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LOOKING INTO LOCAL HISTORY

The Fethard Story

FETHARD CHRYSANTHEMUMS OF TODAY AND YESTERDAY

As the time for Fethard’s famous annual Chrysanthemum show approaches - it will take place on Thursday, October 10th in the Country Club Ballroom, Fethard, from 2.30p.m to 5p.m - Mrs Olivia Hughes, founder member of the show, looks back over the years.
The first chrysanthemum show was held in the late forties, the first of its kind in these parts I think. I started thinking of chrysanthemums when I was a very little girl, and was brought to see my great grandmother who was bedridden, but whose room was filled with flowers, including splendid chrysanthemums. I never forgot them.
At Anns Gift where I lived, there was a fine greenhouse, so I began to grow the blooms. Then I wanted to see the other people’s chrysanthemum, so I had the idea of bringing our chrysanthemums together in a little show, and give any money which we might make to some local charity. We would also sell handicrafts made by the blind. The Country Market had begun, and was backed by many of the local ICA guilds, and we knew that the people involved would help and would bring things for exhibition and for sale.
A member of the market remembers that we were all given out cuttings to do our best. Mr Leahy recalls that his cutting was of ‘Princess Ann’, and that she won first prize in 1949. From the first there was a famous afternoon tea for visitors and exhibitors, which was run by the late Mrs Stokes and helpers. Difficulties had to be overcome. We were lent boards for staging by the late Mrs Scully. She also produced huge teapots which were usually used for threshings.

A good feed
People came from a long way and spent the afternoon in Fethard. They settled down for a good feed, and to meet old friends and neighbours. Each year the chrysanthemums improved in quality and competition was intense. But now the whole story of chrysanthemum growing has changed. In the early days the big places employed gardeners, and had greenhouses. Knocklofty was one of these, and year after year we had help and entries from the estate, and the backing of Lady Donoughmore’s brilliant gardener George Young.

Later on we had the help of Mr Pugh, a professional chrysanthemum grower from Co Carlow, who helped with the judging, and had a marvellous display of his own chrysanthemums, which showed the peaks we could attain if we treated our chrysanthemums properly. Then the scene started to change. The big places with gardeners and greenhouses began to disappear. Pot mums began to take the place of our beauties. Pot mums are the small floriferous chrysanthemums which fill the shops at many seasons. They are produced by some special process which dwarfs them as plants but does no harm to the blooms. I am too old - fashioned to like them, although I realise that they are very useful.

Cleared a little
The chrysanthemums in our prime days were sometimes brought along in horse boxes, as the plants were tall and had many blooms. At the end of the day we always cleared a little cash. Our treasurer Mrs Leahy says: ‘ The bank manager always took over the money late in the evening, when everyone was tired but happy. We distriduted this cash to local charities. Year after year we helped the blind by selling their work and giving grants for wireless. Last year, with the help of local sponsors, we cleared the enormous sum, by our standards of one thousand pounds. We always had the help of the Horticultural instructors - Mr Ned Quinn in early days, then Mr Kearns and Mr Condon. I must mention some of the faithful helpers who are no longer with us: Mrs O’ Keefe who looked after the blind stall; Mrs Jacob and Miss Selby Biggs were the most reliable of treasures; Mrs Guiry looked after the sale of pot plants and was an ardent exhibitor.

Trophy in her name
Helen O’ Connell was an excellent exhibitor, and won many prizes, which she never took but added to our final total. There is now a trophy in her name. Doris Armitage was another excellent exhibitor, whose prizes also swelled our takings; Mrs Nellie Maher who looked after takings at the door, no matter what the weather was like. Kate McCarthy, who knew where everything was, and whose property it was. Nothing could be lost when Kate was there. The old fashioned Chrysanthemum show is no longer possible. However flower clubs fill the gaps, and there is a high standard of flower arranging.


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