It is often forgotten that the Penal Laws affected not just Roman Catholics but non-conformist sects such as Presbyterians and Quakers. Members of the Society of Friends (to give the latter their correct name) were unable to attend university, refused to join either the army or the Established Church, were excluded from any active role in politics and barred from many other areas of public life. As a result of these exclusions, many Quakers went into business, where they became known and respected for their probity. Certain industries attracted them, among these brewing, cotton manufacture and, in particular, milling. Driving across Ireland, one often sights large, now-abandoned mill buildings, many of which were developed by Quakers. Today’s pictures illustrate the interior of one such complex outside Clogheen, County Tipperary.
In his still-invaluable Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837, Samuel Lewis notes ‘An extensive flour-mill, employing from 30 to 40 persons, the erection of which is supposed to have cost £6000, has lately been built at Castle-Grace by Sam. Grubb, Esq., of Clogheen.’ There were already a number of similar ventures in the vicinity, one of which Samuel Grubb had acquired in 1798. The family, like many others, arrived in this country in the middle of the 17th century and settled in the south-east region. Samuel Grubb was originally a merchant in Clonmel before he started to buy and develop mills around Clogheen some fifteen miles away. The late 18th/early 19th century was an especially prosperous time for Ireland, especially prior to the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Grain was in great demand throughout these islands and in consequence a large number of grain mills were constructed. That erected by Samuel Grubb on this site is no less than five storeys tall and runs to twenty bays.
The Parliamentary Gazeteer of Ireland published in 1846 reports that in Clogheen ‘a large trade in agricultural produce is carried on, chiefly for exportation, and more than 80,000 barrels of wheat are annually purchased in its market and in the neighbourhood. which is made into flour of very superior quality and sent by land to Clonmel, whence it is conveyed down the [river] Suir: For this purpose there are seven flour mills in the town and neighbourhood, which are worked by fourteen water-wheels. There is also an extensive brewery.’ Slater’s Commercial Directory of Ireland, which appeared in the same year, also observes, ‘The corn-mills of Messrs. Grubb are very extensive, employing great power and a considerable number of hands.’ Nevertheless circumstances were about to change: the Corn Laws first introduced in 1815 to stimulate domestic production by imposing tariffs on grain imported into the United Kingdom were repealed in 1846, in large part due to famine in Ireland and the urgent need for more and cheaper foodstuffs. With the abolition of tariffs, the way was open for cheaper grain from the central plains of the United States to enter the market, with inevitable consequences. By 1880 all but one of the seven mills seen by Samuel Lewis less than half a century earlier had closed down and before the 19th century closed grain milling had ceased altogether in the Clogheen area.
This particular mill had a second life when in 1939 a later generation of the Grubb family used it as operation centre for the newly-established Tipperary Products Ltd. A huge variety of foodstuffs were processed and prepared in the old mill, not just diverse sorts of fowl but also rabbits (formerly widespread in the Irish countryside and much in demand especially during the years of the Second World War). A similarly wide range of fruit passed through the building, both wild (blackberries, sloes and so forth) and orchard grown, all to be used in the manufacture of jams and juices. This operation continued until only a few decades ago but eventually it too ceased and since then the building has sat empty. Today its interior contains ample evidence of former activity, successive floors heaped with bottles and jars, wooden boxes and woven baskets. Currently only occupied by pigeons, even after almost two hundred years the premises remains remarkably well-preserved and serves as testament both to Ireland’s manufacturing history and to the industry of the Quakers. Given that the mill has already enjoyed one resurrection, perhaps another could yet lie ahead?