The Industrial Heritage of Co Armagh
From jam making to Mr Tayto
Armagh is Northern Ireland’s smallest county. Often referred to as the ’the orchard of Ireland’, the northern Armagh district is the main fruit-growing region of the entire island. The villages of Richhill and Loughgall are renowned for their apples and strawberries.
Armagh city is the archiepiscopal seat of the Primate of All Ireland. The city has a large inland trade in corn, linen, and yarn. Light industrial centres in the county include Keady and Laurelvale.
In 1956, Thomas Hutchison founded the Tayto potato crisp factory at Tandragee castle. A tour of the factory provides an opportunity to see the inner courtyards and to learn about the potato, Ireland’s staple food from the mid seventeenth century.
The Linen Industry
The towns of Lurgan and Portadown are historic centres for Irish linen. Dating back to the late seventeenth century, traces of this heritage can be seen in stylish old Victorian mill buildings in the area. Textile firms and clothing manufacturers are still important to Lurgan, although most have diversified into the production of synthetic fibres.
Bessbrook is one of the earliest model villages associated with the industrial revolution, founded in 1845 by John Grubb Richardson, a Quaker linen manufacturer. Solid terraces with slate roofs range round two squares linked by a broad road. Granite quarried nearby was used in their construction.
Flax for the mill was grown locally in large quantities. The Richardsons also built schools, a butcher’s shop, dairy, dispensary, savings bank, village hall and several churches, but no pub, pawnshop or police house, deemed unnecessary or undesirable. An 18 arch viaduct, built in 1851, still carries the Belfast to Dublin railway.
Keady, lying to the south of Armagh city, is the largest town in the county, with an estimated population of over 3000. However, the town did not emerge as an important urban centre until the mid eighteenth century, when the advent of waterpower led to the growth of linen mills and factories there.
The famous Keady Monument was erected by the local people to honour William Kirk, who provided economic prosperity in the area by erecting mills at Keady and Darkley. The town was also renowned for its tailoring in the early twentieth century. The advent of the railway brought the town great commercial benefit, although the lines for both goods and passenger traffic have since closed.
Today, Keady retains its links with the manufacturing of clothing, with a major textiles firm employing many local people. Situated on the river flowing from Clay Lake to the River Callan, Keady is noted chiefly for its trout lakes. Its numerous derelict watermills are also of interest to industrial archaeologists. Tassagh Glen, just outside the town, has a mill and viaduct of monumental proportions. The newly restored mill in the centre of town offers the visitor a unique glimpse into Keady’s fine industrial heritage.
The Newry Canal is the earliest summit-level canal in the British Isles, predating both the Sankey Cut at St Helens, and the Bridgewater Canal to Manchester. It was designed to carry coal from mines in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, to Dublin. Work started in 1731 under the initial direction of Sir Edward Lovett, followed by his deputy, Richard Cassels, and finally, the engineer Thomas Steers. It was finally completed in 1742.
On March 28 that same year, the Cope and the Boulter sailed into the port of Dublin with cargoes of Tyrone coal. The making of the canal was a great engineering feat: with 15 locks, it crossed 18 miles of rough country to a height of 78 feet above sea level, to connect Lough Neagh to the sea.
The building of the canal from Newry to Lough Neagh in the 1730s brought prosperity to Portadown, and the town developed alongside the linen industry. Today its factories make carpets, industrial ceramics, and jam.