufacturing plant in 1907. Miss Cronin was appointed Butter maker.

Early Period in the History of the Co-Op

The first serious problem encountered by the Society was in securing payment for the cream supplied to the Cork Co-operative Creameries Federation, this became very acute in the 1905/06 period. On one occasion, a decision was taken to switch the sales of cream to another outlet, this was later rescinded.

A very difficult period occurred for the Society during 1932 to 1935. Having extended the creamery around 1932, the funds of the Society were drained, this allied to the World recession of the 30’s and the effects of the ‘economic war’ led to a cash crisis. Many representations were made by the Society to the Department of Agriculture and to Dr. Ryan, the Minister of Agriculture at the time to help the plight of the co-op but to no avail. Efforts to arrange extra accommodation from our bankers also proved very difficult as the terms required were not acceptable to the committee; however a package was eventually agreed and proved very successful.

The period during World War II proved a real test for the Society, mainly due to unavailability of Fuel, Feed & Fertilizer and other farm inputs.

Growth of the Society

The first step in expanding the business of the Society took place in 1928 with the amalgamation of Crossbarry Co-op. The shareholding in Crossbarry was transferred to Bandon and this became the first branch of Bandon.

Following approaches from farmers in the Enniskeane area, shareholding was subscribed and a new branch was developed and opened in 1929.

Those additions soon brought about the necessity to extend the central creamery at Bandon. After much deliberation by the Committee on where to site the new creamery, an adjoining property at Watergate Street was purchased and this site along with some other small acquisitions remains the current head office of the Society.

In 1936, farmers in Ballinadee area approached the Society to build a branch creamery and following a shareholding drive, a branch was built and opened that year. In 1941 a branch was established in Kinsale on the site of the old Kinsale Gas Works, which was donated to the Co-op by the people of Kinsale. Maulbrack branch was purchased from the Dairy Disposal Board in 1945.

Formation of Carbery Milk Products Ltd.

In the early 60’s, there was a significant increase in milk production due mainly to the advent of improved milking facilities on farms and better farming practices. This gave rise to an unwanted surplus of skim milk on most farms and an urgent need arose to dispose of it. About this time also the huge growth of milk supply began to interest outside manufacturers of dairy products in the possibility of getting involved in joint ventures with existing co-ops.

Carbery Creameries (Bandon, Barryroe, Lisavaird & Drinagh) with Express Dairies (UK) established Carbery Milk Products in 1968. In 1971, Bandon was handling 8/10 million gallons of milk and by the early 80’s had reached 17 million gallons annually. The period co-insided with the installation of refrigerated bulk milk tanks at farm level and collection ex-farm. All Branches became redundant.

In 1991, Grand Metropolitan Hotels, who had taken over the Express Group in the mid 70’s, decided to concentrate on their hotel catering and drinks business and to sell off their dairy product interest in the UK and Ireland, including their 80% share in Carbery Milk Products. The four members of Carbery Creameries who already owned 20% of the share capital of Carbery Milk Products combined and bought out the remaining 80% and so consolidated their position in West Cork.

Bandon Co-op also holds a 42% interest in Clona Dairies, which they purchased in 1989 in conjunction with Barryroe and Lisavaird Co-op’s.

Trading Division / Retail Centres

In 1974, the Society decided that it was necessary to develop the agricultural supply end of the business in order to provide a fast and efficient service to its suppliers and customers. The vacant premises of Beamish & Crawford in Watergate Street was purchased. Business expanded rapidly, and in 1978 a premises vacated by an American company with 26 acres of land became available at Kilbrogan. This premises was purchased and developed. The original 30,000 sq. ft of building purchased has since been doubled in size. Grain purchase, drying & storage, fertilizer depot & sales, and animal feed sales have been developed.

The main objective of the Bandon Co-op trading division was to provide high quality service and value to its agri-members / shareholders.

In 1988 as part of updating strategy, it was decided that some form of diversification would be necessary / beneficial in order to consolidate existing trade levels and to generate extra return for the Co-op and greater employment for the local community.

Having assessed the overall market situation, potential was seen in the General Hardware Sector while continuing to service the agricultural sector.

Therefore in 1989 in Kinsale, a very modern Retail Centre was developed incorporating a range of Household, General Hardware, Electrical, Gardening, Home Decor, Tools & Ironmongery, Domestic Fuels, Building & DIY Supplies, Plumbing with the existing full range of Farm Requisites.

The goal of the Retail Centre concept was and still is to provide leading quality branded products at very competitive prices and excellent service.

In 1997 as a result of the performance of Kinsale, a similar store was opened in Enniskeane.

Following the success of the above Retail Centres, the now flagship store was developed on a green field site in Kilbrogan, Bandon consisting of an ultra-modern shop and builder provider business.

With the development of the third shop, the Retail Centre concept was well and truly established as a retailing force.

As part of the ongoing plans to progress the retail division, a new larger and improved store was built at the Kinsale location in 2012. Continuous improvements and maintenance are also being implemented on an ongoing basis at the other retail locations.