Tayto Headquarters, Tandragee
Clare O'Connor finds everyone chipper in Tayto Castle
He may live in seclusion ‘deep in the heart of the Armagh countryside’ but Mr Tayto and his Castle are as seared on the Ulster psyche as any multinational brand. The potatoes he peddles have brought sustenance and comfort to us for over half a century and their popularity shows no signs of dwindling.
In 1955 Tayto founder Thomas Hutchinson bought Tandragee Castle which had lain derelict and abandoned. The visionary local business man set about converting the castle into a crisp making factory, quite a radical step in the 1950s when the ‘flavoured snack’ industry was just in its infancy.
Hutchinson was the son of a successful businessman from Drumanure, Coagh. He started his working life in a draper’s shop in Newry before setting up his own scutching mill in Clare. Forays into building contraction, furniture manufacture and baking followed. It was through the Fitzroy Bakery that Tayto was born.
Along with bread, cakes and his own brand of mineral water, Hutchinson used his bakery vans to deliver a new product called potato crisps. These proved so popular with his customers that the entrepreneur saw a gaping hole in the market that he intended to fill himself by producing crisps locally. Along with Fred McKinney and Walter Gracey Hutchinson purchased Tandragee Castle and the vision became a reality.
‘Tayto Castle’ as it is now affectionately known has had a somewhat chequered history. Originally built by the O’Hanlon clan, it was rebuilt by Oliver St John, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland , after the Plantation. The castle was burnt when the disinherited O’Hanlons sought to repossess their ancestral estates during the 1641 rebellion.
It was not until 1836 that the Duke of Manchester rebuilt the Castle and it remained the seat of the Dukedom until 1939. During the Second World War the Castle was home to the United States Army with many local GI brides resulting.
By the mid-seventies the second generation of the Hutchinson family became involved in the running of the business and many adaptations ensued. Cantrell & Cochrane bought out Tayto in the Repuplic of Ireland and whilst Cheese & Onion crisps remain the signature brand of Tayto Ltd (NI) attempts to diversify and keep ahead of the competition have led to the introduction of new ‘luxury’ and ‘low-fat’ products.
Whatever eating fads may come and go Cheese & Onion Tayto Crisps have become as great an Ulster staple as potato bread or irish stew!