The material which follows was extracted from an article on Athy and its industries which appeared in the Leinster Leader in March 1898. The references to the Mills and the Brickworks are of historical interest given that both industries have long disappeared.
“The industries of Athy, as they exist today are not numerous, but they are fairly flourishing. The flour, Indian meal and oatmeal mills of Messrs H. Hannon and Sons constitute by far the most important industry of the district. There are three mills-the Ardreigh (Athy) mills, in which flour alone is manufactured; the Plumperstown mills, also used for the manufacture of flour, and the Athy mills devoted solely to the manufacture of Indian meal.
The Ardreigh Mills were purchased from the Messrs Haughton in 1895, and since then they have been gradually growing in popular esteem, so that their present proprietors have been able to look back upon over two years of continued prosperity. During last year over 8,500 barrels of wheat were manufactured into flour of every quality-Acme, Champion, Rollo Firsts, X L and Prime Foreign for bakers, and Extra Firsts, Prime Irish Retailers (patents) Households, Seconds, Thirds, and Wholemeal for retailers. Practically all the wheat consumed in Athy comes from the flour mills of Ardreigh of the Messrs. Hannon, whilst an extensive trade is also carried on with Athy, Stradbally, Castlecomer, Monasterevan, Kildare, Portarlington, and Edenderry.
Of the total quantity of wheat manufactured in the mills last year 1,000 were native-grown. This has given such an impetus to the wheat growing industry in the district that it is calculated that the acreage under this cereal has been trebled this year. The farmers are well satisfied with the price they obtained, and have resolved to devote a larger area to the cultivation of this grain in future. No wheat produces such a white flour as the native, and the best results are obtained mixing it in small proportions with the foreign article. The Messrs. Hannon find that they not alone are able to compete with, but that they are able to beat foreign producers and manufacturers in fair competition in the open market. This is saying something for Irish enterprise, and covers an idea of the era of prosperity, which might be established, did the example of the Messrs. Hannon meet with a more general emulation. Certainly we would be considered the richer did less bags bearing the well-known brand "San Francisco, U.S.A.," enter the country. The mills were fitted up with the most modern machinery by Henry Simon, of Manchester. I got my information with regard to them from Mr. H. Hannon who waxed enthusiastic over the great benefits, which would accrue to the country from the establishment of industries on a large scale. The manager of the mills, Mr. Price, explained to me the process of manufacture in a most lucid and intelligent manner. Writing towards the end of the last century a celebrated doctor and litterateur gave expression to the statement-"The bread of Nice is very indifferent, and, I am persuaded, very unwholesome. The flour is generally musty and not quite free of sand. This is either owing to the particles of millstone rubbed in grinding, or to what adheres to the corn itself on being threshed on the common ground." Well, as regards the Ardreigh Mills there’s no danger of sand entering the composition of flour manufactured therein, as, the wheat goes through a most elaborate cleaning process, whilst as to mill-stones-none exist-they have been long since discarded. The wheat arrives by barge on the Grand Canal, and Mr. Price explained how it is then placed in elevators, thence to the receiving separator, where the dirt is removed by a preliminary cleaning. The separator is known as the Ureka Dustless Receiving Separator, and can treat 100 barrels of grain in an hour. It is then placed on the various lofts for storage, and subsequently drawn off and mixed to produce the different qualities of flour required. It is then again drawn off and cleaned by a "Dustless Milling Separator," is transferred thence to a divider, next to the cockle and barley cylinders of which there are eight, after which it is thoroughly washed by a scourer. It then goes to a whizzer, where it receives a partial drying. The damp in completely expelled by a Simon Dryer-a patent which is to be found in very few Irish mills, and which dispenses with the old tedious system of kiln drying. The dryer is about 50 feet long, and extending from the bottom of the building upwards, and whilst the wheat which is conveyed from the whizzer by means of an elevator, falls gradually through an opening in which it is played upon by hot currents of air. It falls from the dryer into bins, where it is allowed to remain for a few hours, after which it receives a final cleaning by a brush machine. The final stages in process of manufacture are quickly got through. The corn goes successively through brakes, scalpers, and purifiers, when finally the flour and semolina are separated from each other by a centripetal dressing machine. In the mills the most perfect cleanliness was observed. Mention must be made of the courtesy and business tact of the managing clerk, Mr. Dobbin, to whose energy and resource not a little of the success which has attended the firm is owing. About twenty men are constantly employed in the mills.
The Plumperstown Mills
During last year 9,338 barrels of wheat were manufactured into flour in the above mills. The principal markets are Carlow, Tullow, Baltinglass, and Castledermot. The price paid for wheat in this and in the Ardreigh mills last year was £1 0s 6d per barrel. With this the farmers were well pleased, and the result is that the stimulus afforded through purchasing has induced them to treble the area under the growth this year. Four hundred tons of Indian corn were manufactured into meal last year.
The Athy Mills
In Athy Mills [located in what is now Edmund Rice Square] 400 tons of Indian corn were treated last year, whilst a large quantity of oats was also manufactured into meal. There are, of course, separate mill wheels for the manufacture of Indian Meal. The best patent oat meal, flaked meal, and mixed meal are manufactured and the flaked is packed neatly and conveniently in cotton bags in weights of a stone, a half stone, and a quarter stone.
The Brick-making industry in the district received an important impetus in the year ’93, prior to which it had become well nigh paralysed owing to the competition carried on by English firms under more advantageous circumstances. Before ’93 it was found that the sale of home made bricks in the district was gradually declining. This was owing to two causes. One was that the machine made bricks of England were larger and therefore more economical for building purposes, and the other that the new and improved process of manufacture by machinery gave the manufacturers or vendors an opportunity of placing on the market an article at the minimum price. In ’93, however, the thinking men of the district put their heads together, and with the co-operation of friends outside, formed a company to manufacture bricks on the newest and most improved methods, and a sum of £120,000 has since been expended on machinery and buildings on a site on the Monasterevan road at the northern side of the town. Mr. Maurice Dominick, J. P., Great George’s street, Cork, is Chairman of the Company; Mr. Joseph Doyle, Curragh Camp, V. C. , Mr. Thomas A. Seagrave, late manager of the Hibernian Bank, Athy, and Mr. Robert Anderson, Castlemitchell, being other directors. Mr. S. Telford, T.C., a gentleman who takes a deep interest in the fostering of local industries, is Managing Director. Mr. Anthony Reeves, the courteous secretary and general business manager, took me over the extensive premises and explained the process of manufacture from the time the clay is wheeled from the field in lorries until the bricks come forth burned and ready for the market. About forty men are in constant employment throughout the year, and an average of £50 weekly is paid in salaries and wages. The working men earn from 10s to 20s per week, and as the work is perfectly healthy it can easily be seen what a boon such an industry is in the district. Mr. Reeves spoke in the highest terms of the treatment his company received from the Great Southern and Western Railway. Prior to ’93 the rate was 15s; it is now only 6s, this concession being made by the railway people in order to assist in the development of the industry. The railway company are also going to run a siding from the railway up to the brickworks, a distance of 400 yards. With a preferential rate and an article than which no better can, in the opinion of experts, be placed on the market, it is no wonder that the industry is developing. Although the weekly output of bricks amounts to 80,000 Mr. Reeves assured me that the supply was quite unequal to the demand. The principal market is Dublin, where the products of the company are now used by all the leading builders. The National Bank, Rathmines, at present in course of construction, is being built by bricks manufactured by the company. Octagon, bull-nose, and every variety of moulded brick are made. The five huge tanks on the premises are capable of holding material sufficient to manufacture 400,000 bricks. Those to which we have referred are the principal industries of Athy. The good they do could only be thoroughly understood and appreciated should they but cease to exist for a month. Mr. Plewman is an active member of the Town Commission of which he is Chairman. He has taken a prominent part in organising the fairs and markets, and does much to add to the general weal.”