Mountmellick - The Manchester of Ireland

By the early 1800s, Mountmellick was at the height of its prosperity and was the first town of the county in terms of wealth, industry and population. The woolen industry had been established in the town since the end of the 17th century.

Joseph Beale owned a large woolen mill in Irishtown and there were up to 2,000 people employed in this industry and in spinning and weaving. There was also a woolen mill in Milner's yard, owned by Nevitts, who later sold out to Milner's, after whom the yard is named. Milner's yard was also the site of a glass factory, where bottles were made.

Milner's also owned a large spinning factory at Barkmills, which was opened in 1827. It was converted to a flour mill in about 1846 by Joseph Beale, who later sold it to Samuel Roe. It was finally sold to James Milner who converted it back to a woolen factory again in 1862.

Mountmellick also became a major centre for cotton-spinning when John Bewley set up a factory in about 1790. There were also many other industries in the town, whose population, by 1831, had grown to 4,577.

There was Dugdale's flour mill and in the Market Square, O'Connell's bakery, later to become Graham's and finally Sheils' bakery. Behind the square, in Church Lane, Pim's had a large industrial site where tobacco, snuff, blue and glue and candle factories, a soap factory (one of two in the town) and a bakery were situated. By 1819, there were five breweries in Mountmellick, with three of them still in operation in 1846.

The only distillery in Laois in the early 19th century was in Mountmellick, owned by Edward Conroy. Its peak years were from 1831 to 1839 when up to 120,000 gallons of spirits were produced per year. This business was eventually bought by Humphrey Smith, who used part of the distillery as a flaxscutching mill which reached its peak in 1886.

An industry in support of many others was that of the Smiths, owned by Bradley's and Gee's. There were also two tan yards in Mountmellick in the early years of the 19th century. In 1834 the Roberts brothers of Anglesea, in Wales, came to Mountmellick, where they set up an iron and brass foundry called the "Hibernian Foundry" in what later became known as Foundry Street.

Ireland's first factory to extract sugar from sugar beet was also in Mountmellick. It was situated in Church Lane and was opened early in the 1850s. This factory was capable of handling 300 tons of sugar beet each week but, in spite of being quite profitable, it didn't remain in operation for very long, closing after about four or five years. By the late 1830s, however, Mountmellick was past its peak, and the decline of the town that had once been called the "Manchester of Ireland" had begun.


previousPrevious - Mountmellick Lace
Next - Quakersnext