Industrial Revolution Remembered in Portlaw
The Malcomsons, Quaker industrialists who founded Portlaw around two hundred years ago...
The Malcomsons, Quaker industrialists who founded Portlaw around two hundred years ago were remembered by nearly 100 of their descendents who came from all over Ireland, from Britain, and from North America to a reunion in County Waterford this month.
Based at the family's former summer house in Dunmore East, The Haven Hotel (once called Villa Marina), the group heard two contrasting accounts of their ancestors' enterprises in the County. Both speakers, Bill Irish and Tom Hunt, agreed in describing the sheer scale and range of the Malcomson enterprises that embraced shipbuilding, turf charcoal production, land reclamation from the sea; salmon weirs, railways, shipping lines to Russia and to the Americas; corn milling; coalmining in Germany and-most importantly for Portlaw-state-of-the-art mechanised cotton manufacture. In County Waterford they found a workforce new to the industry and so were able to escape from the industrial troubles of Northern England where mechanisation was being resisted. At
Portlaw they created a purpose-built town which later had its own money system and stores-apparently run at low profit for the benefit of the workforce that peaked at 1800 in 1856. Portlaw's total population numbered over 4,351 in 1851, not too long after the famine which had devastated so many non-industrialised parts of the country. The two speakers did not agree on the reasons for the decline of the Malcomsons' multinational empire in the 1870's, separately citing family disagreements and over ambition on the one hand and problems in global economics on the other.
The group was welcomed to Portlaw by the County Mayor Councillor Ger Barron; by the County Manager, Ray O'Dwyer and by the Portlaw Pipe Band. The Portlaw Heritage Group had assembled an exhibition in the Community Centre with nearly 100 photographs and documentsof the town's people and history. There were also some interesting heritage objects including an irreplaceable book of Malcomson Brothers' cotton cloth samples, made in the 1870s.
A tour of the town and of the old industrial site, conducted by local historian and collector, Willie Power, was also appreciated by the visitors. A sign giving the Square's new name was unveiled by some of the youngest descendents; it is to be known in future as Cearnóg Malcomson, Malcomson Square.