Curragh Tintawn Carpets from Sisal to Wool / Weaving to Tufting
Carpet manufacturing commenced in Newbridge when Irish Ropes Ltd., established by Eric Rigby-Jones in 1933, set up a carpet weaving operation in 1937. The traditional method of carpet manufacture until the late 1950’s was weaving, and Curragh manufactured carpet on Wilton & Flatbed looms. Example of Curragh’s Bouclé 100% Sisal Carpet from 1960’s, with Shuttle. (Photo:Déaglán de Paor) In the early days of carpet production in Newbridge, carpet was manufactured from a natural fibre called sisal which was mainly sourced from the African state of Tanzania. At this time most of the ropes and twine produced in the Irish Ropes factory were also made from sisal. The sisal was imported in its raw form in large 250 Kg bales, and once received in Newbridge it was cleaned, carded, spun, twisted, and dyed in the ‘Ropes factory. Some of this sisal was also manufactured into carpet yarn, and subsequently woven into intricate designs on looms by skilled craftsmen from Newbridge and the surrounding areas.
The “Tintawn” Brand name will be forever associated with the quality woven sisal carpets manufactured during this period to the mid 1970’s. These carpets were exported worldwide, and in the early years their journey to far-flung parts of the world started in Newbridge Railway Station (which only closed to freight in 1976). Many well-known designers were involved in the design of carpets manufactured in Newbridge over the years– among them were Louis Le Brocquay, Margaret Leischner, Joan Bergin & Eileen Ellis.
In the mid 1960’s what was then known as the Irish Ropes “carpet division” built a new production plant in the town centre and in 1969 commenced purchasing (then) newly invented carpet manufacturing machinery called Tufting Machines. Coinciding with these technological developments in manufacturing processes, new carpet yarn fibres were also being developed. Thus began the move from sisal as a raw material to wool, wool blends (mixtures of wool with man-made fibres such as nylon, acrylic, polyester) and polypropylene. Curragh Carpets Ltd., was formed as a company within the Irish Ropes Group in March 1970, and soon began its expansion by manufacturing carpets from pure new wool and synthetic materials bearing such well-known brand names as Tintawn, Cushlawn, The Irish Collection, Softcord and Curragh carpets.
The company ceased weaving in 2005 to concentrate on their tufted production. However, some of the looms previously used in Newbridge continue to be used in the manufacture of carpets in Axminster Carpets. In 1994 Curragh Carpets was purchased by Axminster Carpets Ltd. a company also founded in 1937 and based in Devon, England. In order to further expand production capabilities, and having “out grown” the town centre factory (originally built in the 1960’s), in 2006 the Company moved its manufacturing operation to a new 2 hectare green field site, where they operate from a purpose built premises of approximately 8,300 M² on the Green Road at the edge of the Curragh.
For over seventy five years Curragh Carpets has built its name and reputation on the quality of its Guaranteed Irish products, and the company continues to produce for the Irish and export market. Wool and wool blend yarns are the preferred raw material used to this day and continuing their tradition of innovation they are now manufacturing Carbon Neutral Wool-rich carpeting. Déaglán de Paor (C) 2012.
Irish Ropes was established in 1933 by Eric Rigby Jones. Leasing the disused military barracks from the Board of Works, the factory started to make ropes and twine, using imported sisal, for a home market that was strongly protected by tariffs. In 1937 the range of products expanded with the manufacturing of floor covering by a carpet weaving process.
During the Second World War, 1939-45, the company remained profitable during the Emergency because it was able to supply an active agricultural market with binder twine. In 1946, the company embarked on an export drive and raised the necessary funds through the Industrial Credit Company. At this stage it was employing 300, including 40 female staff. By 1953 this had increased to 400, and was exporting to 24 countries, despite the impact of the Korean War on the price of raw materials. By 1958, the company employed 500, and was exporting more than half its output, again at a time when the Suez Crisis, 1956, impacted on the price of raw materials worldwide. In the early 1960s further expansion was made in the manufacturing of woven carpets, in synthetics and wool. This increased the work force to 900 by 1965.
The current manufacturing process of tufting began in 1969. The company expected a shortage of labour to limit any further expansion. But the population of Newbridge grew in the late 1960s. They also needed more land to expand, and even considered moving if none could be acquired nearby. The Council machinery yard was made available, and some privately –owned land was also bought. In 1966, Irish Ropes started to make polypropylene, an oil by-product that was used to make a synthetic yarn for carpets. By 1969 the workforce peaked at 1,035. The Middle East Oil Crisis of 1973 affected markets worldwide. By 1975 the workforce had dropped back to 730. Since then it has been gradually reduced.
Newbridge Cutlery was established in 1935 in part of the old military barracks in the centre of the town. The factory was originally intended for Tralee, but the good offices of William Norton, leader of the Labour Party at the time, helped secure it for Newbridge. Money from the Industrial Credit Company, some £40,000, helped to finance its start up. The plan was to manufacture silver-plated knives and forks for the home market.
Some local people took shares in the venture, and experts were brought in from Sheffield in England to train the local labour force. Mr J. W. Haigh was appointed managing director and he came over from Sheffield with six men skilled in the craft of cutlery making to train local workers here. One of these men, William Gamble, would stay on and settle in Newbridge. Ten former barracks houses were assigned by the Town Commissioners as living quarters for key members of the work force.
By 1939, the factory was working to capacity and had cornered the major share of the Irish market. During World War II, 1939-45, when imported raw materials were impossible to procure, the factory was able to acquire Irish-based materials to keep the factory going.
After the War, a work force of 350 kept the company competitive, and in 1947 it took a 25% share in Sandersons (Newbridge) Ltd, a factory nearby that made saws and files from imported steel for the home market. Because Newbridge Cutlery was a Public Company, it used its increased share capital to purchase a cutlery factory in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, as well as other investments in England. It became known as Newbridge Holdings. In the mid-1950s the factory began to make its own cutlery blanks instead of importing them. In the 1960s they expanded into making hollow-ware (hollow articles of metal like pots, kettles, etc). But the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement (1965) and the immanence of EEC membership (we joined in 1973) affected the company’s future.
In 1971 Newbridge Holdings decided to cease manufacturing in Newbridge, and it was sold to a group of local businessmen. J.H. Hayes, Dominic Doyle, Joe McLoughlin, Richard (Dickie) White, Donal O’Rourke and Alan Rountree (who came as Production Manager in 1972) made up the new Board of Directors.
An article in New Link (May 1974) summarised what the working environment in the factory was like. In the Blanking Dept., where strips of stainless steel or nickel were blanked into whatever shape or pattern was required, Jim Mahoney was the foreman (and also in the Blade Forging Shop) and was ably helped by Paddy Mockler. Mervyn Molyneaux was in charge of the Spoon and Fork Dept. Jimmy Coffey was the foreman in the Grinding Dept. Richard White worked in the Assembly Dept., and John Murray ran the Finishing Dept. where all spoon, fork and hollow-ware products were polished. Tommy Slattery supervised stainless steel items in the Warehouse and Dispatch Dept.
Nickel silver pieces were sent to the Plating Dept. where they were lowered on trays into huge vats of Plating solutions, where they were left for a time until the required thickness of silver had built up. Noel Boylan looked after the Electro-Plating. John Martin was the Maintenance Foreman, looking after the repairing of machinery. William Kett and Andy Thorpe worked in the Repair Dept., while in the Dispatch Dept. Tom Connors and Bernie Harrigan made sure the orders were sent out all over the world. Mary Hayes looked after the Sales dept. Bernard Martin, from Pairc Muire, summed up the work atmosphere in Newbridge Cutlery: most of us have been together here for many years. We all know each other. We joke and have a laugh among ourselves and no one ever takes offence. We are all workers in this factory. There is nobody here walking around dressed up giving orders.