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Trouble at the Mill


Brennans' Mill which stood on the site now occupied by"Clann" (formerly Clúid).

In the following account from Bennett's History of Bandon (chap. 25) we read of the decline in the woolen trade and it's dramatic effect on our town. Interesting to note that some thirty years before the massive emigration caused by the " Great Hunger", that the population of Bandon was, (according to Bennett) greatly reduced as thousands sailed for foreign parts, most of whom would never return.


" Trouble at t'mill"


1810- This year, the woollen trade, which had been reeling

for some time under the effects of repeated strikes, at length fell down altogether. For years before, the workmen had entered into trade combinations, and used to meet regularly in a large field to the south-west of Messrs. Fitzgerald's distillery, where everyone who could invent a grievance or picture and injury was eagerly listened to; but the palm of patriotism was reserved for whom who could force up wages to the last endurable degree, so that the artisans divided all the profits between them, and left the manufacturer nothing to reserve for a protested bill, an up rise in the raw material, or any of the other contingencies to which trade is liable.

At first, the masters strove hard against all this; but what could they do? Then they became irritable, sulky, and finally indifferent. Whilst the trade was thus dragging along with just sufficient life in its paralyzed limbs to keep moving, a very large order had been received by Thomas Biggs, best known as "Governor Biggs." The weavers heard of the order. They called a special meeting, and they struck, of course. Mr. Biggs was a sensible, practical man, and one greatly interested in the prosperity of his native town; and, fearing matters might terminate badly, he sent for the workmen, and, producing the contract, showed them the impossibility of being able to increase their wages by an additional farthing. He also drew their attention to a clause in the agreement, liberating him from the fulfilment of his obligations in case of a strike. But it did not avail. They should have what they demanded. "Well," said he, "there are the carts still laden with the balls of thread which they have brought out from Cork, and there they shall remain until Monday morning. Meanwhile, turn the matter well over in your minds; for, by that time, I must have your final decision." In the interim, he called the manufacturers together; and they, after a short consultation, decided on closing their establishments if the weavers persevered. The trade was to them un-remunerative; they were sick of it; and they did not regret that matters had now come to an issue.

On Monday morning, the workman came, and brought with them the old story-they should get the required advance. The "governor" was a very determined man. He ordered the horses to be put to; crack went the whips; away rolled the carts, and with them departed, we fear, for ever the once staple article of our old trade, and the basis of our commercial prosperity for over two hundred years. A deputation called on him that evening to say they would reconsider their decision; but he told them it was too late. They came again next morning and said they would work for the old wages. Again, they came, and they offered to take twenty-five per cent off these. Before one o'clock they had resolved to sacrifice another large slice. But it was too late. A day of apprehension and of what slowly trailed its weary hours over them. Early on the morrow of the next day they came” Give us what you like," they said; "but, eh! save us from starving!" It was too late. The fact was, Mr. Briggs had thrown up the contract by the Monday's post, and, even if desirous of recalling it, it was now impossible. It was too late.

Then commenced an exodus, the like of which, considering the extent of our population, we have scarce seen paralleled even in history, and which has left us, after an interval of fifty years, with not one-half the number of inhabitants the town contained in this year. Family circles-indeed, we are told, entire communities-fled to Manchester, Leeds, London, and event to Paris. Crowds crossed the broad Atlantic; and many passed away to unknown lands and have not left even a trace of their whereabouts. Those that could not make away were employed on the relief-works; many of the hilly roads in our neighbourhood being then cut down, as Barrett's Hill, Lovell's Hill, &c. Lodgings were unlet; houses were unoccupied; whole streets were deserted; and many and many a green meadow, now roamed over by an "Ayrshire" or a "Durham," was then the site of a clean, orderly row of white cottages; and the solemn stillness of the country now reigns where the unvarying click-clack of the shuttle and the weaver's merry song once held undisputed sway.

Several spirited attempts were subsequently made by Messrs. George Allman, Richard Wheeler, and James Scott, to introduce the cotton trade. The first-named gentleman erected extensive concerns for that purpose, being one hundred and thirty-four feet in length, thirty-four in width, and fifty in height. They contained five floors, all underlaid with sheet-iron. They also contained ten thousand spinning spindles, with all the necessary machinery for turning out three thousand pounds weight per week of manufactured cotton. We are unable to say whether it was owing to be carted inland, and, when manufactured, carted back again for shipment, or to what other cause; but certain it is, that this attempt soon languished and died out, and the large premises, after being idle for a number of years, were eventually hired out as an auxiliary workhouse.

The manufacture of corduroys was tried here, too and, with varying success, held its ground for a number of years; but, in the end, it, too, perished. The linen manufacture (principally tickings) continued here for about a century and a quarter; but it also sickened, and followed in the wake of the others, but not, however, without leaving some trace of its existence behind, and for which we are solely indebted to the perseverance of one individual, who, amongst the multifarious pursuits of an extensive commerce, has yet found leisure to keep alive a few lingering mementoes of the old Bandon loom

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