Sarah Harrison and the allotments movement

Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2011), Volume 19

Sarah Cecilia Harrison, self-portrait, 1889. She was the first woman to be elected to Dublin Corporation. The allotments campaign was her most successful initiative. She is chiefly remembered for her championing of a gallery in the city to house the Hugh Lane collection. (Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane)

Sarah Cecilia Harrison, self-portrait, 1889. She was the first woman to be elected to Dublin Corporation. The allotments campaign was her most successful initiative. She is chiefly remembered for her championing of a gallery in the city to house the Hugh Lane collection. (Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane)

One of the few success stories of the war was entirely pacific. The allotments movement was founded by the artist and former independent nationalist councillor Sarah Harrison in 1909 but made little progress until Dubliners began to experience chronic food shortages from 1915 onwards. It crossed political and religious divides, with Revd Dr Denham, Presbyterian minister for the north inner city, Trinity College botanist Sir Frederick Moore and Revd J. McDonnell SJ serving on the committee. Harrison was the secretary. By 1919 440 acres of waste ground, vacant building sites and parkland were under cultivation by 3,000 plot-holders, with a further 2,000 applicants for plots on the Corporation waiting list. Like the Irish Volunteers, the allotments movement played an important role in educating Dubliners in popular democracy. An eighth of an acre was found to be the optimum size for an allotment being cultivated by a working man and his family. The movement’s greatest enemy was the sparrow, ‘the most destructive bird that could possibly be’, according to Sir Frederick Moore.

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