BALLYMORE EUSTACE WOOLLEN MILLS
WELL-KNOWN LOCAL INDUSTRY
(from our special reporter)
A wish to find Irish work for local hands was the beginning of the once flourishing woollen mills situated in the sequestered town of Ballymore Eustace. But alas! in common with many other industries of the kind in Ireland, of later years those mills have fallen into decay and the story of their prosperity is fast becoming but a memory. With the object of placing before the readers of the “Leinster Leader” some facts in connection with this diminishing industry, at a time when an effort is being made to resuscitate the industries of the country, a representative of this paper visited the mills at Ballymore Eustace on Saturday last. Ballymore Eustace, with its wealth of scenic beauty, is prettily situated on the Liffey about five miles from Naas, and eighteen miles south-west from Dublin. Situated in a deep vale, shut out from the rude world by gently-sloping hills, the scenery surrounding this pretty little hamlet is of as diversified a character as can be found anywhere in Ireland. All round can be seen a stretch of beautiful valley net-worked with beautiful hedgerows, deep blue groves of palm, white homesteads, leaping cascades, and rustic bridges, while over all prevails that deep silence and even melancholy which seems to come and grow out of the very soil of Ireland. Away in the distance the hills of Wicklow tower to an altitude of close on 1,000 feet, and as their craggy sides stand out in bold relief, specked with white houses, they form a truly picturesque background to the valleys beneath. Through this smiling land flows the winding Liffey, giving to the fairy picture all of perfection it could have required. According to Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Ballymore or Ballymore Eustace, is situated in the barony of Upper Cross, County of Dublin. The town, which signifies the “great town of Eustace,” derived its name from that family, a branch of the Fitzgeralds. It is situated on the River Liffey, over which is a handsome stone bridge of six arches, and consists of one principal and three smaller streets. The great southern road formerly passed through it, but it has been diverted through the parish of Kilcullen by the construction of a new line to the town. A market granted by James I. to the Archbishop of Dublin has fallen into disuse. The parish, according to Lewis “was the head of a Lordship and Manor belonging to the Archbishop of Dublin, and comprising the parishes of Ballymore, Ballybough and Ballybut; Coughlanstown, Yague, Tipperkevin, and Tubber in the County of Dublin; and of Milltown, Tornant, and part of Rathsalla in the County of Wicklow. The system of agriculture is improving. Mount Cashel Lodge, the property of the Earl of Mount Cashel, is pleasantly situated, and is now in the occupation of Mr. Drumgolle.” (The ruins of Mount Drumgolle are still to be seen.) “The other principal residences are Ardenadoe, the residence of E. Hornan, Esq., of Mrs. O’Brien, Season, and P. Doyle. Esq., of Wellfield. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough. The tithes amount to £145, 11s. 1d., of which £87 10s. 7d. is payable to the lessee of the dean and chapter; £39 2s. 7d. to the vicar, and the gross tithes to the benefice amount to £137 2s. 3d. The church is a plain building with an embattled tower, surmounted in pinnacles, erected in 1820, by the late Board of First Fruits. The churchyard is of great extent, and contains the remains of the old church and numerous ancient tombstones. In the Roman Catholic division this parish comprises also the parishes of Ballybut, Coughlanstown, and Tipperkevin. The chapel of Ballymore is a substantial and commodious building, and there is another in Hollywood. The parochial school is supported by subscriptions, and there is another school, for which a schoolhouse was erected by subscriptions in 1835 at an expense of about £400. About a mile from the town the River Liffey forms the celebrated cascade of Phoulaphuca, or “the demon’s hole,” consisting of three successive waterfalls 300 feet in height. The chasm is only 40 feet wide, and is skirted on each side by perpendicular masses of rock, and when the river is swollen by heavy rains the water rushes down with tumultuous impetuosity into the circular basins of the rock.”
The woollen mills of Ballymore Eustace were built by Mr. Christopher Drumgollee in the year 1802, and when in full swing employed 700 hands. They are situated at the lower end of the town, overlooking the Liffey, which river supplies the water power for the working of the mills. The pioneer of the movement, as we have said, was Mr. Drumgollee, who began the work in a small way, but in a comparatively short space of time the industry went ahead very rapidly, and on Mr. Drumgollee’s death the mills were a source of employment for practically everyone in the town. Ballymore was then one of the most prosperous towns in Ireland, and the woollen mills were famous throughout Leinster. But her prosperity has of late passed away; the only industry of which the pretty little town could boast has all but vanished, and her population is fast diminishing. When the mills came into the possession of the late Mr. H. L. Copeland, brother of the present proprietress, whose hands were as open as the day melting in charity towards his neighbours, the history of this woollen industry in Ballymore was still one of progress. A large number of hands were still employed, and although Mr. Copeland’s enterprise was not recognised in Ballymore in the manner it might have been, yet for many years the mills continued to give a large amount of employment to the people of the neighbourhood. The woollen industry at Clane and Celbridge became extinct about 11 years ago, but, mainly owing to the splendid business capacity of Mt. Copeland, and his manager, Mr. P. Mc Grath, the mills at Ballymore still continued working, and notwithstanding the fact that the mills were in later years being worked at a dead loss, yet Mr. Copeland still continued to fight the apathy which began to prevail amongst the people towards the support of home industry, and the mills continued to go on working up to his death in 1903. But there were too many destructive influences at work, and the Ballymore woollen mills were not immortal, and so we find that a short time before Mr. Copeland’s death the manufacture of tweeds dropped, and blankets were the only goods turned out for a few years after. About half a dozen hands were at this time only employed in the mill, and it really looked as if the industry would disappear in the same manner as the woollen industries of Clane and Celbridge had disappeared a few years before. The people were not vigilant as to the enterprise in their midst, and the once prosperous industry was decaving in a manner that might well appall those who were solicitous for the future welfare of Ballymore. The drifting process was proceeding rapidly, and to the people of the neighbourhood it looked as if the woollen industry in their midst would soon be numbered amongst the things that were. But there was one in Ballymore who saw that the prosperity of the town would fade with its industry. He had seen the mills in the days of their prosperity, when employment was given to close on 100 hands, and it was mainly owing to the excellent business capacity and energy of Mr. P. Mc Grath, the present manager, that the mills were saved from complete extinction. On the death of Mr. Copeland, Mr. Mc Grath obtained permission from the present owner, through her solicitor, to carry on the working of the mills provided he could make it pay; and that he succeeded in doing this may be judged from the fact that, although when he again set the machinery in motion last July, wool, owing to a variety of circumstances, was scarce in the country, yet, despite all these obstacles, he never flagged in his determination to show that the industry could be made pay, and that those wishes of his have been realised can be proved when it is shown that the mill is not only now paying its way, but is being worked at a profit, which even though small, is still a proof that there is room for such an industry in the country. Miss Copeland, the present owner of the place, whose charitable and pious disposition is well known, also takes a deep interest in the working of the mill, as she does in everything connected with the welfare of those with whom her family have for generations lived in perfect amity. Since Mr. Mc Grath took over the management of the mills in June last ten hands have been employed, and in the coming spring it is hoped that employment will be given to double that number.
The mills are at present in a remarkably good state of preservation, and all the machinery is in perfect order. Our representative was shown over the factory by Mr. Mc Grath, who explained to him the several processes through which the wool went before being converted into flannels, blankets, rugs, and horse sheeting, all of which are now turned out in the factory. The wool is first put into the willowing machine in a raw state, where it is thoroughly cleansed, after which it goes to the carding machine, which converts it into a very fine rope. The ropes are then conveyed by self-acting threads into the second carding machine, and it is then removed to the condenser, where it is turned out in fine robbing for the spinner. This robbing is then removed to the spinning-room, and spun into yarn by a self-acting mule. This latter process is a very interesting one, the spindles being driven by a cotton band, and when the wool has here been converted into yarn it goes to the warping machine, where it is warped for the looms. It then goes to the looms to be woven into cloth. The cloth is carried to an immense scouring machine, and there scoured, and afterwards carried to the milling machine to be tucked into cloth by two rollers. It now goes back to the scouring machine to be finished off. The tenzle gig is then brought into requisition, where the wool is raised on the cloth. The shearing machine next shears off the wool to show the pattern of the piece; it is then brushed on the brush mill, and then carried to the press shop to be pressed. The friezes then go to the napping engine to be napped. There is also a special machine for making the friezes waterproof. The wool has, in all, to go through fifteen processes, and if the industry were in a flourishing state at least 150 hands could be employed in the factory. There is no questioning the superiority of the woollen goods turned out in the mills, as can be judged from the fact that in the years 1865, 1872, 1865, and 1866 four medals were obtained at the Dublin Shows for the tweeds and friezes turned out at Ballymore.
The history of this industry, short and incomplete as it must be in a sketch of this kind, should give an object lesson on what the people of the county might hope to gain by self-reliance, and suggests the prosperity that might be increased by patronage of the products of local manufacture in preference to those of the foreigner. As we stated before, there is no questioning the superiority of these products or the reasonableness of their price, and both quality and price compare favourably with those imported. Surely, therefore, the patronage of the people of Kildare and surrounding counties should be given to this local manufacture in preference to others. The industrial revival movement is now strong in the country, and the apathy that prevailed amongst the people, towards the support of home industry is departing. Apathy in the past has been the principal obstruction to the development of Irish industries, and out of it has sprung many destructive influences. If the people were vigilant to internal enterprise in their own country, there would be loss of the decadence that exists. Importation will increase as long as it is permitted to go unchecked, and as importation increases, necessarily home products decreases. The farmers of the country should recognise that in sending their wool to the mills at Ballymore they are encouraging Irish manufacture, and giving employment to Irish hands, who would otherwise have to leave the country to find that work which was denied them at home.
An Article from the Leinster Leader of January 1906, encouraging local support of the woollen mills.
[Compiled by Mario Corrigan; typed and edited by Niamh Mc Cabe]