The Sugar Factory

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  • Aspects of Carlow

The story of Carlow's sugar factory begins in 1925. The War of Independence was over and Ireland had just been established as the Free State. It was very important at this time to develop successful industries to support the young economy. If the Irish Government could create enough jobs for the people, it would prove that the country could survive as an independent state.

It was decided that sugar beet was an ideal crop to grow on an industrial scale. Carlow was selected as the best county for the sugar factory, because it is situated in a rich tillage area and sugar beet was a crop well suited to the local growing conditions.

Additionally, the surrounding counties of Kilkenny, Wexford, Laois and Kildare were important agricultural centres. Carlow had good rail and waterway connections, so its produce could be conveniently transported around the country.

Belgian Influence

Ireland had very little expertise in the growing and processing of sugar beet, so the Irish Government entrusted the development to a Belgian company called Lippens.

Representatives from Lippens travelled to Ireland in the 1920s to investigate possible sites for a factory. After surveying the country, they were very interested in establishing a factory in Carlow. Local people were enthusiastic about how the industry would help their area.

Locals regarded the factory as a great way of making jobs and supporting the people of Carlow. Edward Duggan, Chairman of the Carlow Urban District Council, was also Chairman of the Carlow Beet Factory Organising Committee. Other prominent individuals were the town clerk of Carlow, William Lawler and Very Rev. J. Killian, who was administrator of the cathedral parish. The Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Rev. Dr Foley, was also a strong campaigner for the setting up of the factory.

Under the guidance of the Belgian company, the factory was set up. On 5 January 1926, Bishop Foley turned the first sod on the factory site on the Athy Road, close to the town. The company was to be known as the Irish Sugar Manufacturing Company. Local workers were trained by technicians and engineers from other parts of Europe. It took time for the native workforce to acquire the necessary skills.