Hat Factory, a Nostalgic Look Back, Castlebar in Co. Mayo

The factory took six months to build. This was a tremendous achievement in the late thirties. It was the first building of its kind west of the Shannon. The builders used cement blocks and across the road there were two houses also built in the same way. The chimney stack was one hundred feet high and this alone took eight weeks to build. The entire factory was worked by steam power.

Originally the factory would be double its present size, but the start of World War Two meant that building materials were scarce and very expensive. The building was divided in several sections. "I joined the staff of Western Hats in 1964 and at that time the factory was in full production and it was going well", according to Ernie. All the different departments were set up and he started to describe the factory .

He started with the wool Store. The wool was transported in huge bales weighing 500 cwt. Pat Walsh (from the Three Bridges) and Paddy McEveney (Snugboro) worked in the wool store. They were two great characters, full of fun and wit.

Down to the Carvinising room, Paddy Gilligan was then in charge. Many others worked there as well such as Breege Feeney, Kate Walsh and Gertie Quinn (Snugboro).

From there you could move to the Hardening Section. Andy Leonard was in charge there. Andy was a very dedicated and conscientious worker. In this section Bridie O'Shaughnessy worked, who was a lovely lady.

As you moved further down the line you would find the acid tank and spinning machines. Jody Moylette and Frank Quinn worked there along with Tom Jennings (Moneen), he was another great character. Tom and Frank both looked after the hoods, along with Frank Quinn from Springfield. Pa Fallon was a superb worker and a great all-round man. From there you could get to the dye-house where Arthur Campbell, George Darker and Eddie Sweeney dyed the hoods all the colours of the rainbow.

In the Engineering Department were Paddy Beirne and Jimmy Flynn. They were great men of many talents. Over to the carpenters section where Michael Leonard was in charge. Jack Flanagan was the electrician and no task was too great for the genial Jack.

Next, we go to the boiler-room managed by thethe legendary Chas Guthrie. The two boilers came from some battleship scrapped after the First World War."I was there when Chas Guthrie blew the steam whistle for the last time, it was a nostalgic moment", Ernie remarked.

There was a part of the factory for cleaning hoods manned byDermot Lally and Peter Griffin. Pat Carney helped with the "blocking" of the hats. "He was a great man for giving me good sound advice. Sean Murphy (Ballyglass) was an all-round man and looked after the cuts and bruises", Ernie says. There was John Moylette (Three Bridges, Islandeady) and Tom Ketterick. Tom kept his section of the plant working like clockwork and he kept us all on our toes.

In charge of the spinning and preparing of the hoods were Jack Kinsella, Sean Mc.Donagh (Derrycoosh), and Tom Bourke (Aughadrina).

Among those at the finishing department were Mary Boland, Frankie Ralph, Marian Salmon, Bridie Mc.Gowan, Nellie Philbin and many others. They are now scattered around the world. Michael Hynes was the 'Perry Como' of Western Hats and he was the star turn at all functions. Pat Flanagan was in charge of the berets. He was very keen golfer in his spare time. Peggy Keane and Mrs.Tigue (Lavelle) did put the finishing touches to the hats.

After that the hats were send to dispatches where Denis Sloyan and Tom Burke did the packing.

The cap department started in 1967 with Ken Mc.Loughlin in charge. Other people in this section were Mary Loftus, Kathleen Murray, Maisy Murray, Mary Duffy, Teresa Corley, Michael Walsh, Jackie Loftus, Peter Rice, Ena Moylette, Chrissie Griffin and Bridie Kinsella.

The office staff was made up of Walter Porges, Dermot O'Dwyer, Frank Brennan, Maura Ryan and Brian Hoban Sr. There were many other people working in Western Hats. Ernie says" Many were before my time and many I have forgotten their names. But two names I can not leave out are Willie Deane and Mike Ainsworth. Willie had a splendid voice and he was one of nature's gentlemen.

Mike Ainsworth looked after the Clock-in cards and was a gentleman with great understanding. The Hat Factory was in existence for 45 years. It methods of production changed over the years. The Hat Factory also had many ups and downs, but the people who worked there were part of a memorable era. They look back on it with pride and nostalgia.

With thanks to Ernie Sweeney

Articles on the Castlebar Hat Factory