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ATHY - Asbestos Factory - Official Opening 1937

Leinster Leader 05/06/1937





Athy was en fete on Monday when one of the most important of the new Irish manufactories-Asbestos-Cement, was officially opened by Mr. Sean Lemass, Minister for Industry and Commerce.
On his arrival in the town Mr. Lemass was presented with an address of welcome by the members of the Urban District Council, a guard of honour of Civic Guards under Superintendent Bergin, being drawn up at the entrance to the Town Hall.  On arrival at the factory the Minister passed between lines of workmen on his way and was welcomed by the Chairman and members of the board of directors, and, after being shown through the premises he formally started the machinery, and was presented by Mr. Osterberg with a solid silver paper weight bearing the monogram of the firm.  The premises were blessed by the Very Rev. P. Canon McDonnell, P.P., Athy.
The Asbestos Cement Factory is one of the most important of our Irish industries, its establishment a vital step towards the fulfilment of the country’s programme of industrialism.
Situated by the side of the Grand Canal, and convenient to road and rail, the Athy factory occupies an area of 50,000 square feet. It is built on a 12-acre field and constructed with a view to extension as and when the demand grows.  It is roofed with asbestos cement corrugated roofing and the outer walls are covered with asbestos cement sheeting.  The garage is roofed with material manufactured on the premises.
The factory has been producing for about three weeks.  Seventy-five men are employed on three eight-hour shifts.  Construction work is not yet completed.
The factory is at present manufacturing asbestos cement corrugated sheeting and corrugated roofing, asbestos cement slating etc.  Already demands for supplies have been received from all over the country.  One of its first big under-takings is to supply asbestos cement products to the two large Irish Cement Factories under construction at Drogheda and Limerick.
Athy factory will shortly produce rain water goods.  When working at full capacity it is anticipated the factory will employ over 150 people.
The capital of the company will be £100,000.  Already £60,000 has been spent on the factory, and machinery costing over £30,000 installed.
There are five Directors of the Company.  Mr. M. P. Minch, Rockfield House, Athy, is the Chairman, and Mr. H. Osterberg, Managing Director.  The other Directors are: - Mr. F. G. Thompson, Carlow; Mr. M. F. Parkhill, Dublin; and Mr. N. Max. Jensen.  Mr. Jensen is Chairman of Tunnel Cement Co. and Chairman of Irish Cement Ltd.  He is a Director of 14 of the largest companies in Britain and Ireland.  Mr. Osterberg is Managing Director of Irish Cement, Ltd., and Mr. Parkhill is Managing Director of Messrs. Charles Tennant and Co., Dublin.

The selection of Athy as the centre for the asbestos cement factory was due to joint efforts of Mr. M. P. Minch and his brother, Mr. S. B. Minch, T.D. Were it not for them the factory would have been established elsewhere. Many towns in the Free State sought this important industry, and in two centres (one not far from Athy) a free site and an undertaking that the factory would not be charged rates for three years were offered as an inducement. Once again the people of Athy are indebted to the Minch family. The manager of the factory is Mr. W. E. Cornish, a shrewd, energetice Welshman, who is thoroughly familiar with the manufacture of asbestos cement goods. Mr. Cornish was employed by the Tunnel Asbestos Cement prior to his appointment at Athy factory.
The raw asbestos, coming from many parts of the world is disintegrated and the fibres of which it is composed broken up into fluffy pulp. After measuring the pulp is mixed with cement and water, and during the continual stirring kept in a state of suspension until poured in semi-liquid form on an unending band of felt. In due course several layers of the mixture form a thick blanket-like whole. The moisture in this blanket is then sucked out by vacuum, and the blanket itself is pressed into flat sheets, corrugated sheets and slates. These are hardened in special hardening chambers cut to requisite sizes, and then stored ready for marketing.

The Minister’s Congratulations
Mr. Lemass, addressing a crowd of bout 500 people from the factory steps after formally opening the factory, said the formal opening of this concern was not merely a matter of congratulation for its shareholders and directors and those directly employed in it, but for every man and woman of all sections of the people, for everybody will benefit by the promotion of this industry.
Wishing the project every success, Mr. Lemass assured its promoters that anything that can be done by the officers of the Department for Industry and Commerce to foster its growth, to increase the possibility of employment in it, or to help in any way to realise the ambition of those who founded it, will be only too gladly done. “On your behalf, citizens of Athy,” concluded the Minister, “on behalf of the citizens of this country, I wish to congratulate those who planned, financed and made possible this enterprise, and express the hope that you will never have reason to regret the part they took in establishing it, and again I congratulate those responsible for having this factory started in Athy”  (applause).

The Luncheon
At the luncheon, which was given afterwards in the factory, Mr. M. Minch, Chairman of the Company, presided.
Mr. M. Jensen, proposing the toast of Irish Industries, thanked the Minister for opening the factory, which, he said, formed another link in the general industrial policy of the Government. He hoped that the industry would benefit not only those engaged in the concern, but the country as a whole.  Commenting on the necessity to import the raw materials he said he had been told that asbestos had recently been found in Ireland, but they would have to wait until it had been found in large quantities.  It would be only a matter of months until the new cement factories were in operation, and then very little money would be spent outside Ireland in the production of their goods.  That was the real test of an industry from a national viewpoint, for, after all, it was not so much a question of whether an article cost a little more or a little less if all the money spent on its production was spent on labour in the country.  At the present time Ireland was used as a dumping ground for some Continential markets, and goods were sometimes sold here at a price considerably lower than the price obtaining in markets abroad.  That was, of course, a position of instability, because there was nothing to stop foreign manufacturers from getting together and increasing their prices at any time, as, indeed had been done in some industries recently.

Irish Labour.
One difficulty they expected to be up against was the fact that some people thought so little of their own country that they refused to believe that an Irish-made article could be as good as an imported one.  The firm hoped to be able to convince such people that the articles they were producing in the new factory by almost one hundred per cent. Irish labour and mainly by Irish capital, were as good as those which had hitherto to be imported.  The industrial policy of the Government was criticised by people who said it was wrong.  He wondered if such people really thought that Ireland would be a happier country if it remained largely agricultural.  Denmark, of which he was a native, had been exclusively agricultural up to the time it lost a considerable slice of territory during an unfortunate war.  Now it was succeeding with a policy of agriculture side by side with industrial development.  In Denmark they had found it increasingly difficult to get an outside market for their agricultural products owing to the policy of self-sufficiency pursued by other nations.
Replying, Mr. Lemass said-That a remarkable feature of recent developments was the very large amount of money available for industries. That, he said, was an indication not only of the considerable resources at the disposal of the people, but of a new outlook that had grown up among them. Irish industry was no longer promoted as a matter of sentiment, people did not invest their money from patriotic motives and the nation did not want them to do so.

Good Investments
The industry in which money was invested from patriotic motives alone did not       last long. They wanted Irish investors to invest in Irish industrial enterprises because of the prospect of getting a return on their investment, and they wanted those responsible for the conduct of Irish industries to carry them on as business concerns, with the obligation of giving good value to their customers and at the same time securing a return on the money invested to the satisfaction of the shareholders. That was the position to which they now had attained, and in these circumstances the future of industrial development, even though there was a wide field to be covered, could be looked to with every confidence, and progress would be even more rapid than hitherto. That factory, he said, bore the seeds of future expansion for it contributed to much wider plans than those entertained by the directors and shareholders. The Government realised that its success was going to spread itself in many other quarters.

The County Kildare had benefited to no inconsiderable extent from the industrial development which had taken place, and that was largely due to the fact that it had the good fortune to be represented in the Dail by three deputies who, regardless of differences on other matters, worked together to promote anything which would be of benefit to County Kildare. The cordiality and co-operation which existed between them was a very hopeful sign for the future of the county, and they had set a headline which might be followed by other counties.
Very considerable industrial development had been witnessed for some years past, but considerable as it had been it was only part of the work that was possible if all their industrial potentialities were to be used to the fullest extent. The fact that not one-half their industrial programme-commenced a few years ago-had yet been completed, and that existing imports necessitated the establishment of as many industrial concerns as had already been begun, was an indication of the scope there still was for the promotion of employment and the increasing of the resources of the nation so that the Government would have at its disposal the means of fulfilling its social obligations in full.

Easier in Future
In the future industrial development was going to be much easier to accomplish than it had been, because of the great change that had taken place in the outlook of the people in the matter of industrialisation. A short while ago it was difficult to get people to invest their savings in Irish industrial concerns, and there was in the great mass of the people at that time a considerable uneasiness as to the future prospects of Irish industry, a lack of confidence in the ability of the Irish industrialists to make good. All that was changed. Nowadays there was no difficulty in getting any money required to finance a sound industrial proposition. “Our people now have unlimited confidence in Irish industrialists and their ability to make good.”
“If” the Minister said, “Irish industrialists fulfil honourably and honestly their obligations to the Irish people, and particularly to those required by law to purchase their products they will retain the goodwill of the Irish people, which they now enjoy. I am quite certain that, so far as the great majority of them is concerned, they are sincerely and honestly desirous of doing their duty honestly and fairly to the public. Here and there there may be individuals with a desire to get rich quickly and make hay while the sun shines but the number of such people is small, and it will be possible to deal with them by other means, although their presence may do some damage to the reputation of Irish industrialists generally, but I think the average individual, if he is prejudiced at all, is prejudiced in favour of Irish industrialists, and is anxious to judge fairly, having due regard to all the difficulties of the time, and will agree that, on the whole, the industrialists of this country have done a good job in circumstances which necessitated their doing that job quickly and doing it under difficulties which might have intimidated less enterprising persons.”

Quicker Progress
The progress made had been such as to inspire them with the belief that it would continue at an accelerated pace until every industrial possibility had been examined and the resources of the country developed to the fullest extent. It was only on the basis of developing those resources and supplementing their agricultural activities with industrial activities they would be able to put themselves in a position to secure a balanced economy so that they could protect the people against poverty and destitution, secure a higher standard of living, and make possible the restoration of the profits of the farmers, and all other sections of the community (applause).
Mr. F.G. Thompson, Carlow, proposed the toast of “The Guests,” which was responded to by Mr. Manning Robertson who dealt with the products of the factory from an aesthetic point of view, and said that as roofing material they would harmonise perfectly with the Irish landscape. From a practical view they overcame the problem of condensation with which architects and builders were, unfortunately, too familiar.

Irish Materials
Mr. H. T. O’Rourke said that some years ago 93 per cent, of building materials used here was of foreign manufacture. He foresaw the day when one third of that amount would be imported. It was within the power of architects, private and official, to promote the use of Irish materials. Builders and manufacturers should advertise their products more in the Press and by doing so push their goods under the notice of the public.

The Press
Mr. S. B. Minch, T.D., proposing the Toast, “The Press,” said-“I thought the ‘Press Gang’ had ceased to function, even in Great Britain and the Continent 150 years ago. I did not know the Press Gang existed in an inland town like Athy in May of 1937. I would like to propose “The Press” in many ways. One can propose “The Press” as one of the great industries here in the Free State; one could propose “The Press” in its many features; one could propose “The Press” as the great bulwark in our democratic fights; one can propose “The Press” in its enlightenment, its great salesmanship, and in hundreds of ways in which we, in this country, are grateful to them to have a press that relives the drabness of our rural life with its news and many other features. But I would like, if I may say so, in proposing this toast, to remark that I think the times has arrived where our little Irish financial critics might refer a little more to Irish industries, and not all British industries and other financial news. By degrees in the Free State industries have been set up in which the public have a great interest, and I think we can give that little criticism here that the Press should give us financial criticisms or other criticisms which they do in reference to industries outside this country. In proposing “The Press,” I wish to propose it as a great industry which gives tremendous employment, and we welcome the Press here not only in their professional capacity but as full industrialists doing a wonderful amount of good in many ways. We would like, therefore, in proposing the health of the Press, to emphasise the one thing which those of us who meet the Press so often know, namely, the great honour that exists in their profession and in their great industry and also to compliment them on the part they have plated as the Press in helping the industrial revival in our country. They have played a great and important part. There is no industry which can afford to fail to utilise that magnificent access which goes to the consumer of every type of goods and to every class and every creed. The Press, therefore, can be toasted both as a great industry and as a great way, not only of creating industry but by making industry a success by the selling and helping of the salesmanship of their goods.” (applause).
Mr. R.J. Donaghy, Manager, “Leinster Leader,” acknowledging, said the Press appreciated very much the toast in their honour. There was no doubt that the Press represented a very important industry in this country, and every other industry had the deepest sympathy of the publicists. “I feel sure,” continued Mr. Donaghy, “that if the point raised by Capt. Minch in regard to financial quotations is brought to the proper quarter it will receive every consideration. The Press are out to help the people; they are out to give a lead to the people. Representing a paper belonging to the county, may I say I welcome this industry in Athy to-day, and as far as the Press is concerned, we wish it every success.

The Chairman
Mr. W. Mahon, Acting Chairman of Athy Urban District Council, proposing a toast of thanks to the Chairman, Mr. M.P. Minch, said that for generations the Minch family have been associated with the industrial and other phases of the life of Athy and South Kildare. The courtesy and confidence which they won in those years have been retained by the present representatives of the family. When this factory was first mooted in Athy, Athy having been so often disappointed in the past over the establishment of industries, was rather chary about this one, but when the name of Minch was mentioned it was received solemnly and earnestly and that gave it an atmosphere of soundness and stability. He could promise the industry the co-operation and help of the working people of Athy under the guidance of Mr. Minch, and hoped in the near future they would have another factory with the name of Minch at its head and the Minister for Industry and Commerce to come down and open it.
Mr. M. P. Minch, returning thanks, said when the establishment of an asbestos cement factory in Ireland was decided upon Athy was only one of the many pebbles on the beach. He and his brother, Mr. S. B. Minch, T.D., assured those promoting the project that if the factory was started in Athy the workers here would always give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages.
Subsequently Mr. M. F. Parkhill praised the work of the contractor, Mr. F. G. Thompson, who, he said found many obstacles in his way on the site, but surmounted them and built a factory of which they were all proud.
Amongst those present were-The Minister for Industry and Commerce: Messrs L. O’Brien, Secretary to the Minister; M. P. Minch, Chairman of the Company; N. Max Jensen, Director; H. A. V. Osterberg, Managing Director; F. G. Thompson, Director; M. F. Parkhill, Director; W. J. Hickey, Cork, Director of Cement, Ltd.; C. M. O’Kelly, Dublin, Director of Cement Ltd.; E. F. Barry, Cork, R. N. Keller, solr., Dublin; J. F. Harris, A.C.A. Secretary, Dublin; J. G. Mc Auley, Sales Manager, Dublin; G. Minch, W. E. Cornish, Works Manager; H. G. Donnelly, solr, Athy; D. Gogarty, M.R:I.A.I, Dublin; B. Olsen, do; Capt. S. B. Minch, T.D.; Dr. J. O’Neill, Athy; Messrs R. J. Donaghy, Manager, “Leinster Leader”; William Mahon, Acting Chairman, Athy U.D.C.; James Lawler, Town Clerk, Athy; Very Rev. Patrick Mc Donnell, P.P. V.F., Athy; Very Rev. P. Gorry, P.P. Monasterevan; Messrs. T. C. Courtney, M.F. Local Government Department; Stephen J. Healy Vice-Chairman, Saorstat Eireann Building.

In anticipation of the newly commissioned inventory of Industrial Heritage of Co. Kildare as part of the ongoing work of the Co. Kildare Heritage Plan we will include some notable 'industrial' references on the EHistory site. The Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, Local History Groups and interested individuals with information on the more unique aspects of the industrial heritage of the County should contact the Local Studies Dept. of the Co. Library or the County Heritage Officer.

While there is a wealth of information on the Canals and more modern industries there were many more minor or transitory industries within the County of which there is little or no information. We would be particularly interested in peculiarly 'LOCAL' industries and any information would be appreciated. Any information supplied can be added to this site under the newly created category 'Industrial Heritage' and full credit will be given to the individuals or groups that suppy information. Thank you.

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