Denis Sheehan remembers his experiences at the Alcohol Factory Carndonagh

Alcohol Factory

In 1936 the Irish Department of Industry & Commerce created civil service jobs when they constructed five alcohol factories in Ireland, Saorstát Alcohol Factories (1935-1937). Two factories were located in Donegal at Carndonagh & Labbadish, and the three remaining were in Corry, Ballina (Mayo), Carrickmacross (Monaghan) and Cooley (Louth) In 1938 they became Monarcana Alcóil na h-Éireann Teoranta and then Ceimicí Teoranta in 1947 when they moved away from civil service to semi-state.  The factories head office was at Merrion Square in Dublin.

Sandra Brennan met recently with Denis Sheehan and got a very interesting first hand account of his experience working in the Carndonagh Alcohol Factory. Denis was one of many men that came to work in the Alcohol Factory in Carndonagh when it was operational. Denis was editor of the magazine ‘Impact’ of which there were six editions. We also got to meet, Violet, his wife of 64 years and found out that she herself had spent around 5 years working in its office, a happy five years she recalls! When you meet people like this the time truly does fly in as you are drawn into a mind capturing journey of interesting stories. This I have to say is the shorter version of this story and just one of many stories that could have been told!

Denis was born in Cork in 1925. After secondary school he attended Crawford Technical Institute. It was here that he gained his technical qualification in Marine Engineering. This qualification was recognised by the British Board of Trade and Denis had hoped to get a job with Irish Shipping, this was not to be and he found work at the Ford Motor Company.

Denis spotted an advertisement for the position of Distiller at the alcohol factories in a paper in Cork; he applied and was called for interview. He made the journey to Dublin for the interview with his friend who also had an interview.  Denis was never in Dublin before and he laughs as he recalls getting lost in Dublin the morning of his interview but he made it just in time! Dr. Van Der Lee offered him the position there and then, he accepted, and in 1947 he went to work in the Cooley alcohol factory. After a month in Cooley, he was told he was Carndonagh bound.

The journey to Carndonagh was made with a customs officer who was also assigned to the Carndonagh alcohol factory. He recalls the turn off at Quigleys Point to Carndonagh, the barrenness of the landscape with hardly any houses and the wonder of what was in store for him. all they had to go on was the name of Sean O’Leary, a Carlow man, to make contact with on his arrival in Carndonagh. Sean had been sent to Carndonagh to re-open the factory after it was closed during World War 2. That night they were taken to O’Doherty’s Hotel in the town to stay and after that they found different lodgings in houses around the town.

In 1948 Denis was moved to Carrickmacross and then on to Labbadish, and back to Carndonagh in 1954. Denis met his wife Violet when he was in Labbydish and they married in 1951. Violet is a Derry native and her father was from Manorcunningham.

Violet recollects, with a 2 wk old baby, how they were moved from Labbadish to Carndonagh and how hard this was with such a young baby and how difficult it was to find a place to stay in those days. When they were moved to Carndonagh in 1954 they knew they wanted to make roots in this area and also they wanted to remove the uncertainty of being relocated at any time. With this in his mind Denis worked to get a company loan to build a house. This was not common at this time but they were granted the loan. This housing loan brought great happiness as they knew they were secure in Carndonagh as their permanent base to work, live life and to raise their family.

Work at the Alcohol factory in Carndonagh was very hands on, it was a very happy place to work and employees got great job satisfaction. The factory operated 24 hrs a day. When it was in operation there were numerous nationalities that passed through on as students on exchange visits, from the Irish to the Swedish, German & Japanese to name but a few. At its peak there were approximately 30 people employed, jobs included Maltser, Assistant Mashers, Shift Managers, Still Attendants, Boiler Men, Boiler Men Assistants, Lorry Drivers, Yard Men, Office workers and the Custom & Excise Officers were on top of that. In 1986 Ceimicí Teoranta went in to voluntary liquidation and subsequently ceased operation, it came as a great shock to the employees and to the area.

When in full operation the Carndonagh Factory had two separate plants. Materials such as potatoes or molasses etc. required for the processes carried out in the factory were ordered by head office in Dublin, suppliers were required to bring an order number and delivery date document with them otherwise they were turned away.   At the start the factory produced methylated spirits; this product was used by oil companies for making their own products. Later on a separate plant was established in the factory to produce potable or neutral spirit that was supplied to large drinks companies who used this in the production of their products. Unlike the absolute spirit which went through a process of methylation to convert it into Power Methylated Spirits (PMS) before sale to oil companies the neutral spirit remained under revenue control.  With this constraint credit must be given to the management and staff of the Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway (L&LSR) who played their part along with H.M Customs in Northern Ireland to enable a bond to be obtained to facilitate neutral spirit to be transported through Northern Ireland to Dublin.  The processes carried out at the Carndonagh Factory were very scientific and needed complete accuracy with cleanliness crucial at all times. After the processes were completed and the goods produced the customs officer at the factory took control of them and their dispatch.

This couple have many interesting stories and it was a pleasure to hear their life journey, it is evident that they worked hard, complimented each other throughout life and built a solid family. I was amazed at their vivid memories and they told the story as if it was yesterday. Denis & Violet have 6 children 3, in England, 1 in Australia and 10 grandchildren.