Pioneers of Beet growing looking back

50 Years after Tuam Sugar Factory opened

First published in Tuam Herald in 1984 and given to Out and About magazine by Helen Treacy, Dangan

L-r: The late Mick Mannion, Coolourty, Tuam and Richard McWalter, Hillsbrook, Barnaderg driving the Tuam Sugar factory turf-cutting machine.
Out and About Magazine 2009/2010 - Down Memory Lane, P. 60

Working in Sugar factory since 1934

Fifty years after the opening of three of our sugar factories, one wonders if there are many people who have produced beet continuously down through the years, from 1934 to the present day.  While their fathers were probably the contracting growers, initially, and sons may now fill that role, they themselves w3ere involved as teenagers in the early years and now, in many cases in retirement, they maintain an equal desire to be involved and an equal interest in beet production.  They have watched this side of the industry evolve down through the years from a crop which was totally labour intensive to one which is now totally mechanised.  They are the founding fathers who stayed with the industry in good times and in bad.  Alas, they are becoming fewer in number as the years progress.

Three men from Killererin among the six in continous employment since 1934

During the recent processing campaign, a group of six people who have been involved in beet growing every year from 1934 to the present or missed but one year, visited Tuam Sugar Factory and were taken on a tour of the processing operation.  The group included Pat Greaney, Sylane, Tuam; Joe Gormley, Brownsgrove, Tuam; Jim Burke, Ballina, Ballyglunin; Patrick Shally, Garrymore, Hollymount and Nicholas Stones and Patrick McWalter, both of Hillsbrook, Barnaderg.  For the majority of them, the tour of the factory was their first since the early years.  An interesting discussion took place as members of the group reminisced on the events of those early days of the industry. Jim Burke, Nicholas Stones and Patrick McWalter hailed from Killererin

The 1930’s

Money was scarce in those days as prices for crops and livestock were poor due to the economic depression and later the Economic War.  Mr. Joe Gormley referred to prices of £3 to £4 for 2 year old cattle and 45p to 5op (9/- to 10/-) for lambs in July/August period of the early 1930’s.  Cereals, potatoes, hay and straw were also cheap.  Mr. Jim Burke who has grown beet every year since the factory opened, said that old cows were worth £2.50 in Roscrea for slaughter , but the finest of young cows were sent off, also, for the same price.  There was little or no employment.

A New Era Dawns

The news that further sugar factories were to be built brought increased expectations as committees were set up to get the promise of beet acreage from farmers and to try to get a factory located in their area.  The West was not found wanting in this regard as later events proved Mr. Nicholas Stones referred to a meeting in Barnaderg School, in September, 1933, which was organised by such a committee.  The meeting was attended by over 100 farmers from the locality who were told that beet and mangels were of the one plant family.  When someone asked what beet looked like, the enterprising school teach, the late Mr. O’Sullivan who was a member of the committee went to his garden and returned to the meeting with six good beet plants which he had sown in the previous Spring.  Such was the enthusiasm of the time.


Then it was announced that a factory was to be located at Tuam and the sod was cut by Mr. Eamon de Valera, President of the Executive Council of Saorstat Eireann on November 24th, 1933.  Mr. Patrick McWalter, Killererin told of the construction work which was carried out by what must have been an “army” of men.  All the excavations were carried out by hand.  As soon as the foundations were dug they were filled with concrete – which had been mixed by hand – and German engineers had the relevant bolts or girders placed, immediately, exactly in position.  Meanwhile a queue of men waited outside the entrance hoping for employment.



This page was added on 24/06/2018.

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