Friday, May 7, 1993

Asbestos Factory / Tegral

Tegral recently launched a new product manufactured at it's Athy factory continuing a tradition of excellence going back 57 years. For it was in 1936 at the height of the economic war between Ireland and England that the first sod was turned in Mullery's field on the site of the new asbestos factory. The factory was very welcome at that time of heavy unemployment, particularly to the Athy men who still remembered with bitterness the loss of the sugar factory to Carlow in 1926. Their bitterness stemmed from the acute disappointment felt when the delegation from Athy sent to Brussels in July of 1925 to press the claim of the town for the factory were outfoxed by the Carlow delegates. A member of the Athy delegation was Sydney Minch and the Minch family were again to the fore with the planning for the asbestos factory.

The Minchs were the owners of Minch Norton Maltings in Athy and elsewhere and M.P. Minch opened discussions with H.A. Osterberg, a Danish Industrialist who was interested in opening a cement factory in Ireland following the passing of the 1933 Cement Act. This Act imposed a duty of five shillings per tonne on imported cement making it an economic proposition to produce cement in Ireland.

The Thompson family of Carlow lent support to Minch's efforts to locate the cement factory in Athy and in time agreement was reached on Athy as the site. Asbestos Cement Limited was incorporated in April 1936 and that same month a small group of men gathered at the canal bridge watched as four men marked out the site of the new factory in Mullery's field.

The factory was opened in 1937 and at that time it had only one machine producing corrugated asbestos sheeting. The new product proved very popular and in the following year a second machine was installed. The workers were drawn from Athy and surrounding district.

Transport of the raw material in the early years of the factory, especially during the Second World Ward, was by canal boat on the adjoining Grand Canal. In the late 1940's a spur line was built off the Wolfhill railway line which itself had been opened on the 24th of September 1918 as a result of the severe coal shortage of the war years. The colliery line had closed on the 1st of January 1929 but the line as far as Ballylinan had been retained to facilitate the transport of sugar beet to the Carlow Sugar Factory. Carlow now seemed to come to Athy's assistance with the building of the spur line to the asbestos factory off the line which remained open to Ballylinan but which would undoubtedly have been closed in 1929 but for the existence of the sugar beet factory. As a result the raw material could be brought into the factory directly by rail and this operation continues to this day.

Technological advances in the 1950's and 1960's ensured that the factory prospered and continued to give employment in Athy even if the number of workers employed decreased over the years. In 1976 the asbestos factory became known as Tegral Building Products and today it possesses one of the most advanced slate making units in the world.

As a young lad I recall laying claim to one of the several sheds facing onto the Grand Canal each of which bore in large red letters initials, the significance of which remains even to this day a mystery to me. However I had no doubt that the initials FT meant that I had a proprietary interest in Athy's largest industry. Some of my school pals were not so lucky!!

The town of Athy and South Kildare owe a great debt of gratitude to M.P. Minch and the ordinary working men whose skill and industry over the years have ensured the continued viability of one of the longest surviving industries in Athy.

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