The 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.
The 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
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.”
Patrick Foley and Mr Neermaun on the site for the 'Beet Factory'
- 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
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
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
A Carlow landmark for many years, the 300-foot
factory chimney, was built with sand from the River Barrow beside the
In January 1927, at the conclusion of the first
processing campaign, which lasted four months, the company 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
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
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
It's funny to hear all the
things that they say,
Each one complains in a
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
And everyone says "Pullin'
beet in the rain, will kill
Half the country with
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
Labour Organising in a County Town
Laying Foundation of Great Industry