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Welcome to Mountmellick Development Association

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A message from our Chairperson.

Greetings again all Friends of Mountmellick Embroidery Museum and welcome to another Article relevant to our local Museum and History.  We hope that wherever you are reading this that you, your family and friends are staying safe and looking forward and planning for Post Covid-19 activities as restrictions here are starting to ease. This is now our eight article and we are delighted with the growing interest and readership generated to date, thank you for the positive comments and feedback received. Just to note that all articles written to date are available on both our Mountmellick Development Website and our Facebook Page, feel free to share with any friends who you feel may be interested in them, and perhaps that you might consider a visit to our Museum in the future when normality has resumed. For ease of reference the previous articles are as follows:

Week one Initial Introduction by Ann Dowling Chairperson – (2) History of Samplers on Display by Marie Walsh – (3) Beale Family by Bridie Dunne – (4) Local Churches in Mountmellick by Ann Sands – (5) Industries in Mountmellick by Ger Lynch – (6) Embroidery Collaboration with Dress Designers by Marie Walsh – (7) Key Milestones in local History and the Revival of Mountmellick Embroidery by Ann Dowling. (8) The Voyage of the Inconstant by Ger Lynch.

One of the common threads that ran through almost all the previous articles was the effect of the famine (Gorta Mor or Great Hunger) on every aspect of life during the 1840’s and 50’ie. Coinciding with National Famine Remembrance Day which occurred last Sunday here in Ireland, this week’s article by one of our local fountains of knowledge Ger Lynch tells the story of those girls transported from Mountmellick Work House on the Ship “Inconstant “to Australia during this tragic period in our History.

Ann Dowling

Over to you Ger.


The Voyage of the Inconstant

Before I tell the tale of the voyage of the Inconstant and the 22 girls from Mountmellick who travelled on board it to Australia during the famine, I should give you some idea of the circumstances that brought this about.

Under the 1839 Irish Poor Law Act, over 130 workhouses were built in Ireland. The building of Mountmellick Workhouse commenced in 1842 and the first inmates were admitted in August 1845. It was what they called a medium workhouse and it was built to accommodate 800 people, during the famine the number housed there was over 1600. These workhouses have been described as ‘the most feared and hated institutions ever established in Ireland’.

During the famine period all workhouses became overcrowded and the large number of young female inmates for whom they had no work became a problem. Meanwhile the lack of young females had become a problem to the development of Australia. Earl Grey, who was the home secretary in England at the time noted this and proposed a scheme which would send young girls from the workhouse in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland to Australia. This was to be known as the Earl Grey Scheme. On account of the desperate conditions which existed in Ireland at the time this proved to be the better of two evils for them and the Irish girls were the only ones with a few exceptions to avail of this scheme.

In all, between the years 1848 and 1850, 4,114 Irish girls were transported on over 20 different ships to Australia. Sixty eight girls from Abbeyleix and Mountmellick workhouses travelled to Australia on board eight different ships.

  • Lady Peel (2 girls) arrived in Sydney on the 3rd of July 1849
  • William and Mary (17 girls) arrived in Sydney on the21st of November 1849
  • Lismoyne (10 girls) arrived on Melbourne on the 2nd of November 1849
  • Tippoo Saib (13 girls) arrived in Sydney on the 29th of July 1850
  • Maria (19 girls) arrived in Sydney on the 1st of August 1850.
  • Lady Kenway (1 girl) arrived in Port Philip on the 6th of December 1848
  • Pemberton (6 girls) arrived in Port Philip on the 14th of May 1849
  • Inconstant with 22 unnamed girls from Mountmellick arrived in Adelaide on the 14th of May 1849

These ships were not like the coffin ships which brought Irish people to America and Canada during the famine in fact they were the opposite authorities here and in England wished to have the girls well-presented and well-nourished on arrival in Australia and they issued orders that they were to received three meals a day on board ship and they were to be respected at all times. Their health and educational skills were to be improved on board ship and to achieve this a surgeon superintendent and head matron a number of sub matrons and a school teacher were appointed to each ship.

In January 1849 Lieutenant Henry of the colonial and emigration services visited Mountmellick to select girls for the Earl Grey Scheme. The girls would have been presented with a travel box for their journey which would have contained the following

6 shifts                                   1 shawl                        2 pairs of shoes      2 gowns         

2 wraps                                 2 petticoats                 1 cloak                  2 neck handkerchiefs

2 pockets handkerchiefs     2 linen collars             2 aprons                1 pair of stays

1 pair of mitts                     1 pair of sheets           1 bonnet                 Day and night caps     

2 towels                               2 bars of soap              Brushes                  Needles and thread

A bible                                A prayer book              A rosary                A small sum of money

For these girls, some of whom may not have owned a pair of shoes, this made them better off than they had ever been in their lives. The box and its contents had to be paid for by the local board of Guardians, they also paid for the girl’s passage to Plymouth. The cost of transporting the girls from England to Australia was borne by the British Government.

In memory of those orphan Girls transported under the Earl Grey Scheme, the National  Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims and the Irish Prison Service, have collaborated on a project over the last six years to make replicate travel boxes.  These replicated Travel Boxes (only one original travel box exists which is on display in a Sydney museum) are made in Arbour Hill Prison and great credit is due to the Staff and Offenders for not just the detailed historical research but the level of detail engraved on each box manufactured. Each of the twenty-four boxes made to date tells its own unique story of either one girl or a group of girls who travelled under this scheme. I am informed that it takes approximately fourteen weeks to complete each replicate Travel Box. These boxes are now to be found in museums both at home and abroad including Aras an Uachtarain (President of Ireland’s Residence), United Nations Building in New York, Jennie Johnson Famine Ship, Dunbrody Ship, and many other local Museums in Ireland, Australia and the USA. We were privileged to receive one of these boxes   into our Museum in a presentation performed by the Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan on the 19th May 2019.    

The young girl highlighted on our replicate travel box who was chosen at random from the 92 girls who travelled from Laois is Mary Miller, who arrived in Sydney onboard the Tippoo Saib on the 29th of July 1850. Our travel box features a photo of Mary, her daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter.

So what happened to Mary Millar after she arrived in Sydney.

You can imagine our amazement when by sheer coincidence a lady and her husband from Australia arrived in our Museum seeking information on a Mary Miller. This lady, Lou Walsh turned out to be the great great great granddaughter of Mary Miller.  For the story of that trip, her journey back to take part in presentation of the famine box and the complete story of Mary Miller, Lou Walsh has kindly agreed to draft a piece in the coming weeks which we will happily publish and in doing so complete her story. We are all looking forward to that.


The Voyage Begins

We do not know how the girls were transported to Dublin Port from Mountmellick. We know that they left Dublin for Plymouth onboard the steamer ‘Devonshire’ soon after the 7th of February 1849. The journey must have been rough for we have a report that they arrived in Plymouth in a distressed state. On arrival they would have been taken to a holding area, which was surrounded by high walls, to keep them separated from the local population who feared they would contract fever and disease from these girls.

When all the girls that were booked to travel were assembled in Plymouth, they boarded the Inconstant on the 15th of February 1849. They set sail for Adelaide in Australia. These young girls came from the following workhouses, Newcastle (18), Mullingar (40), Tullamore (18), Mountmellick (22), Parsonstown (30), Limerick (24), Tipperary (22) and North Dublin Dublin (12). In total there were one hundred and eighty-six Irish girls.

The Master of the vessel was Patrick Culliton, the first mate was Garrick Barry, and Doctor Charles Watkins was the surgeon superintendent. Mrs Catherine (Kate) Moran was the head matron. The sub matrons were Eliza Barlow, Eliza Brady, Emily Gregory and Mrs Clarissa Kelly, her daughter Mary Ann Cummins was the nurse. Richard Cummins was listed as a constable.

On arrival in Adelaide, on the 14th of May 1849, there were allegations of misconduct on the part of the Captain, the Surgeon Superintendent and the Head Matron. There were further allegations by one of the sub matrons Mrs Kelly of great improprieties in connection with the Captain and the Matron, and one of the girls Eliza Taafe was declared insane for reporting some of these alleged improprieties. Although these allegations were not proven there is no doubt that some of the girls aboard the Inconstant were badly treated and suffered sexual abuse. This happened onboard at least three ships which took part in the Earl Grey scheme, this despite an order from the authorities that the girls were to be cared for and treated with respect during the journeys. While in port 11 members of the crew were confined for disobedience that occurred during the voyage.

On the same day that the Inconstant arrived in Adelaide the following appeared in ‘The South Australian Gazette’.

“Applications will be received immediately for orphans expected by the Inconstant and applicants desirous of availing themselves of their services are requested to attend in person or by proxy on the second day after the arrival of the vessel at the office of the secretary native school. It is recommended that the orphans be removed immediately after the arrangements have been made.”

A few days later the following appeared in the local intelligence section of ‘The South Australian Register’.

On Monday evening an extraordinary procession was seen on the North Terrace Road. 10 drays fully laden with Irish female orphans and their luggage were seen moving along at a brisk pace towards the Native School location, where it is understood they will find temporary asylum. They all seemed warmly and comfortably clad and excited much sympathy.”

We know that most of the Irish girls that were aboard the Inconstant were hired by the colonists but unfortunately some were forced into prostitution and others may have had to resort to it in order to survive. This is borne out by the fact that sixteen of the girls who travelled on the ship were listed as prostitutes in the 1850 Government Register of Adelaide.  Nine girls were listed in the South Australian Government Register of Cases of Destitution.

The county and local addresses of the girls was registered when they boarded ship, they also registered the name and addresses of their first employers, which made tracing possible. In the case of the Inconstant, these practises were not observed. This meant, in the case of the Inconstant it was hard to trace the girl’s history after they arrived in Australia. We know with regards to the Inconstant, 5 were traced back to the North Dublin Workhouse and 7 to Parsonstown (Birr). 4 of the girls were traced by family historians.

Some of the Inconstant girls fell on hard times while others prospered and had good lives relative to their time. The Taafe sisters, Mary and Eliza is a good case in point. They were born in Edenderry, County Offaly. They were the daughters of Joseph Taafe and Ann Cameron. They were all admitted to the North Dublin workhouse in 1848. Both parents died of fever in the workhouse. The daughters travelled to Australia on the Inconstant as already mentioned Eliza was declared insane and her prospects in the colony could not have been great. In contrast Mary married Samuel Dunne and had 14 children. She died in her daughter Rosanna’s house in South Melbourne on June 12th 1923 and was buried in Brighton cemetery, Melbourne. She was 90 years old.

There is a lot more to be said about the fate of the girls who sailed from Ireland aboard the Inconstant and of all the girls who travelled on the Earl Grey Scheme, but space will not permit.

The fate of the Inconstant after it left Adelaide is worth recording. After repairs she left Australia on September 11th 1849 for Callao in Peru with 4 passengers and a cargo of 29 cases of Cavendish Tobacco, 20 skins and 6 cases of Alum. This was a very light cargo so the ship was carrying large stones in its hull for ballast. While sailing into Wellington Harbour in New Zealand in order to replenish the fresh water supplies the ship hit rocks at a place now called ‘Inconstant Point’. The damaged ship was towed to a beach and declared unfit to sail. She was then sold to Mr John Plimmer, an early pioneer who became known as ‘the Father of Wellington’. He had the ship towed into the harbour and docked there for use as a warehouse. The ship eventually became landlocked and was known a ‘Plimmer’s Ark’.  In 1883 the warehouse was demolished and the ships ribs were cut down so the National Mutual Life Association head office could be built on the site. In 1997 excavations were carried out at the now ‘Old Bank Arcade’ and remains of the Inconstant were found. Much of the wood was taken away for preservation but her bow is preserved underneath a glass floor. The Inconstant (601 tons) was built in Cape Breton Island in Canada in 1848 and in its short existence was part of the history of Canada, Ireland, England, Australia and New Zealand.

The young girls, who were part of the Earl Grey Scheme, despite the worst possible start and having to overcome prejudice, fear and hardship in Australia, mostly went on to play an important role in the building up of Australia and those who claim to be their descendants do so with great pride and a sense of honour.


Ger Lynch







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 To all Friends of Mountmellick Embroidery Museum,

Message from Chairperson of Mountmellick Museum,

Welcome to our latest article during the COVID 19 lockdown emanating from our Museum Committee. Thank you for joining us once more, We hope this finds you all well and staying safe, the outlook for a resolution to this crisis appears to be more positive, we all look forward to a reduction in some of the restrictions that we understandably are adhering to at present in the interest of all. Our Museum is eighteen years in existence this year, some of our exhibits are nearly two hundred years old. The application of this craft to create exquisite pieces has proven very resilient in that they are easily adapted and transposed, to compliment more contemporary creations. This week's article (with photographs and video illustrations) written by Museum Committee member Marie Walsh outlines how two of our exhibits were the result of very successive collaborations that incorporates an ancient craft with modern design. Tune in again next week for another museum related article.  

Over to you Marie.  

                                    Ann Dowling

This week's article brings us back into the museum and relates to two acquisitions on exhibition which are the result of collaboration projects, using heritage craft to inspire creativity in modern design. I refer to two contemporary dresses, designed by top Irish fashion designers and incorporating Mountmellick Embroidery, worked by local embroidery tutor and designer Dolores Dempsey.
The first collaboration was with renowned Laois designer Heidi Higgins. Heidi is an award-winning designer who graduated from NCAD in 2008 and just one year later she proudly introduced her own label to the Irish market. She presents a chic and contemporary label, whose motto represents the ' Heidi ' look perfectly -"elegance with a twist".
So in 2015 we invited Heidi to support the museum in the design of a contemporary creation, incorporating Mountmellick embroidery :- a heritage craft, but very much a living craft. Mountmellick Embroidery came into being in 1825 and although it has stayed pure to its origins, it has evolved over the years for different uses. Heidi chose one of her classically tailored dress patterns, made in a luxurious metallic gold and winter white lame fabric, to reflect the white cotton sateen which has a sheen and the matte thread which are traditionally used in Mountmellick Embroidery. Dolores created a delicate floral and butterfly pattern design for the sleeves and top of dress. The inspiration of unifying this traditional craft with modern dress design brought about this unique creation. The dress was unveiled by Heidi and generously donated to the museum for permanent display, for which we are most grateful.
Our second exhibition dress is the very successful result of a collaboration project in 2018 between The Council of Irish Fashion Designers (CIFD) and The Design and Craft Council of Ireland (DCCoI), of which we are a member. The title of the project was.....' A complimentary meeting of Craft and Design. Heritage and craftsmanship are part of the DNA of the world's leading luxury brands. This season 2018 several CIFD members have collaborated with DCCoI craft persons using heritage skills and methods to provoke and inspire innovation, creativity and design.'
It was our good fortune to be invited by DCCoI to take part in this project and we were partnered with Irish Knitwear Designer Caroline Mitchell from Limerick. Caroline is a graduate of The Limerick School of Art and Design and has been a designer in Limerick city for about 20 years, having worked with Irish and International companies before setting up her own label. Caroline's unique designs feature hand beaded, crochet and embroidered details on easy to wear shapes with a focus on colour, texture and comfort. She specialises in designing for special occasions, Brides, mother of the bride and groom and also stocking several exclusive boutiques with her ready to wear collections. All of her knitwear is designed and made in Limerick.
So Caroline came to visit us in the museum to view and study the collection, and having created her design she sent pieces of knitting and the traditional embroidery fabric for Dolores to embroider with various time honoured patterns and stitches which were then woven with delicate bead work and crochet into the bodice of the dress. The skirt was inspired by the knitted fringing used to trim the edges of the finished traditional embroidery pieces. This stunning dress incorporates knit, crochet, embroidery and bead work inspired by old pieces of embroidery in the museum.
All the creations from this collaboration project were launched at the CIFD show in Dublin which I was delighted to attend with Dolores. Following that show the dress was modelled at London Fashion week and also displayed at The Knit and Stitch Show in RDS, Dublin.
In 2019 Caroline donated the dress to Mountmellick Embroidery and Heritage Museum for permanent  exhibition and it was launched here in December 2019.
It was a privilege for the museum committee to be involved in these two collaborations with Heidi, Caroline and Dolores and we very much appreciate their generosity and support. So as previously mentioned these two contemporary creations are on display in a large glass cabinet in the museum as a testament to 'The Living Craft'.
Speaking of which, I am sure many of you are working on your own embroidery creations during this Coronavirus pandemic as you social distance or are cocooning. Perhaps you might record or write ' the story' of your piece and get a photo or two taken as you weave your needle through the fabric of a future family heirloom noting the joy and pleasure in practising this ancient craft, in common with embroiderers over nearly 200 years, often through difficult times. So for the time being, stay home and stay safe and when life returns to normal, or a new normal come and have a look at those two beautiful dresses.

Best Regards,






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Friends of Mountmellick Embroidery Museum,

Welcome to week five in our ongoing series of articles on aspects of our local history which have attracted many views. These articles all written by members of our Museum Committee will continue to be published each Friday while our Museum is closed due to Covid 19 restrictions. In that vein, we sincerely hope that you, your family, and friends are keeping well and remaining safe. Please do feel free to share any of these articles with friends who may be interested in the subject matter and we would welcome any comments or suggestions that you may have.

In last week's article, by local historian, Ger Lynch who brought us on a trip down memory lane where he outlined how Mountmellick acquired the name of the "Manchester of Ireland" such was the level of Industry across many diverse enterprises that brought much prosperity to the area in the pre-famine times. Alongside all of these industries, there flourished a number of Churches which catered to the spiritual needs of this growing population.

This weeks article written by Anne Sands a member of our museum Committee outlines the history behind two of the six Churches established in Mountmellick over the last few centuries i.e St' Paul's Church of Ireland, and St Josephs Catholic Church, the history of the remaining churches will be incorporated into future articles in the weeks ahead as space and time permit us. Enjoy, tune in next Friday for another article of interest.

It's over to you Anne.


In these difficult and troubled times, a poet called Parkington has spoken for most of all when he wrote the following,

" I wish there was some wonderful place called the "land of beginning again",

where all-out mistakes and all our heartbreaks and all of the present grief could be dropped like a shabby coat at the door, AND NEVER PUT ON AGAIN.

While each of us would desire a land of "beginning again", we have to be realistic and recognize the present position where we find ourselves RIGHT NOW, its really our door for change and achievement.

"The past is gone, we say, but the future is yet to come, when, in fact, the only part we have is RIGHT NOW TODAY".

For all the bad things currently going on in the world, we must do our best, to focus on the good and count our blessings, as an act of self-care.


History of St Paul’s Church of Ireland Church, Mountmellick

The original Church on this site dates back to 1665 as a ‘Chapel of Ease’ for Rosenallis Parish (an ancient site of Christian worship).  The oldest gravestone in the graveyard is dated 1709.

The growth of the town of Mountmellick meant that a new place of worship was needed, and a detached Georgian Gothic Parish Church was erected in 1828, paid for mainly by the Board of First Fruits (a central Church body).

The Church became a Parish in its own right in 1870 and was dedicated to St Paul in the 1950’s.

A changing building:

There are memorials to many of those who made donations over the years.

In 1868, the present Font was donated to the Church while in 1870, major building work was undertaken. This included the building of the Chancel (at the front of the Church), Vestry (robing room for Clergy) and the replacement of the original steeple with a spire. From the outside of the Church, you can see the original side entrance doors to the Church.

You will notice that the pews are numbered, this is a legacy of the times when pews were paid for (the closer the front, the larger the fee!).

The 1890’s saw the addition of both a new brass Lectern (the stand for the Bible) and a Pulpit made of plaster and marble.

The organ was made by Peter Coacher and Co, Dublin in 1903 and an extension was built to for it. The gas lighting was fitted in 1903 and the fittings, which have been retained, provide an interesting feature in the Church. Around this time, the spire was damaged by lightening, you can still see the repairs. The Holy Communion Table and Communion rails were donated in the 1930s. The relief designs on these reflect the designs of local Mountmellick Work (a form of white on white embroidery). Holy Communion cloths were made by a parishioner in Mountmellick Work in the early years of this century and the pew cushions are also a recent addition.


The original parish school and schoolhouse were built in 1848. A new, purpose-built school was built close by in 1976.

A living community:

In 1896, CL Hutchings wrote ‘looking back at Mountmellick in its prosperity, we are reminded of the many industries which from one cause or another have now ceased to exist.’  By the early 20th century, the town had changed from a manufacturing to a commercial town, with many large retailers present on the main street.

These traders and their employees were the backbone of the parish community. Larger retailers all employed staff ‘serving their time’ as apprentices, who lived in accommodation provided. They were often encouraged to sit in the gallery in St Paul’s. The married couples and families tended to sit in the main body of the Church.

The local YMCA Hall (on the site of the old Quaker meeting house) hosted many social entertainments, including legendary dances where many a ‘match’ was made.

The decline of the retail importance of Mountmellick has impacted on our church community today. We continue to take pride in our heritage and look to a new future as God leads.



St. Joseph’s Church, Mountmellick

Date of Church: 1878

Architecht: J.J. McCarthy

Cost: £6,555

Building Pastor: Fr. Thomas Murphy, P.P



The town of Mountmellick is of quite “recent” origin, as it does not appear on the map of Leix and Offally, made c. 1563. Mountmellick became a distinct parish in 1770. In 1776 the town had 508 Catholics. In earlier times Derryguile had a Mass Pit. Prior to the present church, Portnahinch and Ivy Chapel had a church and graveyard while Kilmainham had a still earlier church. Before the building of St. Joseph’s, a church in Graigue (Tullamore road) was in use from 1812. In 1833, the third parish priest of Mountmellick was appointed. He was Rev. Andrew Healy, who introduced the Presentation Sisters in 1854. He was succeeded in 1864 by Rev. Thomas Murphy who was responsible for the building of St. Joseph’s.


St Joseph’s Church was built on a site of which a lifetime lease was obtained from Marquis of Drogheda. It was designed by the Architect J.J. McCarthy and cost £6,555.97 Interior decoration cost £2000, Organ cost £500 and the Altar £100. The first Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Thomas Murphy PP ON Friday 26th July 1878. The Stations of the Cross were installed in 1879, seven of which were donated by Helen Beale of Quaker background.



In 1912 the tower was erected at a cost of £1,400. The clock cost £100 and the bell £112. When the Church was being redecorated and refurbished in 1927 it was examined by Kelly & Jones, Architects, Dublin. They declared that the roof was unsafe as some of the principal rafters on the Epistle side were not resting on the walls. As a result, Iron tees were installed across the Church to secure matters and steel wedges were put under the rafters. In 1965 at a cost of £100,000 the Church was converted from rectangular shape to a cruciform shape, designed by J. R. Boyd Barrett, Architects. The addition compromises a transept, sanctuary, side chapel, sacristies and boiler house. A special feature is the large windows lighting the transept. These windows are cut in limestone with decorative glass in a geometrical pattern. The ceiling is arched and constructed in fibrous plaster. A special feature was made of the crossing of the nave and transept comprising of decorative grained panelling. The new work designed to complement the existing architecture and form one unified design.  The official opening was attended by President De Valera


The Church was refurbished in 2006 under the guidance of Mr Eamon Hedderman, Liturgical & Conservation Architect. The sanctuary was extended out into the congregation, completed by marble sourced from Italy to match what was already in place. This was part of the move as a community to celebrate Mass together as opposed to the priest “saying” mass and congregation “hearing” mass. The new altar was constructed using the marble panels from the old pulpit. The ambo and chair were designed to match and compliment the altar. The rails from the old altar were incorporated into the side altars and in St Joseph’s Grotto. The sanctuary lamp dating from 1880’s was restored.

Anne Sands









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To all of our Mountmellick Embroidery Museum Friends.

We hope that this finds you, your family and friends safe and well .. We are all in this together.

Continuing our series of articles with links to our Museum and our rich historical past - in last weeks article local historian Bridie Dunne gave a brief summary of Joseph Beale (A Quaker Family) who had such a positive influence on the fortunes and development of Mountmellick prior to the tragic famine of 1845 to 1849. Joseph was one of many prominent individuals whose initiative and foresight brought significant prosperity to our Town which earned it the title of the "Manchester of Ireland". Local Historian and a Director of Mountmellick Development Association (where our Museum is housed) Ger Lynch has rolled back the clock to give us an insight into what was happening in Mountmellick around that time and what contributed to this success, and subsequently its demise.  Enjoy the read - more to come next week, do tune in.  

Over to you Ger.




Between the years 1821 and 1841 Mountmellick could boast full employment and a level of prosperity which was unknown to most towns in the country by the standard of the time. This was due to the heavy concentration of industries within the town and in locations close by,

When we examine the reason for this it all comes down to our location. The town is located at the lower end of the Owenass River, near where it joins the river Barrow. This location is only 6 miles from the mountain source of the river, this gives rise to a steep gradient which results in the fast flow of water required to turn mill wheels. These are used as a constant source of power in most of our industries. This and the fact that a group of people, mostly but not all Quakers, had the foresight and ability to take advantage of this fact.

Before this period, from 1750-1756, Adam Loftus set up an ironworks on the banks of the Owenass River near where it meets the Barrow, the Cinder Hills). He used the timber from the nearby O’Moore Forest to fuel the furnaces. The ironworks gave great employment at the time and resulted in a large number if crafts people who were to take part in the bit and stirrup industry, which flourished in the town for many years after.

Mills of Mountmellick

We will examine the role of the mills, the drinks industry, the foundry and other small enterprises which contributed to full employment during this era. We will look at the roles of the various mills first.

  • Iristown Maltings (malt products). This mill located at Irishtown is said to have originally been an army garrison. It became a woollen factory between the years 1800 and1839, run by William Beale and his son Joseph. During the same period a brewery was also in operation here. This would later become a maltings and Mountmellick Products Ltd refurbished the site in 1945 and began producing malt extract.
  •  Barkmills. Erected as a woollen mill by Thomas Kemmis in 1827, it was originally run as a spinning and worsted factory by M Beale. It was driven by a 40ft diameter by 5ft wide water wheel believed to be the biggest in Ireland at the time. It was converted to flour milling in 1846 by Joseph Beale, it was also used to grind Indian corn during the famine, and it was reconverted to a woollen mill by James Milner in 1862. The illustration below shows the three-storey mill and the attached two storey dwelling.
  • The New Mills. Located in the townland of Drinagh a short distance outside the town, the New Mills was comprised of a wool spinning mill, a weaving factory and a fulling mill. It was destroyed by fire in 1857 and rebuilt in 1858, when it continued as a woollen factory. It was converted to a corn mill in the late 1800’s and was in use as a mineral water bottling plant in the 1900’s. This mill was driven by two mill wheels, a 16ft by 8ft 6in wide mill wheel which drove the spinning mill and a 13ft by 5ft 6in water wheel which drove the fulling mill. Our illustration below indicates the size of this mill.
  • The sugar beet factory site located at the rear of the MDA, was first the location of a brewery which was later converted to a woollen factory, both run by Joseph Beale. In the early 1850’s it was converted to become the first sugar beet factory in Ireland. The story of the Sugar Beet factory is well documented. It was powered by two steam engines and ran for ten years, 1852-1862. It was to be part of a national sugar industry, but the rest of the factories did not materialise and the idea had to be abandoned.
  • Milners Yard was located off O’Connell Square, the entrance is beside Bella Hairdressing Salon. A cotton weaving factory was established here by John Bewley around 1790, this was converted to a woollen factory in the early 1800’s and taken over by the Milners. There were over 200 looms at this location, and it employed over 400 weavers in addition the factory workers. The woollen mill was driven by a steam engine.
  • Mill at the MDA site. This mill was built by William and Joseph Beale and they operated it as a flour mill. It was powered by a 25-horsepower steam engine which drove 6 pairs of flour stones and all the machinery. This was the first steam mill in Ireland, and it operated as such until Joseph’s departure for Australia in 1852.  A kiln drying facility was part of this mill this was situated at the end of the building where the present fire escape now exists. There were many owners over the years they included Samuel Shaen, Thomas Neale, Edward Murphy in 1861, James Shean in 1875. Eugene Codd took over in 1886. The premises passed to Rebecca Codd in 1936 and Charles Connor in 1938, it subsequently was taken over by the Odlums Group who carried out major refurbishment. Irish Grain took charge in 1956. The MDA purchased the premises in 1989. It is now the headquarters of the MDA complex.
  • Manor Mills. This was built by Robert Kenny in 1823. It was a flour or corn mill driven by a mill wheel 10ft in diameter and 10ft 6in wide. James Shaen owned it in 1851. It was used as a sawmill in 1913 and operated by John Guest until 1919. It was acquired by is present owners the Wall Family in 1931.
  • Ennis Mills. This mill was housed in a building that was part of the Conroy Distillery, it was run by a mill wheel 12ft in diameter and 4ft wide. It was built originally as a malt mill and was taken over by Humprey Smith and used to
  • scotch flax. In the 1960’s it was taken over by Ennis’s as a provender mill and powered electrically.

The Drinks Industry

Conroy’s Distillery. Located on the site where St Joseph’s Church and the Convent now stand, it was owned by Edward and John Conroy and when at peak production it produced 120,000 gallons of whiskey a year. It operated from 1831 and due to a lawsuit, which resulted in the removal of a weir on the River Owenass, which affected production, it closed somewhere between 1846 and 1850.

The following breweries operated in Mountmellick during the 1800’s.

  • Gatchell’s Brewery. It was located in the site of Harrington’s betting shop, Tom and Vrons Bar and Comerford’s vegetable shop. Nathan Gatchell was also involved in woollen manufacturing and is reputed to have owned Smith’s field as well as the site of the Community School.
  • Beale’s Brewery. This was located in church Lane, the site of the sugar factory. It was run by Joseph Beale and when he came under the influence of Father Matthew the temperance priest, he closed the brewery and changed it to woollen manufacturing.
  • Kenny’s Brewery. This brewery was located on the site of Irishtown Maltings and was owned by Robert Kenny, who built Manor Mills. The brewery operated in tandem with the woollen mill that was on the same site from 1800-1839.
  • Tierney’s Brewery. This brewery was located on the site that is now the Macra na Feirme hall. It was used for mineral water production by Sean O’Higgins prior to the hall being built.
  • Conroy’s Brewery. Located in O’Connell Square at the rear of Butch’s bar, it is safe to assume that was the same Conroy’s that owned the distillery as it closed about the same time.
  • Pim’s Brewery. This was located on the left-hand side of Avonmore yard. It was founded by Anthony Pim and was continued on by his sons Thomas and Samuel after his death in 1842. Our illustration gives some idea of the size and capacity of this venture.

There was a brewery located at the rear of the Community Art’s Centre on Slaughterhouse Lane. It may have been owned either by James Calcutt or Arthur Peacock.

Miscellaneous Industries

  • Hibernian Foundry. Thomas and David Robert’s were two brothers who came from Anglesea in Wales to Mountmellick to erect an engine in Conroy’s Distillery. While in Mountmellick they set up an iron and brass foundry. The foundry produced steam engines, locomotives and machinery. It employed up to 40 people. The opening of this foundry in 1834 coincided with the railway boom in England. The foundry was still in operation till 1909.
  • Pim’s Tannery. The tannery was located at the lower end of the Avonmore site. A water powered pump supplied water to it from the Owenass River. It was in operation until the early 1900’s.
  • Glass Bottle Factory. This was located at the rear of Danny Williams’s house, present owner Noel Ryan. Some of these bottles made clever use of a glass alley to open and seal them.
  • Sawmills. A sawmill existed in Bridge Street in the late 1800’s.
  • Starch Works. Thomas Pim operated a starch works for many years at the rear of number 3 Upper Market St, a house that is currently occupied by Sinead Boyd. Blue was also manufactured here.
  • Pim’s Tobacco Factory. This was located at the rear of Pim’s old shop (now Coss’s) and operated in the early part of the 19th century.
  • Soap. Glue, candles and blue were all manufactured in premises at the rear of Ivor Cox’s shop during the 19th century.
  • Weaving was carried out in many locations, Milner’s, New Mills, Graigue, Irishtown and other locations. The mill owners arranged training for private dwellers so many looms were set up in farmhouses and cottages. This provided a second income and, in some cases, could be operated by young girls.
  • Pottery. William Fletcher made crocks and milk pans in Graigue in the early 1800’s.
  • Salt. George R Penrose ran a salt manufacturing business in Main street in the 1840’s and 50’s.

The population in Mountmellick in 1841 was 4,755. This was greatly increased when people came in from the countryside, surrounding towns and villages to work in the town. To satisfy the needs of this population and workforce Mountmellick needed to have a good system of trade and service in place. If we look at the commercial directory of 1846, we will get some idea of the services available.

Academies and Schools. 7

Apothecaries. 2

Attorneys 2

Bakers. 9

Banks 1

Blacksmiths. 6

Book Seller and Printer. 1

Earthenware Dealers. 3

Grocers. 9

Gunsmiths. 2

Hotels. 2

Iron Founder. 1

Iron Mongers and Hardware Men. 6

Leather Sellers. 3

Linen, Drapers and Haberdashers. 17

Maltsters. 2

Millers. 3

Painters and Glaziers. 4

Pawnbrokers. 2

Boot and Shoe Makers. 11

Brewers. 1

Butchers. 4

Cabinetmakers. 3

Carpenters. 2

Chemists, Druggists and Oil and Colour Men. 2

Clothes Dealers. 3

Coopers. 3

Cotton and Linen Manufacturers. 4

Physicians and Surgeons. 3

Provision Dealers. 4

Provision Merchant. 1

Public Houses. 19

Milliners. 1

Saddlers. 2

Starch and Glue Manufacturers. 1

Straw Bonnet Makers. 2

Tailors. 3

Tallow Chandeliers and Soap Boilers. 3

Tanners. 1

Timber Merchants. 3

Watch and Clock Makers. 2

Woollen Manufacturers. 2

Wine Merchants. 1

Emigrant Agent 1

RIC Barracks

Revenue Police Station

Excise Office

Court Clerk

Stamp Office

Clerk of the Union

Commission Clerk

Flour Factor

Professor of Music

Union Workhouse

Union Workhouse Master

The advent of the steam engine meant that mills and other industries could be located close to ports, or areas of dense population or any other area deemed suitable. No longer had them to be located near to the source of waterpower. This led to the decline of industry in Mountmellick,

I think it is clear from the above the title ‘Manchester of Ireland’ was not misplaced. Our people who lived through prosperous era did not realise that the famine lay ahead of them but unlike the present pandemic there was a simple cure as there was plenty of food in the country but there was no profit to be made supplying food to the poor and hungry. It is nice to look back on the past, but life must be lived in the present. As a people we must remain united against this virus and till we can all do again things that we used to take for granted, let us wish well to all our essential workers fighting this pandemic in any way. In the meantime, stay in, stay healthy and be there at the end of it all.


Ger Lynch




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Greetings to all our readers and Museum followers and we hope that this finds you all well and staying safe. In last week's article on the Museum, the author Marie Walsh wrote about the two samplers on display in our Museum and their very interesting history. She mentioned that one of the samplers was given to her by Bronwyn Mutton from Perth Australia in 2014. Bronwyn is the great great Grand daughter of Joseph Beale whose Quaker family history is linked with Mountmellck in so many ways. The article that follows written by local historian Bridie Dunne gives a brief history of the Beale family. If interested the full history of this remarkable family written by Bridie is available from the Museum.

Enjoy and tune in again next week for another article of interest about out Museum.


The story of Joseph Beale (1801-1857)

The first Quaker to arrive in Mountmellick was William Edmundson who settled in Rosenallis near Mountmellick in 1659. He was accompanied by a group of young Quakers from the North, including Thomas Beale, his wife and son Joshua. The Beale family line continued in Mountmellick with john, another Joshua and William who was born in Annagrove in 1765 in the house that was built by Thomas Beale. William and his father were cotton manufacturers in Irishtown. William died in 1818 and his sons Joseph aged seventeen and his brother William aged thirteen helped their mother to manage the business. When Joseph assumed ownership, he diversified into wool, brewing and flour milling. Joseph became an expert in wool and traded with France and England. His reputation stood high in business and in the community generally. At age 25 he married Elizabeth Lecky from Cork. Sometime after their marriage, Joseph was obliged to travel on business to England in 1825. After his departure, Elizabeth became very ill with measles and died after the birth of her daughter before the anticipated period. She was buried in the Friends Burial Ground in Rosenallis. Joseph arrived home a widower and father of a baby daughter Elizabeth. He was now 24 years old. Five years later he went to Enniscorthy on business where he met Margaret Davis, a beautiful girl who was well educated in the Quaker Boarding School in Mountmellick. She had knowledge of Latin and Greek and later had the ability to run schools. The couple married in Enniscorthy in 1832 and Margaret settled into Annagrove House where she established a lifelong close bond with her seven-year-old stepdaughter Elizabeth. Joseph, in 1836, built a large house “Derrycappagh” to accommodate his growing family. Their second child died in infancy and in 1843, croup killed two of their baby sons in five days. Derrycappagh the once pleasant happy home became a sad and lonely place. Joseph, Margaret and their family moved to Monordreigh near Barkmills, two miles from Mountmellick, where Joseph owned a house and mills. The children were happy there listening to the cheerful sounds of the mill stones grinding and looking at the machinery at work. In 1848 another child died in infancy. Four of their children were now dead. When grain was available, the mill ground Indian corn to feed the starving people. Joseph Beale continued to provide employment unprofitably as long as he could and keep his mills going. Margaret was a skilled embroiderer and set up a cottage industry where she taught women to create embroidery pieces that she and her friends could sell to help the poorest women and girls. The embroidery was called Mountmellick Work and is known and practiced throughout the world. Margaret set soup kitchens with the help of her daughters and these Quaker kitchens became the model for use throughout the island. The Quakers contribution extended far beyond their relative numbers, about 3,000 in all. They succeeded in distributing £200,000 worth of relief throughout the country. The years since the famine dragged on and Joseph decided to emigrate to Australia where the wool industry was thriving. Margaret and the younger children were to remain with hope of selling Monordreigh. Joseph, his son Joseph 16 and Francis 15 together with Joseph’s faithful servant Dan Kennedy and Dan’s son James sailed on “The Sarah Sands” from Queenstown to Melbourne on 28th September 1852 and arrived in Melbourne on Christmas Day 1852 and in December 1854 Margaret and her six children, with her faithful nurse maid Mary Brophy and Mary’s daughter Charlotte sailed on The Eagle from Liverpool to Melbourne arriving in April 1855.It was indeed, and to quote Margaret’s words, it was a very happy meeting. Sadly, Joseph died suddenly after attending the Quaker meeting house only two years after their reunion.
The book “Joseph Beale, the reluctant immigrant from Mountmellick to Melbourne” published in September 2019 tells the story of the journey through the lives of Joseph and Margaret and their children and some of their grandchildren. It also includes the contents of the twelve letters which Joseph writes to Margaret while on board ship and after his arrival in Melbourne. The book is available through the Museum.

The museum has a display of Mountmellick embroidery, both original and contemporary pieces. Classes and workshops are available on request. Materials and copies of original patterns are for sale. Guided tours are also available.







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Needlework Samplers

The word ' sampler ' comes from the Latin ' exemplum ', meaning example. Many think of samplers as decorative items, however their original purpose was practical - used to learn and record stitches and patterns. Commonly cotton and silk thread on linen, they were kept rolled up in a work basket to be referenced when a stitcher wanted to create bed hangings, curtains, or anything requiring embroidery. The earliest known English sampler is housed in the V&A museum and dated 1598. By the mid 18th century samplers had become a way of displaying skills; this is when they began to be framed and hung on walls, and by the 19th century had become educational tools used to demonstrate sewing skills. There are some priceless collections in the UK., and those with great provenance command great value. 

(above article from Antiques Journal, Period Living magazine, March 2020.)

In our museum we exhibit two samplers, one with a very detailed provenance.

It is of a rare map of Europe, embroidered in 1805 by Hannah Davis of Enniscorthy. This sampler was given by Hannah to her niece, Margaret (Davis) Beale who was married to Joseph Beale of Mountmellick.

Following the famine and the failure of Joseph's mills, he left Ireland in 1852 with his two eldest sons for Australia. He was followed two years later by Margaret and the rest of the children on the Steam Ship 'Eagle' 1854.

In 2014 Margaret's great great granddaughter, Bronwyn Mutton, from Capel, near Bunbury, approximately 200k south of Perth, donated the sampler to our Museum, and was received from her in person by me, as I was visiting Perth in March of that year.

We have the details of all the family history, and the remarkable journey of this 215-yr. old (in 2020) treasure to relate to all our museum visitors. We assured Bronwyn that it will now survive by being exhibited and preserved for the future generations of both locals and visitors alike, to view, appreciate and learn its story ,to which Bronwyn replied,'' the Sampler is a very small package of outstanding work, hope it now gets more of the recognition and admiration it deserves.''

We were looking forward to welcoming Bronwyn and two cousins to Mountmellick on 29th. April 2020, however due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they have sadly cancelled their trip. She did visit us in 2007 with her aunt Margaret and was so looking forward to her return visit. Hopefully it may work out in the future, and in the meantime, we send her and all our museum friends in Australia, our best regards and best wishes for good health during these uncertain times.

We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the museum and relating all our 'stories' in the near future.

Marie Walsh







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To all people who enjoy Craft – History – Unique Personal Stories


Firstly, on behalf of Mountmellick Museum Committee can I welcome you and thank you for visiting our Museum website. In these challenging times, we send you every good wish and hope that you and your family and friends remain safe, we would ask you continue to follow Official Government Guidelines during the currency of the COVID-19 outbreak.  We are all in this together and each of us has a role to play.

In compliance with Government Guidelines, you will be aware that our Embroidery Museum is closed until deemed safe to reopen. While necessary this is unfortunate and has resulted in the cancelation of several planned tours (included Three Knit and Stitchers groups from USA and two groups from within Ireland) which were scheduled to arrive in April and May. It has also been necessary to postpone the planned Embroidery Competition until later in the year. In that regard we had also planned to welcome Deborah Love, our very first Embroidery Competition Winner, who was traveling from Brisbane Australia and was scheduled to announce this year's winner but unfortunately her travel plans fell victim to COVID -19.  Deborah who has visited Mountmellick in the past (Pre-opening of Museum) and did part-take in embroidery classes with Sr. Theresa Margaret, who people will be aware was responsible for the revival of this unique Irish craft in the late 1970s and eighties. Looking forward to seeing Deborah in Mountmellick later in the year. I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah at her home on a trip to Australia in 2018 and viewing her many pieces of Mountmellick Embroidery, she also donated a piece of her work which is on display in our museum.  

Given that people are confined to their homes during the present crisis, this could be an opportunity for stitchers to start a new embroidery piece for this competition, or if a beginner learn more about this unique craft. All requests for information, craft material, designs, books etc. received by the Museum Staff will be processed expediently and forwarded as soon as the present restrictions allow. Museum e-mail address are themuse@mdaltd.ie and mountmellickmuseum@gmail.com

Another planned visit affected by COVID-19 is that of Bronwyn Mutton, the Great Great Grand Daughter of Joseph Beale, a Quaker family inextricable linked to the history and fortunes of Mountmellick in the pre and post-famine era. His story alone is worth reading. Book by local author “The reluctant Emigrant “by Bridie Dunne is available from the Museum shop.

Some of you may have visited our Museum in the past and viewed the exquisite display of both old and contemporary embroidery pieces, in addition, you will have been informed of the rich Quaker and Industrial heritage which is so relevant to the history of the area.

While you can get a flavour of what the Museum has to offer by visiting the Website, we on the Museum Committee wish to bring some of the more important aspects of the Museum and what it has to offer to you the reader.

Towards that end and for the duration of the Museum Closure an article will be published each week on our Website which hopefully will broaden your knowledge of some aspect of the Museum and our local history. We also would also love to receive any feedback/comments, positive or negative/observations or even your own stories from any of our readers on any aspect of what they have seen or experienced themselves.

Please tune in to our Website over the coming weeks where you will I believe enjoy the topics we have on offer.

Finally, just to send you all our very best wishes, stay safe and keep well.


Kind regards,

Ann Dowling


Mountmellick Museum






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If you have any queries please contact the Receptionist

Tel: +353 (0)57 8624525

Email: themuse@mdaltd.ie





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