The Galway jute factory

The Galway Vindicator and Connaught Advertiser of December 24 1851 carried an advertisement which read “TO BE LET, for such terms as may be agreed upon, and immediate possession given. EARL’S ISLAND MILL AND BLEACH GREEN. These well-known concerns occupied for so many years by the late Mr Mitchell, Linen Manufacturer, Miller, Bleacher, have always been esteemed to point of situation; preferable to every other site in Galway, but the improvement made by the Board of Works under the inspection of their skilful engineer SU Roberts ... have rendered it superior to any in the Kingdom. The land will be secured against being flooded for any part of the year. The Mill Race has been changed ... the Mill Power amended and is now equal to 40 horse power. The canal between Lough Corrib and the sea leaves the lake at the very point on which the Mill stands. The layby for boats is within 20 yards of it, and the spacious quay with landing crane and every accommodation for shipping goods will adjoin.”

These lands and buildings were situated between the newly built University College and the newly built canal (where the college bar is today ) and were adjacent to what was essentially the industrial heartland of Galway at the time. They possessed advantages that no other mill site in Galway “could offer for any undertaking, in which water power, with room for extensive buildings may be required as the island, containing 12 or 14 acres of good land, will admit of another mill race or two”.

The lands were eventually sold, as a report in the Galway Express of July 28 1866 stated: “We are happy to learn that the directors of the Galway Bag Factory Company entered on possession of the mill site and lands for their factory at the Bleach on Monday last, and that Mr Roberts has got instructions to prepare the plans for the necessary buildings. This is an augury for success and we trust that the directors will be nobly supported by the public.”

The buildings were started on and as you can see from our photographs, they were quite extensive. They were to house a factory that made canvas sacks of coarse cloth, mostly for the flour industry. They also wove fibres into curtains, chair coverings, carpets, rugs, hessian cloth, and backing for linoleum. This was immediately after the Famine and according to Lieutenant Colonel James O’Hara, the chairman, “The company was set up for the purposes of developing the industrial resources of the West of Ireland.” Col O’Hara was also the chairman of the Town and Harbour Commissioners of Galway and the auditor of the Poor Law Board for Co Mayo. Thomas Persse of the distilling family was another of the directors. There was very small capital in the company and great difficulty in raising capital and keeping the works going. They were unable to pay dividends.

Nevertheless, as opening time approached, excitement was mounting, as the Galway Express duly reported on July 6 1867: “The room is fast filling with machinery, and is now getting into shipshape form getting ready for the start which we believe, will be about the end of the present month.

“Within eighteen months, fifty hands were employed, mostly young women, in all the processes through which the raw jute passes in its manufacture into corn sacks. They knew nothing of the work until they were instructed by a factory hand from Dundee, and now each of them can earn from 4s 6d to 6s a week. Thus by this one establishment alone, over £800 a week is added to the earnings of the poorest classes --- no small boon to a town with a population of 16,000. The sacks are sewn by other women at their homes in the town, and they can make about the same wages as the girls in the mill.”

Our first photograph shows some of the factory, with the Quadrangle building of NUIG (or Queen’s College, Galway as it was then ) in the background on the right. The building we see in the distance on the far left was the Gaol. Our second photograph was taken more or less from the opposite angle. There are lots of workmen building up what appear to be enormous turf stacks, which might have been used to drive some machines, or heat the plant.

These photographs, which date from c1867, were probably originally taken by Mr Hasler, a photographer who worked from 18 Dominick Street. They are from the collection of County Galway images found in Chetham’s Library in Manchester, and to which institution we are most grateful for being able to reproduce them today.

More jute factory next week.

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