Friday, 16 March 2007


Photo's: Our shed in the veggie garden and allotments in Bottesford England.

I really like the idea of community allotments.

The idea isn’t new to Inishowen- a couple of years ago there were some meetings about setting some up in Loreto House at Linsfort. The idea seems to have been shelved but in my eternal optimism, I would like to think the idea could work. Of course the deciding factors would be public interest and land being made available for the long-term benefit of the local community.

The origins of allotments go back over 200 hundred years - they derive from the enclosure legislation of the 18th and 19th centuries in England - and the word 'allotment' originates from land being allotted to an individual under an enclosure award (Enclosures were used by richer land-owners to stop the poor grazing their animals on common land). Walled garden were also built to keep the poor out of the vegetable patches of the rich. The modern notion of an allotment came into being during the nineteenth century. A lot of people from the country went to work and live in towns. There was a lot of poverty, and what the Victorians called "degeneracy" amongst the working classes. In the Victorian scheme of things, allotments provided an alternative to drink and other unworthy pursuits for the poor! The spread of urban allotments was intensified by the growth of high-density housing.

Two world wars increased the uses of allotments and the influence was felt here in the Republic. In 1916 because of unrest at home and abroad there came about the City Allotment Scheme. These were set up in Belfast and Dublin. Dublin allocated eighty plots for the city, which wasn’t a lot, whilst Belfast allocated 1,200. This was, historians say, because of the social background of the people who rented the plots. In Belfast, people came from a wide range of occupations, which scaled the social ladder. In Dublin, those who took up the call to use allotments were the working classes who lived in such cramped conditions that they didn’t have gardens. Dublin, I suspect had far more properties with gardens, which is probably why the numbers taking up the allotments was low. Other differences existed though. The growth of flowers over vegetables and fruit was viewed as worth continuing, not considering the constant scarcity of foodstuffs. The need for flowers was considered as just as important as they could be used in hospitals where wounded soldiers were, creating an aesthetic ambience, thus making recuperation easier for those who were sick or wounded. However, not all allotments were in Dublin and Belfast. The Society of St Vincent de Paul had established another scheme as early as 1913 in Clonmel. The allotments, which were divided into twenty plots, also consisted of a cottage, housing two people, which kept the scheme going.

Our need for allotments is different from those of our ancestors. We can get access to produce in the shops but more and more of us are becoming aware of the fact that we need to grow locally. We need to know that the food on our plates is full of goodness. We are also becoming more aware of the amount of energy it takes to transport produce half way across the world to get to our dinner plates. When we grow the vegetables ourselves we can choose the ones that we like the best, (for me at the moment that would be runner beans) or the ones that are the most expensive in the shops such as blueberries. That aside, community gardens or allotments are places to relax, get valuable exercise, have social contact and nosey at one another’s produce and growing techniques.


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