The Factory Story

By

Jack Burke

 

The story of the factory began in 1804 when Christopher Dromgoole, Clothier, of the Weavers Square, Dublin, purchased the "Corn Mill, Tuck Mill and Kiln together with the privilege of a strip of bog adjoining the same" at Ballymore Eustace.

The factory built on the site was impressive and machinery was provided to match: -

 

Tuck Mill - 2 Jig mills - one brush mill for finishing cloth - one machine for washing, 4 pair of fallers for milling or thickening cloth. Diameter of wheel 12 feet. Breadth of ditto 6 feet 4 inches. Diameter of 2dwheel 14 feet. Breadth 6 feet 6 inches, depth of shrouding 13 inches 40 buckets - fall 13 feet. The machinery worked by water is as follows - one willow (or Devil) for breaking the wool before it is carded - also 3 Scribbling machines for same purpose. 4 carding machines - One teaser for breaking the wool before going to the Scribbling machines - There are 6 Scribbling machines & 6 carding machines There are 50 looms - and 20 jennies for spinning Wool.

 

Truly a "large manufactory in which every description of cloth is made".

 

Business was good at first, but after 1815 and the end of the Napoleonic Wars the economy declined, and the factory suffered. On the edge of the river, in a very pretty situation, are the buildings of a factory, once kept up by Mr. Dromgoole, but now idle and deserted',

 

By 1840 however prospects had improved:

 

Last year the concern was employed 8 months, 12 hours per day The foreman states that the work done in this factory might be averaged at 6 months -12 hours per day that there was as much work done last year as in 2 years previously since 1831 - But he is of the opinion that the work will be carried on more extensively soon, as the machinery is undergoing repairs, and a new wheel has been set up since 1 first visited the concern.

 

The 'family papers' support the foreman's optimism at that time. In January l841, for example, in exchange for substantial annuities for himself, his wife, and remaining children, Christopher Dromgoole transferred the business in its entirety to his third son Peter. The documents further state that Peter Dromgoole:

 

worked the factory with much success, and after a few years he erected and fitted up an oatmeal mill adjoining the Factory, which also proved a profitable concern - he also erected or improved the dwelling house - and is stated to have expended upwards of 2000 on the premises.

 

The factory was doing well. But of a total population of 2129 in Ballymore Eustace 107 persons were engaged in the clothing trade. But the 1840s were not happy times, particularly for the Dromgoole family.

 

By the winter of 1842 Christopher Dromgoole had passed away. His second son, John died in April 1845, and then Peter, so lately and assuredly in command, departed this life in May 1848.

 

It was to be nine years in July 1879 before ownership would stabilise sufficiently to allow production to re-commence, when the premises were acquired by one John Copeland in 1857, a cousin of the Dromgoole family. The factory continued to stumble toward its uncertain destiny.

 

John Copeland died in July 1879 and the business was left to his son Henry Lewis Copeland, with the proviso that he should pay his father's debts and provide modest annuities for his mother and brethren. The modest size of the annuities, and the fact that John Copeland died in debt, may indicate that life at the factory was unsure, and perhaps 'down at heel' during his time in charge.

 

A Fresh Start

 

The following letter to the Irish Builder in l882 points to a quiet revival under the direction of Henry L. Copeland.

 

The Woollen Factory at Ballymore Eustace

 

In the last article I through an oversight and inadvertence, described the woollen factory at Ballymore-Eustace as a ruin. I believe it was so when I was last there, forty years ago. When describing the river at that point, I referred to D'Alton's History of the County Dublin and at page 740 found that "the buildings of the factory once kept up by Mr. Dromgoole are now idle and deserted'.

 

I understand that since then Messrs Copeland (father and son) have carried on a most flourishing business; and I would be sorry indeed, that the stray notes made in 1838 should be supposed to have any reference to the present time, as nothing could possibly be further from my wish or intention than to give offence or injure anyone by an illusion that would cause error in point of date.

 

John S. Sloan CE

 

We are reminded that our Irish Exhibition contains samples of woollen goods from the Ballymore-Eustace factory.

 

The Irish Exhibition, took place at the Rotunda, Dublin in 1882 and appears to have been a success for the factory. Business prospered for several years, and Henry Copeland was appointed Peace commissioner in 1894, an honorary position that implied prominence in local society, and in this case likely success in business.

 

By the beginning of the twentieth century however, business was not good. The Census of Ireland 1901 for example shows just eight persons, (5 females and 3 males) out of a total population of 978 employed in the woollen industry (including Ellen Brien Widow Age 72 Lodge-keeper ).

 

The rate book of 1905 shows Mary C. Copeland as the occupier, and that rateable value was assessed at the full amount. The factory was still in business and Mary Copeland who was then 71 years of age was coping.

 

The last years

 

Two separate reports in the same edition of the local newspapers provide a parting glimpse of the last years in the working life of the factory. The first, a report on a meeting of the Board of Guardians at Baltinglass Workhouse contains the following paragraph:

 

Amongst the tenders and samples received were some from Ballymore Eustace Woollen Mills. We are pleased to see that energetic efforts are being made on the part of the management to revive the woollen industry in this well-known and old-established factory, which for some years has been allowed to lie idle.

 

The second item concerns a subsequent meeting of the same board, and under the title "Ballymore Eustace Woollen Mills" reports:

 

The Baltinglass Board of Guardians at their meeting on Saturday last paid high tribute to the quality of the material turned out at the Woollen Mills, Ballymore Eustace. The tender of Mr. P. McGrath, manager of the mills was accepted for the supply of blankets and yam to the Union notwithstanding that this marked an increase on the former price. The standard of the stuff manufactured at the mill is very superior, the premises being fitted up with the most upto-date machinery.

 

Prosperity could not have been substantial or have lasted for long. The census for 1911 returns the manager's house, gate lodge, and associated nearby cottages (where weavers lived in 1901) as unoccupied. Four persons only, indicate connections with the mill, - the last of the life-givers, the last to leave. They are remembered here:

 

John Whittle

Age 40

Wool Weaver

Frances Devoy

Age 40

Wool Carder

Mary Devoy

Age 32

Wool Spinner

Elizabeth Keogh

Age 57

employed in the factory

 

Story by Jack Burke format by Matt Purcell