John Gorton in his Topographical Dictionary of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1833 by Chapman and Hall of 186 Strand, London, describes the town as being "a handsome and prosperous inland town" and states that "the country trade is brisk; the market extremely well supplied with fish from Galway every day and meat from the vicinity; Tuam veal is proverbially excellent. There is also a very extensive brewery, public bakeries, several tanneries, flourmills and a linen-manufacture, in a remarkably wholesome condition. Large quantities of coarse canvas for packing are also made in the town and parish".
The manufacture of linen and canvas in Tuam appears to have been on an extensive scale in the first half of the last century. In addition to the above reference it is noted in Pigot's Dictionary of 1824, The Parliamentary Gazetteer of 1844, and Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1846. A special linen market was held on Friday's in the Connaught Hotel (Pigot1824). These premises were the property of one Michael Ormsby and were situated in Bishop Street in the premises now know as the Mitre Buildings. The same Directory refers to Robert Wm. Potter of Vicar Street, as the linen inspector. Flax-wheels and specimens of homemade linen are still to be found in many farmer's houses in the locality and in fact, there are many who remember linen being manufactured in their homes, but the industry has now become quite extinct.
Mrs. Mary Thornton, a grand old lady of 92, who resides at Annaghkeen remembers that in her youth people walked from beyond Headford to the flannel market of Tuam. She very kindly gave me the following details about this industry which has also died in the locality. The thread was spun in the farmhouses and then sent out to the local weaver. The thread for the warp had to be spun harder than that for the weft and when setting it up on his frame, the weaver usually allowed 800 threads in the width. The unit of measurement was a band law, which was an owed less than a yard, an owed being the length of the long finger. Forty bandles made a roll. The flannel market was held at lower High Street on the site of the present Bonham Market.
Many of the trades, which flourished in the town, are now forgotten. Slater's directory of 1856 mentions eight nail makers. Thomas Ashe, Garrett Dillon and James Quinn of Bishop Street, Michael Higgins of Vicar St, George Hughes, Lawrence Leonard and Thos. Murphy of Galway Rd, and John Raferty of Ballygaddy Rd. The same directory refers to Tim Begley tinner and brazier of Galway Rd, John Burke, whitesmith of Bishop St, John Butler, cooper, of Bishop St, and Philip McDonal, whip maker, of Ballygaddy Rd,. The number of hatters, boot makers and blacksmiths operating at the same time, is too numerous for inclusion.
Tallow chandlery was an industry which survived until the end of the century and there are still some local residents who remember candles being manufactured in Kilgarriff's factory at Bishop St. This family was identified with the trade for at least fifty years and Slater's refers to them as far back as 1856.
Before paraffin wax and paraffin oil became easily procurable the manufacture of candles was an everyday event in the farmers house. The principal tool was a grisset. This was a small shallow iron pan oval in shape and having two legs and a short handle. It was kept on the hob, scrape of tallow, i.e. unsalted fat were melted in it and a wick of tow (known locally as a paideog) was pulled through it until coated with the grease. Rushes and splinters of bog oak were similarly treated. The holders for these lights were of iron and made by blacksmiths. Recently, I inspected a collection of them in Belfast Museum and I was interested to notice that although they had quite evidently been made by local smiths, nevertheless the design was exactly similar to that used in County Galway.
No account of the commercial life of Tuam in the last century would be complete without reference to the Match Factory. This industry was founded by the Rishworth Family who came here from Yorkshire in the 1850's. The factory which was erected beside the Curragh River, confined itself in its early stages of the manufacture of pit props, bobbins, wooden screws, etc, for export to England but later it also included the manufacture of matches. The match-boxes, specimens of which are still to be had, had on their wrappers engravings of topical scenes of personalities. One series which was called 'Our Boys' carried portraits of the leaders movement with hurling and football scenes and a third honoured the Galway Blazers in similar fashion. The Industry employed about sixty hands and a thriving business was carried on for about thirty years. Increasing freight charges and the fact that the factory was situated so far from its principal market eventually proved its undoing; however, and it was forced to close down in December, 1890.
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