Abandoned ireland


Portlaw Tannery,

Co. Waterford

Documenting our Heritage

Portlaw Tannery

A cotton mill was established on the old Portlaw tannery site by David Malcolmson.

When it was completed the factory measured 260 ft. by 40 ft. and was considered the largest single span building in the world. A weaving factory was situated beside the cotton factory and covered one acre of ground. It was a one storey building with half of its roof constructed of glass to give an abundance of light which was essential for the weavers. Two million pounds worth of raw cotton was spun annually and six million yards of calico woven.

By the 1840's the Portlaw factory was spinning, weaving, bleaching, dying and printing. The hours were long and the wages at the time were 2/6 to 7/- for boys and girls and £1 a week for adults at task work, for 19th century Ireland and the approaching famine, this was paradise.

The American Civil War in 1861 was a bad blow to the factory. Raw cotton surpluses dwindled and after the war the New America imposed tariffs on the Irish cotton signalling the end of the Malcolmson business empire.

The factory was then taken over and re-organised by the Portlaw Spinning Co. This also failed due to the introduction of the McKinley tariffs in 1897, which raised the import duty on cotton from 35% to 55%. Weaving was first abandoned and a few years later spinning. The last bobbin ceased to revolve in 1904.

The work of repairing the derelict cotton factory and construction of a lime yard and tan yard began in September 1932 with a workforce of 75 men.

In 1932 the factory was taken over by Irish Tanners Ltd and the Portlaw Tannery was officially opened on September 26th 1935, by the late Mr. Sean Lemass, who was, at that time, Minister for Industry and Commerce.

During the next five years, extensions both to buildings and plant had to be undertaken to cope with increased output which had by then reached 4,000 hides per week. These were turned into sole leather. In 1945, the construction of the new factory was undertaken. This building is of reinforced concrete, has four floors, an area of 45,000 sq. ft. and a frontage of 260 sq. ft. The factory generated its own power by coal-fired steam boilers until they were connected to the E.S.B. from Carrick-on-Suir. For many years, in the registered offices of Irish Tanners Ltd., there hung the maps of every country, every sea in the world along which the voyages of their merchant ships were traced.

However with the introduction of synthetic shoe soles around 1956 the leather industry fell into continuous decline. Other industries were started and failed on the Portlaw tannery site and a series of rescue attempts were made by various state agencies until in 1983 massive redundancies were announced, with the Portlaw factory finally closing in 1985.

Mayfield House, one of the magnificent Victorian houses built by the Malcolmsons in the late 1800's and located on the premises of the Tannery, had become the National Headquarters of Irish Leathers and following the closure, was also left unoccupied. While initially the Tannery buildings, including Mayfield House, were guarded and maintained, as time rolled on they all became neglected and soon fell into a state of disrepair.

The site has lain derelict and idle ever since.

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