The Mills of Lovely Dripsey
Adapted from an article by Tim Sheehan first published in the Evening Echo in February 1972

In the period of economic growth brought about by the corn-growing policies of Grattan’s Parliament in the early 1780s, we find the first mention of a corn mill standing where the Dripsey Woollen Mills were later to be constructed.
An enterprising local group took over the corn mills in 1830 and, according to tradition, flannels, friezes and rugs of all description are produced, mostly by hand, up to the Great Famine when the difficulties that beset the infant industry were relieved to some extent by Coachford Benevolent Society - the fore-runner of our present Credit Unions.
There appears to have been stagnation during an interim period up to about 1880, when Dripsey Mill became the property of the Fielding family, who owned other mills in the County. It became the property of D Lynch and Co in 1885 and ten years later it changed hands to Albert Beamish and Co, who held it for seven years up to 1903. Four changes in ownership in the closing years of the 20th Century confirm the unhealthy economic fabric of the mill.
In 1903, Charles Olden, senior partner of the firm Atkins and Chirnside, chartered accountants, sold Dripsey Mills as a going concern to Andrew O’Shaughnessy, and it was with that change that the proliferation of the Dripsey industry really began.
Andrew O’Shaughnessy was a man of remarkable ability whose genius has never been accorded the fame it deserves. His discerning mind rarely erred in the assessment of values, and his shrewdness to foresee appreciable increases in those values paid rich dividends in the first quarter of the 21st century.
In Gort, County Galway, the ancestral home of the O’Shaughnessy clan, there is a proverbial saying about them which, in concise language might be stated “that the murmur of the rill is less to an O’Shaughnessy than the sound of the mill”.
In Dripsey the same meaning is conveyed in different terms when people say “flowing streams gave visions of mills to the O’Shaughnessys”.
At any rate, the O’Shaughnessy clan, routed out of Galway by William of Orange after 1690, has produced a line of remarkable men. There was Brigadier-General William O’Shaughnessy of Clare’s Regiment who fought at Ramillies; Edward O’Shaughnessy; Sir John O’Shaughnessy, one of the Founders of Australian Catholic Literature, was born near the Tipperary border and began life as a draper in Melbourne where he founded the Colonial Bank and later became Premier of Victoria; Sir William O’Shaughnessy, a Limerick man and a doctor in the East India Company and developed the electrical telegraph in that country; Sir Thomas O’Shaughnessy was one of the builders of the Canadian Nation and an organiser of one of the earliest Eucharistic Congresses.
The Andrew O’Shaughnessy who bought Dripsey Mills hailed from the Cork-Limerick border. Shortly after purchasing the mills in 1903 he cam to live at Peake, Aghabullogue. He was the first man in the district to own a motor car, and in those days when people seemed content with the pace of the horse, O’Shaughnessy’s mind was on progress.
Other purchases he made were Kilcolman Creamery, a mile north of the mills, and later Coachford Creamery. Both were added to the chain of creameries in the Newmarket Dairy Co of which he was chairman and principal shareholder.
He also acquired Bridgetown Flour Mills, Castletownroche, and was the principal shareholder in the Dock Milling Co, Dublin. He also purchased Sallybrook Woollen Mills as a going concern and Kilkenny Woollen Mills. During the first years of the Free State Government Andrew O’Shaughnessy represented Kilkenny in the Dail Eireann.
In 1922, the number employed at Dripsey was 60, and the mills consisted of 14 looms and three carding machines, plus its own plant to produce electricity. The mills, in 1954, had grown to 34 looms and 8 carding machines and the number employed had risen to 160. In between those two dates there was the difficult period of the early 1930s, caused by the depressed world conditions following the crash in Wall Street and the Economics Wars with Britain.
In the middle of that lean period, 1931, John O’Shaughnessy, fresh from academic and technical training at Galashiels, took over as managing director at Dripsey. Another son, took over at Kilkenny. Faced with the problem of steering a midstream ship against unabated trade winds on both sides, John O’Shaughnessy set his sights on the buoyancy of protection introduced, as a policy measure, by the new government in the early 1930s. He vigorously tackled the challenges of the times, and guided the destiny of the firm to the success it reached in 1954. Part of the success was due to rationalisation, which meant closing the Sallybrook mills in Glanmire, thus manufacturing in one unit. In 1938, ten employees at Sallybrook were transferred to Dripsey when Sallybrook ceased production.
In the late 50s and early 60s, two of John’s sons were completing their training to step in at the top of the family concern. Both emerged with degrees from UCC, then pursued different courses aimed at a convex of unit control. Andrew went to Galashiels in Scotland for technical perfection, while John took up accountancy with top British firms. On assuming joint control as directors of the mills, the first fruits from the integrated work of the brothers was the most significant in the history of the mill; eight gold medals were won in 1965 and 1966 at the California State Fair and at the International Exhibition in Sacramento for furnishing fabrics from Dripsey that excelled competitive products from European and American exhibitors.
In addition, Dripsey products were at the top in quality exports to markets in Britain, France, Holland, Greece, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States as well as the home market.
Dripsey was a vertical mills, which means that the entire process of manufacture from the raw material to the finished product is executed in a rotary series of wool sorting, scouring, dyeing, blending, carding, spinning and weaving. The range of products included the new woolmark, Kilkenny-designed bedspreads, woolmark cellular blankets and furnishing fabrics that adorned the walls of hotels and reception rooms of State subsidiary bodies in Ireland and in their premises overseas. There was also a breakthrough in a range of colour schemes that placed Dripsey in the top bracket of manufacturing, and more than anything else accounts for the boom the factory enjoyed in those days of recession in the textile trade.
The Model Village
An area north-east of the mills was virgin land in 1910 when it was selected as one of the centres where the County Council planned to build one of their group house schemes, then programmed as model villages. The work started on an August morning in 1912 when materials were unloaded from the Muskerry Tram at North Kilmurry Station. Within 16 weeks the 16 houses of the new Model Village of Dripsey were completed.
By 1972, the village had grown to 60 houses, of which 95 per cent were residences of employees of the mills and there were plans to build further.