Sugar Factory and Carlow Remembered
To coincide with Heritage Week, Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society presents a photographic exhibition titled the Sugar Factory and Carlow Remembered in the bar of the VISUAL Arts Centre for Contemporary Art. This exhibition provides a fascinating account of the establishment and early days of the Sugar Company in Carlow while also featuring photographs of Carlow Town from the early decades of the twentieth century. There are some photographic gems on view some of which may never have been seen by the general public before, including a pony and trap passing the Town Hall, a delivery to Boake’s Bakery in Burrin Street and one of the first buses ever to arrive in Carlow. The Sugar Factory element of the exhibition features its internal workings including the cook’s floor, the filter presses, the original surveying and mapping out of the green field site, the laying of the railway track and the start of the building of the chimney which was a landmark sight in Carlow for many years.
The photographs for this exhibition were in the main provided by Mr. Franz Schwatschke, Electrical Engineer with the Irish Sugar Company from 1926 until his retirement. The photographs were kindly donated by his son Mr. John Schwatshke to Mr. Martin Nevin, former President of Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society, who decided to develop an exhibition around the photographs with the assistance of Carlow County Development Partnership. Some of the photographs were archival material from Carlow County Museum and provided by Dermot Mulligan, Curator, while Mr. Eddie Nevin passed on photographs on the fabrication of the bulk silos in the early 1960s.
A special 2013 calendar has been produced to mark the occasion and this will be on sale from reception at the VISUAL Centre for the duration of the exhibition, at the Tourist Office in College Street and from the Officers of the Historical Society at a cost of €5. This is an ideal gift for Carlow people abroad or any individual with an involvement in the Sugar Factory. The exhibition will open on August 18th and is on view daily with the exception of each Monday. The exhibition will be officially opened by Mr. Turtle Bunbury, local author on Tuesday 21st August at 7 p.m. in the VISUAL Centre.
Background to the exhibition
Ireland’s first sugar beet factory was established in Mountmellick, Co. Laois in 1851. It was built by the Royal Irish Beet-Root Sugar Company. It most likely had a Society of Friends (Quaker) input as had most of the industries of that Co. Laois town in the mid 18th century and later.
Following the great 1853 Exhibition Fair in Dublin, organised and sponsored by William Dargan, the railway entrepreneur at which sugar extracted from beet root was exhibited, there was a call for the establishment of more such factories. However, despite the promotional efforts the Mountmellick venture had a short innings, by 1862 it had failed.
Almost 50 years passed before there was a call for the re-establishment of a sugar beet industry. This led to the Department of Agriculture taking the initiative to supervise experimental sowing of beet over a number of years.
Following the formation of the State a commission was set up to inquire into the possibilities of a sugar beet industry. A Belgian, Austrian and Czech group expressed an interest in the project.
First modern Sugar Factory
On 5th January, 1926 the Most Rev. Dr. Patrick Foley, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin turned the sod for Ireland’s first modern sugar factory at Strawhall, Carlow. Built by the Irish Sugar Manufacturing Company, processing at the factory started in mid-October.
In less than ten years the need for increased processing became obvious, Ireland was importing more than six times its processing capability. In 1933 the first state owned company Cómlucht Siūicre Eireann Teo was formed and An Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera turned the sod for three new sugar beet factories. In 1934 the first campaigns commenced at Mallow, Tuam and Thurles.