Bygone days rebirthed at Kerry Creamery Experience visitors centre and café

Bygone days rebirthed at Kerry Creamery Experience visitors centre and café
Annette and Paul Garland with their neighbour Tony Horgan a former supplier and Noel Spillane, South Kerry, Development Partnership at the Kerry Creamery Experience. Pictures: Dan Linehan

The Kerry Creamery Experience, near Killarney, operates from one of those distinctive creamery buildings that were once a predominant feature of the Irish landscape.

Louth man Paul Garland and his wife Annette, from nearby Kilorglin, have "rebirthed" the creamery, once the hub of the community, by converting it into a visitors centre and café.

It is a unique experience which rekindles the memories of the local creamery, arguably once rural Ireland"s most pivotal economic and social outlet.

The Garlands bought Listry in 2002, running it initially as a garden centre. It had operated as a creamery until 1993.

Paul explains, "This was an auxiliary creamery. Milk was collected and separated, the cream then brought five miles down the road to Castlemaine to make butter."

Neighbour and friend Tony Horgan, while reiterating how good butter is good for you, recalls the small churns used to make this butter, which incidentally now form part the Kerry Creamery Experience collection.

Remembering Listry creamery in its heyday, Tony recalls Darby, "the man that worked here, he'd get up at half four in the morning, cycle three miles to put up the steam, three sheepdogs running after the bike."

Tony tells of local politics and history. He credits the creamery in nearby Beaufort to "a local DeValera man".

With milk arriving by donkey and cart, the nearest creamery could never far from the farmer, resulting in a large network all over the country.

Annette says, "Even if you look around here, there was a creamery every five or six miles."

A few years ago, Annette saw a letter to the Kerryman newspaper from an American tourist, disappointed that during his holidays he'd noticed the creameries were gone.

"Paul had said exactly this a year before."

It was then the Garlands (who had the original creamery records in their possession) decided to turn their garden centre back into the creamery it once was, albeit without the milk.

The project was part-funded by the LEADER rural development programme, in which agri-tourism is an important focus area, in funding new business ideas and rural development since 1991.

Noel Spillane of South Kerry Development Partnership states, "The fact it was an innovative project jumped out, we hadn"t seen it before.

"We evaluated the importance creameries had in Irish life and felt it was a great idea to recreate that as a visitor experience."

Annette says, "It's all coming together now, but it's been a long road. We had to start from scratch."

Looking around the quaint and lovely tearoom, she adds, "This was the storeroom where the farmers collected their fertiliser and feedstuffs.

Annette Garland looking after the café
Annette Garland looking after the café

"The video room was another conversion. We have been collecting equipment for the last ten years and are still collecting."

Since opening last year, they've been "blessed" with farmers' donations such as machinery and creamery cans.

Neighbour Tony Horgan says, "It was a great idea. The place was dead only for the creamery. This has put life in the place again.

"When the creamery closed, the shops went as well."

Paul says, "On average farmers owned five cows, now it's 85 cows, on fewer farms.

"The message was get big or get out. With the advent of the collection lorry, the creamery social interaction is lost.

"Over the bridge you had the shop, you came in for news. That was before RIP.ie."

The locals also use the café as a meeting point.

"They're popping in and they're interested," Noel says.

There's something for everyone here and we [South Kerry Partnership] are very impressed. I came back here with my own son of ten, who loved it.

The animals are a big attraction. I spot fowl, rabbits, brown piglets, goats, and a healthy, fluffy Charolais calf happily lounging in a nest of hay.

Young James Garland lovingly pets his blinkered buddy, Jerry the donkey.

The Garlands and their four children have put a lot of hours into this family-run project.

James works alongside Jerry the donkey pulling the cart with milk tanks to the delivery platform.

Danielle, a business student, brought her education to the table, helping with the business plan and working in the café. Paul speaks of a joint family effort.

"Everyone was on board. There was a lot of hard and unpaid work involved and everyone played their part.

"Our son Thomas was a Trojan worker. Our daughter Grace was incredible, it was all hands on deck seven days a week."

Annette says, "The Reeks Visitors Centre and people like Noel [Spillane], who were interested in the project, were vital."

The Experience is constantly on the lookout for information on creameries, not only from Listry, but from all over Ireland.

Annette says, "Even though it's here in Listry, you must remember the creamery experience was replicated all over the country in every small village and town, until their closure in the 1990s."

James, Danielle, Annette and Paul Garland
James, Danielle, Annette and Paul Garland

She put an ad in the Irelands Own magazine, and photos and memorabilia, stories and picture from all parts of the country arrived.

"It may be called the Kerry Creamery Experience, but we wanted to show what goes on all over Ireland."

Having hosted Santa in December, the Kerry Experience is closed until March for "drop in" customers.

However group visits are always arranged. The Experience has a diverse appeal, and family groups, men's groups, school tours, birthday parties and active retirement groups are welcomed and catered for.

A self-guided tour is an option, however the personal tour is recommended for a more in-depth experience.

  • The Kerry Experience's folklore collection is an ongoing project, and the former Listry creamery has now become a repository for stories of the creamery experience.

    If you have creamery related stories, photographs, information or memorabilia, please contact Annette or Paul to add to their collection.

    Any original documents or photographs will be copied and returned.

    Contact details: The Kerry Creamery Experience, Listry, Killarney, Co Kerry, V93 RR84, telephone 087 947 3322, 087 308 1907, or 066 976 7070.

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