The Old Travelling Creamery Stop

Three old milk churns at the old creamery stand in Bonane
Three traditional milk churns mark the location of the Old Travelling Creamery Stop in Bonane.

On the way from Kenmare to Bonane village, a hundred yards or so past Tulloha National School, is a small lay-by on the right-hand road side. Three traditional Milk Churns stand on a stone plinth, commemorating the Old Travelling Creamery Stop that was used by Bonane’s dairy farmers for many decades.

The Dairy Disposal Company (DDC) operated a network of ‘Travelling Creameries’ which stopped at various locations to collect milk from farmers, helping in the process to unlock the potential of remote dairying areas. In ‘Ireland’s Heritages: Critical Perspectives on Memory and Identity’, Maura Cronin’s chapter ‘Remembering the Creameries’ paints a fabulous picture of times gone by. Lorries, equipped with the necessary separating and weighing machinery, travelled to designated Creamery Stops to collect milk from small suppliers who had invested in new metal milk churns which had varying capacities from five to twenty gallons. The lorries held two separate compartments, one into which the milk from each farmer was poured and measured, the other one being the separator which separated the milk and the cream. The cream was graded and weighed at the roadside, and the skimmed milk returned to each farmer to feed calves or pigs at home. The lorries then took the cream to the nearest creamery to be made into butter. Later, the system changed and the churns were taken back to the creamery for the milk to be separated. This meant that each farmer had to have two sets of churns; the first set was sent with the creamery lorry and the second set could be filled on the farm ready for collection the next day, when the first set would be returned with the farmer’s skimmed milk.

Historic Irish Creamery Butter wrapper issued by Kenmare Creamery, Co. Kerry
Historic Irish Creamery Butter wrapper by Kenmare Creamery, as seen in the fabulous Kerry Creamery Experience in Listry near Killarney

At Bonane’s Old Travelling Creamery Stop you can also see a box-like compartment with a wooden door into which the lorry driver would place butter each morning which locals could buy at subsidised prices.

The remarkable story of the Dairy Disposal Company (DDC) is told by Dr Mícheál Ó Fathartaigh in his fascinating book ‘Irish Agriculture Nationalised — the Dairy Disposal Company and the making of the modern Irish dairy industry’. The author compares the DDC to a kind of NAMA for the Irish dairy sector which, unbelievably, was on the verge of collapsing in the 1920s. The DDC bought failing creameries and agri-businesses, and transferred them to newly founded co-operative societies. One of these was to become the juggernaut that is now Kerry Group.

old postcard showing farmers delivering milk at a travelling creamery stop
A Travelling Creamery Stop (Photo by John Hinde)

Creamery Stops were not just places of business but also meeting places where neighbours talked and argued on a daily basis. News spread all the more effectively during the long wait in the creamery queue. The journey there and back might only take ten to fifteen minutes each way, but “then you could have to wait, you’d chat with the neighbours and you’d wait your turn, so it might be customary to spend an hour or an hour-and-a-half going to the creamery and coming back”.

Both the creamery visit and the news carried home eased the isolation of those confined to the house – married women with children, older people – and of single people with few other social contacts except Sunday mass. As one farmer put it to Maura, “There were a lot of bachelor farmers. They met no one on the farm and they had no contact with anyone until they’d go to the creamery. It was a bit of craic and sport going on. Whereas when the creamery stop closed they were on their own all day and they’d get depressed being all on their own on the farm. The creamery was good for them mentally and physically. It was an outing. I know you’d get drowned wet, but still they were out and meeting people, whereas when the creamery closed, they were kind of hermits on their own.”

From the early 1970s onwards, the rationalisation and eventually the phased closure of the creameries became inevitable. The process began with the introduction of the bulk tank between the late 1960s and mid-1980s (depending on the region) which put an end to many local Creamery Stops. One supplier regretted, “When the bulk tank first came, a few of the boys got in bulk tanks, but they never came to the creamery again.” There was a consequent sense of loss and perhaps this is the reason why the people of Bonane remember their Old Travelling Creamery Stop fondly.

(Sources: Ireland’s Heritages: Critical Perspectives on Memory and Identity, Editor: Mark McCarthy, Ashgate, 2005.; Hidden Gold: History and Folklore of the Coomhola and Borlin Valleys, by Julia Kemp. Published by the Coomhola Borlin Community Development Association, 1998.)