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Minister McConalogue, with ICOS President, James O'Donnell and Golden Jubilee Trust Chair, Sean Brady. Picture by Shane O'Neill, Coalesce.
Minister McConalogue, with ICOS President, James O'Donnell and Golden Jubilee Trust Chair, Sean Brady. Picture by Shane O'Neill, Coalesce.

Agriculture and Food Minister Charlie McConalogue TD attended the launch of a fascinating new book outlining the history of The Plunkett House, No. 84 Merrion Square, written by archivist, historian and novelist, Andrew Hughes.

No 84 is headquarters of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) and the Golden Jubilee Trust (who have kindly sponsored the publication). Built in 1790, the house has stood witness to more than two centuries of rich Irish history, absorbing countless stories, from the daily domestic drama of its inhabitants to the nation’s profound struggles and triumphs, including the development and success of the Irish co-operative movement.

As the 18th century ended, the Plunkett House was observer to a seismic political shift in 1800 with the Act of Union, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; the Great Famine in the mid-19th century, and Ireland’s path to independence at the dawn of the 20th century, including the tumultuous Easter Rising of 1916, when Dublin city centre was a major battleground. The course of Irish history subsequently changed forever including the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War.

In the times since, the house experienced the steady march of progress as the sound of horse-drawn carriages gave way to the roar of cars, trams, and buses. Gaslights gave way to the steady glow of electricity, also heralding the advent of digital technology.

The house may also have sensed the cultural vibrancy of Dublin. From the literary genius of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and W.B. Yeats to the pulsating energy of U2 and other music icons, to the thrills of Gaelic games at Croke Park – the city’s and our nation’s cultural heartbeats would have resonated within its walls.

Into the 21st century, the house stood resolute through the Celtic Tiger years, the financial crisis that followed, and the subsequent recovery. The house would have felt the city’s struggles and resilience, its highs and lows, its ever-changing character. And in more recent years, it stood silent, amid the empty streets of the COVID-19 pandemic, while witnessing the strength and unity of the people of Ireland, including co-operative farmers who helped to sustain the country with high quality food throughout the crisis.

For well over a century before, No. 84 was an elegant family home, first inhabited by Richard and Grace Baldwin and their family, and subsequently sold to their son-in law (Francis Leigh) and daughter (also Grace). It transferred in 1840 to the ownership of renowned physician Robert Graves and subsequently in 1855 to Daniel Bayley, a captain in the East India Tea Company armed forces. In 1860 in was sold again, to Joseph Napier, a Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and on the subsequent departure of the Napier family, the house became the location of the Irish Land Commission in 1882. Thereafter, the house was occupied by Judge William O’Brien and then by a successful wine merchant, Joseph Brannan.

The Irish Agricultural Organisation Society Ltd. (later renamed the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society – ICOS), was formed in 1894 by Sir Horace Plunkett, establishing the movement at the heart of Irish economic, rural, and social life.

The first meeting of the IAOS was held on 18 April 1894 at the Ancient Concert Rooms, Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) Dublin. Before moving to Merrion Square, the offices of the Society were located on Lincoln Place. No. 84 came on the market in June 1907 to settle the estate of the late Joseph Brannan. It was purchased by a Testimonial Committee of Plunkett’s supporters, recognising his work in the promotion of co-operation, and presented to Plunkett for the use of the IAOS, and also dedicated The Plunkett House.

Rather like the co-operative movement itself, the house has withstood the tests of time, weather and modernity, emerging solid and steadfast. Now, in the year 2023, it stands beautifully restored in co-operative ownership, ready to witness many more stories yet to unfold.

Over the centuries, the Plunkett House has become a living, breathing chronicle of Ireland and the co-operative movement’s past, present, and future.