Green School ] [ Sport ] [
History ] [ Pupils work ] [
Links ] [ About us ] [
Extra Curricular ] [ Archive ]
you have come to the heart of our heritage story. Sadly, it is probably too
dangerous for you to really go through the gates so we will tell you all about
this stop. This is the Tannery. Sean Lemass opened it in 1935. There was a big
effort to bring some life back to Portlaw. You see it used to be a very
prosperous town in the 19th Century but it had become a very
depressed town. Leather was made from hides. Notice that nowadays it is not
used. It looks wrecked. Up to the 1970s, 90% of hides were bought in Ireland. In
the early 1980s, the owners bought cheaper hides in South America. The Tannery
closed because of cheap imports. At one stage 500 people worked there. The Irish
Tanners Ltd. owned the factory. It closed in 1984. Lots of our relations still
remember what the town was like when the tannery was open, especially the smell.
This factory brought employment and prosperity to Portlaw and not for the
A photo of the original cotton mill, Portlaw.
tannery was smelly
Two million pounds worth of raw cotton was spun annually and six million yards of calico woven. Flax spinning was added about 1850. The Malcomsons always looked after their workers but they really got busy in the later years. They planned the village very carefully, knocking existing buildings so that there was room for their dream village.
A water supply for Mayfield House, the schoolhouse/courthouse (both in the factory grounds), the factory, and the village was installed and it was serviced from a reservoir in the hills nearby. The Malcomsons also built and operated their own gasworks for lighting.
Portlaw was the place to be to save you from starving during the famine. In the 1840s the Portlaw factory was spinning, weaving, bleaching, dying and printing. The hours were long and the wages low but locals say no one died here from hunger during the famine.
At its peak, the factory employed 2,000 people.
Unfortunately, the Malcomsons went bankrupt and the cotton mill had to close around 1875. A lot of the workers went to England for work. The Portlaw Spinning Company tried to keep the factory open, but had to close in 1904 because of the McKinley tariffs. This was a really bad time in our history. The population went way down and the houses began to look awful until the Irish Tanners came along and gave the town a new lease of life.
You can check out our website for a more detailed story about the Malcomsons.
Malcomsons built a school inside the cotton mill gates. In 1837, one hundred
children attended the school. An infant school was added and by the late 1800s
that number was up to 800. Compare this with the 14 children who were going to
school in 1821, according to the Census of that year.
The children were
taught reading, writing and arithmetic but religion was left to the churches.
Half of the children went to school in the morning and worked the afternoon in
the cotton factory. These were known as "half timers."
After the Malcomsons went bankrupt and a lot of workers moved away,
there weren’t that many children left. The girls were moved to a school in the
Square (beside the library today) where the Mercy Sisters taught them. Then they
were moved up to a building beside our present school, which was built in 1909.
The boys’ school continued inside the factory gates until the
present school (without the additions) was built for them in 1931. At that time
there were only about 70 on the roll. The
principal teacher was Mr. P. Curran—no relation to our current principal, Mr.
M. Curran! Maurice Fitzgerald was another teacher. His daughter still lives in
Return to Top
House was modified by the architect J.S. Mulvany.
I, Shane Power, visited this house lately, it was wrecked. Bits of the roof were
strewn around the floor. The floor is missing in part of the building and you
can see down into the cellar. There must have been a lot of vandals in it.
entrance to Mayfield, which is also the entrance to the tannery/cotton mill,
there is a gate lodge (below) that was designed by Mulvany. It too, looks like
it is ready to fall down because of vandalism. It is a pity that we do not take
care of these fine buildings that we have inherited.
I interviewed my Dad, Peter Power.
Where did you work as a boy?
What did you do there?
What age were you when you started
Did you know anyone else who worked
What kind of work did you do up
Where did you go after you worked
What did you do as a messenger boy?
Collected the papers and the post from the post office where Liam Walsh’s is now. I had to do all the shopping for the kitchen. I had to sort the post and deliver it around the tannery.
What time did you start at?
What did you do after that job?
What did you do in a factory?