News from Times Past with Brian Gabriel, Blarney & District Historical Society

The Beginning and End – Mahonys of Blarney

On October 15, 1896, the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ published an article on the woollen mills of Messrs. Mahony at Blarney; which indicates some of the history of the firm and also the progress made in the woollen industry in Ireland. “It is even said” states the article, “that on the authority of the late Dr. W.K. Sullivan that the southern Irish ports used to do a thriving business with Nantes in woollen textures as early as the sixth century. Cowls, plaids and other garments of many colours used to from part of the usual stipends paid by inferior to superior chiefs. In the 12th and 13th centuries a brisk trade was carried on in Florence and other Italian towns. It was not how-ever, until 1667 that important steps were taken to develop the woollen industry as a national concern.” One of the first woollen mills erected in Ireland after the Act of Union was that of Messrs. Mahony of Blarney. “This family has now been connected with local manufacturers from 1751, since when the business has descended from father to son in unbroken sequence. They were at that time worsted spinners. The business was originally founded at Rochestown and from there transferred to Blackpool, a suburb of Cork, thence to Glanmire, another suburb.” The prosperity brought to these localities by the presence of the woollen mills may be seen in a report on the Blackpool area in 1821 when unemployment had struck because of the ending of the Napoleonic wars: “Once almost every house here had a loom and every family was industriously employed and cheerful. Here was the cloth manufacture of Tim and Martin Mahony. Tim gave all he had to the poor and died of fever contracted while tending his suffering brethren. In Blackpool at this time his memory is revered.” When the mills were established at Blarney in 1824 they depended on their motive power on an old-fashioned water mill, 16 feet by 8 feet, and the weekly wage bill was £15, which one of the family paid every Friday, riding out from Cork for that purpose. “Since then,” states the 1896 article, “the mills have undergone many vicissitudes: The withdrawal of the protective duties by which the industry had been fostered at the outset pressed hard upon the growing industry and for many years the Blarney Mills had a severe struggle for existence. At one time they were compelled to devote themselves almost entirely to the spinning of cotton and worsted. It was not until 1852 that Timothy Mahony bought the first pair of power looms at the London exhibition. On these the first piece of ‘Blarney Tweed’ was woven and since then this same ‘Blarney Tweed’ with its four leafed shamrock brand has earned for itself a world-wide reputation and renown.” The Blarney Mills had another hour of trial in 1869 when considerable damage was done by fire. The mills were closed for a few months. ‘The Pall Mall Gazette’ article was enthusiastic about the quality of Blarney tweed, which was achieved by keeping out all shoddy material. “The prosperity of the Mahony firm may be gauged from the fact that they now employ some eight hundred hands and unlike many a Yorkshire firm are able to carry out all the manufacture of cloth through all its varied stages from the raw wool as shorn from the sheep to the finished tweed as sold to the wholesale merchant.” The thread was spun on 15,000 spindles and the weaving shed, with 169 looms, covered half an acre. A little sour note is then introduced into the “Pall Mall Gazette” article, which may have been due to the influence of the editor, John Morley, who had turned against Parnell after the O’Shea divorce. The writer refers to William O’Brien’s fight in prison against wearing prison clothes. Deprived of his own clothes and refusing to wear the Government issue, he was comforted by the present of a suit of ‘Blarney Tweed.’ “It is now some years since Blarney tweeds earned for themselves a somewhat facetious reputation when a suit of Blarney tweed was presented to Mr. William O’Brien by his admirers. The pattern chosen for this purpose had a great sale at the time, but has since become a drug on the market now that the sufferings in jail of this pure-souled patriot have ceased to form the main stock-in-trade of Gladstonian orators.” The Blarney factory was surrounded by the cottages in which the workers “who now form the chief population of Blarney dwell. For these a dining-hall, a reading-room and a school have been provided. Co-operative stores have also been started in their midst. We cannot, therefore, do better than recommend the British tourist who wishes to see what Irish enterprise can do or the British capitalist, who desires a new scope for the investment of his capital to pay a visit to Blarney of the Mahony’s. Padraig O’Maidin, who wrote the above article, was Cork County Librarian between 1947 and 1981. The Cork Examiner of 8th June 1975 printed the following: REDUNDANCY NOTICES FOR 101 AT MARTIN MAHONY Redundancy notices were issued yesterday to 101 of the 235 employees of Martin Mahony and Bros., Ltd., the Blarney, Co. Cork, hosiery company which was recently placed in receivership at the request of the directors. Martin Mahony has two trading divisions, the Hosiery and the Worsted Cloth Weaving Divisions. The redundancies cover both. A statement by the company last night said that attempts to arrest the serious decline in the company’s orders and sales had continued to be unsuccessful. The redundancies were an attempt to reduce manning to correspond with company’s lower level of production and very weak financial position. In addition to the redundancy notices, protective notices had also been issued to the 51 remaining workers in the Hosiery Division. But there were hopes that this division could be sold as a going concern and the jobs preserved, the statement said. The receiver, Mr. John Hyland of Coopers and Lybrand, is currently conducting negotiations with Mr. G. Freeman, sales manager of Martin Mahony, with a view to Mr. Freeman purchasing the Hosiery Division as a going concern. The Receiver is satisfied that the Hosiery Division is a viable unit and hopeful that Mr. Freeman can obtain the necessary backing to enable him to purchase the Division. In this event protective notices would be withdrawn from employees in the Hosiery Division. The Cloth Weaving Division will have a total of 83 employees after redundancies. At present levels of production, and taking into account orders in hand, this division would require a further subvention to enable it to continue trading for any length of time. A number of enquiries from international firms have been received regarding the possibility of purchasing this division, but no firm offers have been made. The Receiver considers that this division could only be viable as a production unit for a larger textile concern. The Cork Examiner of 28th February 1976 carried the following advertisement: Martin Mahony Brothers Limited (In Receivership) For Sale by Private Treaty in One or More Lots Extensive Factory Premises, Offices and Industrial Land at Blarney, Co. Cork. 150,000 sq. ft. of single, two and three-storey factory space. 5,000 sq. ft. of centrally heated two-storey offices with separate access. Seven acres of Industrial Land with outline planning permission. The property is strategically located to cater for rail and road traffic to and from Cork, Limerick and Kerry. The fa ctory complex has its own private water supply and foul sewage treatment plant. The entire premises are heated and have a sprinkler system installed. This factory building together with surrounding industrial land can readily be developed into a small industrial estate. Being only five miles from Cork City, Blarney is an expanding satellite town and offers an unique opportunity to industrialists to avail of a highly skilled work force. Suitable for large and medium sized industrial enterprises including agricultural co-operatives, etc. The property is situated adjacent to Blarney Railway Station and main routes to Cork, Mallow and Killarney. Title: Freehold R.V. £717.00.

The Blarney and District Historical Society illustrated lecture for Thursday 3rd December 2015 at 8pm in Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal is titled; ‘Blarney Parish Records’. This is an up to date presentation containing many new items of interest from the Parish Records. The speaker is our well-known local librarian, Mr. Richard Forrest. Everyone is welcome to attend and listen as he explores the treasure trove of these fascinating local records. ‘Old Blarney’ Journal Issue No. 10 is now on sale locally. It is good value at €15 and it makes a perfect gift for both family and friends, especially those living abroad, at Christmas-time.