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.
They were then taken to another building to be dipped in a waterproof composition, then dried on a slowly moving track, tested on a shooting range for penetration, recoil, spread and accuracy, and finally packed for distribution. Mr O’Malley was in charge of ‘the ammo’ and among the other 30 in this section were Bill Murphy, Sally Belton, Nora Coyne, Mary Rushe, May Lawless, May Clancy, Mary Ellen Connedy, and Mary Keane.
The second factory made copper tubing for all builders’ requirements. Tommy Maloney was the charge hand and among the 18 who worked there were Martin Hennessy, John Furey, Peter Deeley, Paddy Duddy, Mick Folan, Tim Lally, Christy McDonagh, John Cloherty, Michael Morrissey, Mick Kavanagh, and also two Englishmen, Joe Cooke and Mr Taylor.
The third factory manufactured soda crystals for use in laundries, for potato spraying, and for general household purposes. Six people worked here including Bertie O’Toole, Kevin Molloy, Paddy Noble, Mike Jordan, and Mr Walshe.
IMI was virtually accident free. One night, about 2am, they found a naked man in the mill race just outside the gate. He was alive and the staff warmed him up by the furnace. The gardaí and ambulance took him away and cared for him, but the staff never found out who he was. During the war, the Army for a time acted as security men, but this job was eventually taken over by the gardaí, Guard McGee in particular.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Jimmy Cranny used to train swimmers in the canal early on summer mornings. They used to tog out beside the canal bridge opposite Johnny Ward’s shop. If it was raining, they were allowed tog out in IMI. Anyone who did so will remember being instantly warmed up and dried by the furnace as they came in from training. Sheer bliss.
IMI eventually closed and in 1987, the buildings were taken over by UCG which converted part of them into the College Bar. Our photograph today shows some of the section where IMI made the copper tubing.