Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

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Plunkett, Sir Horace Curzon

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854–1932) was born in Gloucestershire, England on 24 October 1854, the son of the sixteenth Baron Dunsany and his wife, the Honorable Anne Constance Dutton. He was educated at Eton and Oxford and devoted his life principally to agricultural reform in Ireland.

As agent for his father at Dunsany Castle, Co. Meath, Plunkett took the initiative in 1878 of establishing a Dunsany Co-operative Society, the germ of the idea that was to dominate his life. Influenced by the British cooperative movement, ranching experience in the U.S. west, and the agricultural modernization of Denmark, he developed a concept of cooperation appropriate to the needs of the Irish small farmer. He saw in cooperation a means of establishing improved agricultural production, processing and distribution, a new sense of community, and an alternative social and moral order able to fill the gap that had been opened by the demise of the landlord system. However, a lack of political acumen compromised his achievements, and he attracted enmity within both major communities in Ireland: By antagonizing unionist voters, he lost the parliamentary seat on which his long-term vice-presidency of the Irish Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction depended; by attacking nationalist parliamentarians and the Catholic clergy, he alienated those who most directly represented the class on whom the success of his reforms depended. In addition, his ideas threatened the shopkeeper and money-lending class, which provided much of the rural leadership of the nationalist movement. Perversely, he took pride in this multipartisan opposition, comparing his popularity to that of "a dog on a tennis court."

The escalating crisis in Ireland after 1916 brought much more into the open the covert nationalism that Plunkett had long disguised. He sought, particularly through his chairing of the Irish Convention (1917–1918), to avert the partition of Ireland, and in 1919 he founded the Irish Dominion League in a further futile effort to that end. His achievements and contributions, however, were notable. The Irish Agriculture and Technical Instruction Department was created in 1899 as a result of his efforts. He was a member of the Congested Districts Board between 1891 and 1918, and in 1922 he became a senator of the Irish Free State. An adviser on agriculture to United States governments, he had an especially close relationship with President Theodore Roosevelt. Most notably of all, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, which he founded in 1894, not only devised practical improvements to Irish farming but also enriched a relatively impoverished rural environment by increasing opportunities for social intercourse and a shared sense of community.

SEE ALSO Agriculture: 1845 to 1921; Congested Districts Board; Home Rule Movement and the Irish Parliamentary Party: 1891 to 1918; Land Questions; Protestant Ascendancy: Decline, 1800 to 1930; Rural Life: 1850 to 1921; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Unionism from 1885 to 1922


Digby, Margaret. Horace Plunkett: An Anglo-American Irishman. 1949.

Ehrlich, Cyril. "Horace Plunkett and Agricultural Reform." In Irish Population, Economy, and Society, edited by J. M. Gold-strom and L. A. Clarkson. 1981.

West, Trevor. Horace Plunkett: Co-operation and Politics, An Irish Biography. 1986.

Philip Bull

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Plunkett, Sir Horace (1854–1932). Plunkett was a lifelong advocate of agricultural co-operation. A younger son of the 16th Lord Dunsany [I], he was born in Gloucestershire, but spent his early years rearing cattle in America. In 1889 he settled in Ireland and began preaching co-operative farming. He became a member of the Congested Districts Board in 1891 and entered Parliament the following year as a Unionist. The Irish Agricultural Organization Society (1894) led to a Department of Agriculture for Ireland in 1899, in which Plunkett served for seven years as vice-president, despite losing his parliamentary seat in 1900. But like many moderates, his political hopes foundered on growing militancy in Ireland. Reluctantly converted to Home Rule, he urged Ulster not to stay out. When it did, he became in 1922 a member of the Senate of the Irish Free State, but returned to England after his house had been burned down in 1923. In January 1920 Plunkett was reported dead by mistake and had the dubious pleasure of reading his own obituary notices.

J. A. Cannon