'Better, Farming, Better Business, Better Living': The Irish Co-operative Movement and the Construction of the Irish Nation-State, 1894-1932

  • Patrick Doyle

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis argues that agricultural co-operative societies under the leadership of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society played a crucial role in building the Irish state and defining a national identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By questioning widely held assumptions about a formative period in Ireland's political and economic development, it is argued that critical ideas about the Irish nation emanated from the sphere of economics. In particular, the efforts of co-operative activists are understood as important actors in the process of building the Irish nation-state through their interventions to reorganise rural society. The co-operative movement's attempts to organise the resources and population of the Irish countryside represented a serious modernising effort that shaped the character of the politically autonomous nation-state that emerged in the 1920s. The establishment of co-operative societies introduced new agricultural technologies to rural districts and placed local farmers in control of agricultural business. Although co-operators met with frequent frustration in their objective to restructure Irish society along co-operative lines, the study of the movement remains central to a thorough understanding of social and political conditions in the period under review. Co-operative ideas became incredibly influential amongst Irish nationalists associated with Sinn Féin. It is argued that the co-operative movement's modernising project became embedded in the Irish countryside and enmeshed in a political economy of revolutionary nationalism. As a consequence, the co-operative movement exerted a significant influence upon those who seized governmental power after the Irish revolution, which extended beyond independence. The thesis utilises a range of local and national sources which include records for individual co-operative societies, reports and publications associated with the national movement, as well as a wide variety of contemporary literature and journalism. By applying a local approach that feeds into an analysis of the co-operative movement on a national level, the thesis presents a detailed analysis of how co-operative activists and ideas influenced the creation of Ireland's political culture. Crucially, the work of interstitial actors is reinserted into the process of the Irish state's development. The building of state institutions is viewed through the work of a network of co-operative experts and therefore as something that occurred outside the deliberations of official circuits of power. The thesis breaks new ground in the historiography of the development of the Irish state by analysing the important work of those involved in shaping rural social relations and institutions such as co-operative organisers, engineers, propagandists, managers and secretaries.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTill Geiger (Supervisor) & Pedro Ramos Pinto (Supervisor)


  • State-building
  • National identity
  • Nationalism
  • Modern Ireland
  • Co-operative movement
  • Rural modernisation

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