Building of the Hat Factory, Castlebar in Co. Mayo

This is the story of the Hat factory and its chimney

The Checho-Slovakian people built the factory in the town of Castlebar (1939). The factory gave employment to 200-270 people over the years. The Checho-Slovakian people were mainly Jewish. During the Second World War they had to turn to Ireland for refuge.

This was not easy for them to move to the West of Ireland. We have learned from history that almost everything was for sale. Irish passports were also "for sale" in the 1930's. Money and gold were valuable assets. The Checho-Slovakian Jews were not made welcome just because they were nice people or that they were victims of an evil man called Hitler. They were made welcome and "assessed" on what they had to offer. The end result was that a number of families moved into Castlebar. One section was known as "Little Jerusalem" to the natives. Today it is called "Blackfort". Neighbours and employees spoke of the Jewish people with regard.

The Jews were hard working fair people but very ridged with their rules. They built a fine factory for its time. The original plan was for double the size, but the Second World War broke out. It was built to its present size as a result of cut-backs. According to the original plans it should have had two wings on either side, but it was only built with one wing on each side.

The chimney was the first chimney built on the metric system. The overall design made maximum use of daylight and saved electricity. Everything ran on natural sources: turf, water, steam and daylight. The Green Party of today would have been very happy. This was the first building of its kind to use natural resources. The Jewish people had a great factory, producing high quality hats, on the strength of turf, steam and water. Most of the raw materials came from the outskirts of the town. Lough Lannagh was the source of water and the factory had its own pump house. The town was surrounded by turf.

Below the factory chimney were four large boilers. Two of them underground. Their sizes were 40to50 feet long and 10to12 feet wide. They originally came out of a scrapped merchant ship or scrapped war ship from the First World War.

The factory had many tunnels and underground passageways. It could easily be turned into a massive nuclear underground shelter. The walls were a few feet thick reinforced steel concrete. Out of this very large bunker style structure the chimney was risen. It was a red brick chimney 300-350 feet high. It looked like a finger pointing into the heavens. One of the bricks had carvings in it. The initials of the builders and the year 1940 were scratched on set brick. This brick had its place for many years about 35 feet above the ground as part of the chimney.

This chimney towered high over this prosperous building. It was a landmark for Castlebar and its surroundings from the 1940's to the 1980's. The number of people who either themselves or relatives worked in the Hat Factory is almost akin to the numbers allegedly in the GPO in 1916. It certainly was an important building and industry for Castlebar.

Article by Ernie Sweeney

Articles on the Castlebar Hat Factory