Over the last few weeks we have been writing about the building on Earl’s Island which began life as a bleach and flax mill in the 1850s. It was then converted into a jute factory, became a bonded warehouse, a factory for making cannon shells during World War I, and was occupied by the 6th Dragoon Guards and the 17th Lancers during the War of Independence. After the British army left, it was vacant for a while before being converted into a factory known as IMI, or Irish Metal Industries.
It was opened by Seán Lemass, Minister for Industry and Commerce, on July 22 1935. The site consisted of about 13 acres of which three were occupied by buildings. There were in fact three factories in one, the first devoted to the manufacture of sporting cartridges. The printing of the cartridge shells, the capping, the insertion of strikers, etc, were all carried out in a special detached building to ensure complete safety. The women working there were dressed in fireproof smocks and footwear. The powder used was drawn in small quantities daily from a magazine situated about 400 yards from the building. When the cartridges were filled with powder to the required height, they were passed through fireproof hatchways to a new group of employees who poured in the pellets, inserted the wads, etc, and finally crimped them.
This remarkable photograph of Shantalla village was taken in 1945 by Pádraic Mac Dubháin and is from the National Museum collection. You will sometimes see the place name written as Shantallow and you will hear it pronounced Shantla by people with Galway accents. It is derived from the Irish ‘Sean Talamh’, old ground, though why Shantalla should be older ground than that which surrounds it is a mystery. Maybe it is because some of the land was not being worked.
Our photograph shows a cluster of thatched cottages and outhouses on the Rahoon Road, possibly near where the entrance to Highfield Park is today. It was taken from a small hill in the foreground. The landscape is divided into small fields by stone walls. Some of those have been dug and there are no sheep or cattle to be seen. The hills in the background with the few scattered houses are in the Rahoon area.
When World War I finished and the National Shell Factory on Earl’s Island closed down, the buildings were taken over by the 6th Dragoon Guards who had a reputation for wanton brutality. This was unusual in that most well armed British army units, with few having a role in the intelligence conflict, were rarely attacked during the War of Independence in the west of Ireland. While individual RIC men became defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it was army regiments, rather than individual soldiers, that became so defined.
The Dragoons were replaced by the 17th Lancers, a large detachment of whom were garrisoned in Earl’s Island. They were a cavalry regiment (who had been involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade) who would regularly, at low tide, drill their horses on the beach at Grattan Road. They occasionally came under attack and had pieces of military equipment, barbed wire, and feed for their horses destroyed.