Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Images of Carlow

Carlow Sugar Beet Factory

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All steamed up at the sugar factory.

The beet harvest.
Source: Adam Henneszsy (Facebook) 2015
Thanks to Mr Bill Muldowney for this early morning view of the factory in 1967.
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Ariel view of Carlow Sugar Factory. Source: Adam Henneszsy (Facebook) 2015
Sugar Factory
Source: Adam Henneszsy (Facebook) 2015

The Sugar Factory.
Dermot O'Brien (Facebook)

Carlow Sugar Beet Factory c1900'sThe Irish Sugar Beet Factory in Carlow was the first of its kind in Ireland and for decades, the sugar plant was the cornerstone of the local economy.

Ireland’s first sugar beet factory was located at Mountmellick, Co Laois back in 1851 when the Royal Irish Beet Root Factory was founded. This unfortunately failed after 10 years.

A second attempt to establish an Irish sugar company took place in 1926 with the establishment of the Irish Sugar Manufacturing Company in Carlow. By 1933 the industry was however again in deep trouble. The government of the day, deciding that Ireland needed its own sugar beet industry, took the decision to try to save the Carlow factory. It established Comhlucht Siúicre Eireann to operate as a manufacturing and trading concern under the Companies Acts in the same way as private enterprise companies. The State's holding in the Company was eligible for dividends.

Factory Inspection 1926The Mountmellick plant produced sugar through the use of 300 tonnes of beet per campaign week. The factory paid 16/- (85p) per tonne for the beet, 3/- (15p) more than Continental Europe at the time. Sugar extraction at 7.5 per cent was half one per cent better than elsewhere in Europe. The factory cost of manufacturing at £7.25 per tonne, was £1.75 less than the Continental average.

In 1924, following a government announcement that Ireland’s first sugar beet factory was to be built, Carlow businessman Mr. Edward Duggan, chairman of Carlow’s beet factory organising committee, succeeded in winning investor and government approval for his proposal to site the factory in Carlow. For over 75 years on, and Irish Sugar is now as much a part of Carlow as the River Barrow itself.

The Irish Sugar head said the local Carlow community was not long in proving the decision to be a correct one, when they ensured that the plan to erect the factory and have it fully operational within a year was achieved. “Such a task must have called for huge commitment from the many local firms and individuals who joined the effort to work towards creating this new local industry that would bring economic security to the region.”

Bishop Patrick Foley and Mr Neermaun on the site for the 'Beet Factory' in 1926.
Of course it was a sugar factory but from the beginning it has always been called the beet factory.  A few months after this picture was taken Bishop Foley died, on the 24th July 1926, aged 68 years.

Source: Carlow in old pictures volume 2 by Michael Purcell c1999

Bishop Patrick Foley turns the first sod on the site for Carlow Sugar Factory, January 5th 1926 in the presence of Mr Edward Duggan chairman Urban Council and the managers Major Mascart and Mr. Hayek. We would like to hear from readers who can identify any of the onlookers in the photo.

Photo Source: Carlow Past & Present 1993

The tall guy is might be President Éamon de Valera.   I have a newspaper clipping (maybe the Thurles Times) of what I think must be the same event in which my grandfather, TP Stapleton with (we think) my father and a gathering with  president de Valera are all present for the opening of a beet factory in the twenties or thirties, in Ireland. Signed Walter Stapleton August 2016.

It was on January 5, 1926 that Most Rev Dr Patrick Foley, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin turned the first sod on the site where today stands the huge Carlow beet processing plant, which was the lifeblood of the local community for many years and continues be a major part of the industrial fabric of Carlow Town.

Processing of that first sugar beet campaign commenced in mid-October, 1926.

Christmas in 1926 in the Sugar Factory. Source: Facebook

One local firm in particular (Thomas Thompson) performed a large slice of civil work and were the employers of the late Tom O’Neill of Ballycrogue, Tinryland, the first worker sent on to the greenfield site.

A Carlow landmark for many years, the 300-foot factory chimney, was built with sand from the River Barrow beside the site.

In January 1927, at the conclusion of the first processing campaign, which lasted four months, the companySugar Beet Factory in 1958 produced 13,400 tonnes of sugar from 86,000 tonnes of beet at its Carlow factory. The beet was brought to the factory on horse and cart and by canal boat from farms all over the counties of Carlow and Laois.

The Carlow factory was to prove that high quality sugar could be produced economically in Ireland from home-grown natural raw material. Later, the State took over the Carlow factory, and in the mid-thirties, built others at Mallow, Thurles and Tuam.  Today only Carlow and Mallow remain owing to rationalisation of the sugar industry

The harvesting of the sugar beet, or the "Campaign" as it is known, starts around the end of September and continues until mid-January. Once the campaign starts, it continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until all the beet is processed.

There was plenty of hard work with the beet during the "Campaign". The beet seed was sown in drills with a machine pulled by a horse. When the beet grew it had to be "thinned". That meant that one beet plant was left every 20cms. All the other plants and weeds were taken out. This was done by hand while they were crawling on hands and knees along through the drills.

I believe this picture is of the Sugar Factory and its from a calendar. I'd be guessing about late 1940 - Early 1950's. The driver of the truck, I'm told, was my dad, Owen Redmond/King. I believe he was brought up on St Fiaac's and later lived on Staunton Ave, before moving to England in the early 1960's. The vehicles are a 1955 Ford F 100 Series Tipper and behind is a Bedford A-Type tipper truck also 1955. There is also an Atkinson and a Leyland truck in the background. This image was sent to Facebook by Ursula Power 2011

Young children often worked thinning beet and sometimes groups of whole families worked together trying to make a few shillings. It was very hard work for them. They wore sacks tied around their legs. In some fields there were plenty of weeds such as thistles and scutch grass to be pulled and many stones were in the fields.

In the Autumn, the beet was pulled by hand and "crowned", this means that the leaves were cut off with beet knives. The beat was then taken by a horse and cart to the factory.

The Beet Song

Air: 'The Mountains of Mourne '


 'It's down in Graiguenamanagh, we're run off our feet,

 Pullin', and crownin', and loadin' the beet.

 Our hands they're all blistered, our backs nearly broke,

 And divil a minit we get for a smoke.


 It's funny to hear all the things that they say,

 Each one complains in a different way,

 Some bless the day that the factory was built,

 And more people say, "Sure it have us all kilt'!.

 One farmer's pleased, and the other one's vexed,

 Because his percentage is lower than the next,

 More farmers say that the wages are high,

 And the labourers say, "With the hunger we'll die".


 It's breakin' the heart of the postman, Mick Byrne,

 When he looks at his bag with the factory return

 The gentleman driving his car on the roads

 Says, "Bad luck to the farmers, theirselves and their loads".

 The railway-man says "Sure we're up half the night,

 And no extra pay; sure that isn't right,

 And everyone says "Pullin' beet in the rain, will kill

 Half the country with rheumatic pain".


 Let them all grumble, myself I will say,

 We must have the sugar to sweeten the tay,

 And since we've started to grow sugar beet

 We've made our old country even more sweet.


Written by Eddie Power of Tinnahinch, Co. Carlow

See: Labour Organising in a County Town ] [  Laying Foundation of Great Industry ]

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