Kells Archaeological & Historical Society
Paddy is native of
Kells and has lived in the town all his life, Has resided
at Oliver Plunkett Road since 1964. . Worked at
Paddy & Anne Sutton
This is Danny Cusack at
Paddy, thanks for talking to us today. Could you please tell me when you first started working at Tara Shoes?
PS: I started working at Tara Shoes in 1954. I was 16 going on 17 at the time. I had spent a year in a garage beforehand but the money was poor. The money was better in the shoe factory so I started in February in Tara Shoes and spent 19 years in it until the day it closed.
DC: Thats a big part of your working life 19 years
PS: Yes, it was certainly..
DC: So you were probably in your mid-thirties then ?
PS: Yes, I was.
DC: Could you tell us what kind of work you did during your spell there?
PS: My part of the job was to put the heel piece into the shoe that is the piece that keeps your shoe stiff at the back. It was actually called a stiffener. That was my part in the operation. There were two men before me, who did their portion of the job, then it moved onto me and I did my portion of the job. The shoes came on trolleys and I pushed what I had finished into the next man, then the operation continued on.
DC: Did you find his work particularly easy or difficult ?
PS: No, it was quite light work, nothing very heavy in the shoe factory.
DC: What hours did you work?
PS: At the start it was pretty long. We used to work from 8 to 6, then down through the years being newly managed theyd take half an hour off this year and a half hour off the next year so eventually we ere working an eight hour day.
DC: That leads into the question of wages and working conditions. Could you comment on them?
PS: The wages werent great but they were good for the time. When I started I was on 16s. Now again because it was unionised it was great. So every year I got an increase in my wages until I got up to the normal wage.
DC: Your fellow workers, do any particularly come to mind? Any impressions you had any incidents during your 19 years there?
PS: A lot of things but they dont come to mind. One thing that happened to every young boy starting in it, we were sent out we were situated near the train station we started as a young boy, we didnt know much. But the first thing they sent you for was for a bucket of steam to the railway station. Now in these times the station master would know all about this, so he would leave you standing on the station until the train came in and he would be over to you with a bucket with a lid on it and send you back to the shoe factory. So when you back to the shoe factory there was a big cheer because everyone knew that you had been set for a bucket o steam.
The other funny item with the young boys it didnt happen to the ladies youd be sent up to one of the shops in the town for the long wait. So youd be left waiting, so youd achieved a long wait. These are little items that every boy went through when he started in the shoe factory.
DC: So they were initiations of a kind
PS: Initiations, yes
DC: Knocking a bit of Craic out of the workers, a form of slagging
PS: Yes. When you got back you had to put up with the slagging. You knew that youd been had, so you could live with it.
DC: It came with the territory I suppose
PS: It came with territory.
DC: Your supervisor or immediate employer did you have any strong memories or impressions of him?
PS: My immediate supervisor in the room I worked in was a man called John Finnegan. Now, I knew him because everyone in the shoe factory knew everyone else because we were all Kells People. My father knew him. My father was in the shoe factory before me. John Finnegan was OK as a supervisor. He was fair but strict. You did your job, you did it well, you got praise for it and that was the end of it. If you made a mistake then you suffered the consequences. Youd get what for.
DC: And John Finnegan was a Kells man ?
PS: He was.
DC: I think there was a supervisor called Mick Daly there for many years before your time was he?
PS: No, Micky Daly was there too. John Finnegan was the supervisor, Micky Daly an assistant manger. We had supervisors in every room. In the mens room down the back you had Jimmy Morris, Paddy Murphy, and John Finnegan. You had Maureen Dunne in the ladies. They were all the ground supervisors. Then Micky Daly was the man above that. He was the man who decided what would be done today, what would be done tomorrow and all that kind of thing.
DC: Two brothers called the Pickups were actually the head boys were they there during your time?
When I went in they were just finishing up their time.
There were too Pickups from
DC: Its good to get an exact year because I didnt have one until now.
PS: Well, it was 29 January 1973. I remember it well because I was in the union at the time and had a lot to do with redundancies and stuff like that.
DC: So that date is etched indelibly in your memory for personal as well as work reasons. Well come to the union stuff a bit later. Would you say overall it was a good firm to work for?
PS: It was a decent firm to work for. Now there were ups and downs like things would be a bit slack and we might be on three days a week. But when you were on three days a week they would always give you your three days off say Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so you could sign Thursday and Friday and Saturday too that doesnt come into it nowadays. So we had three days signing and three days working. The other thing about it was that we had a scheme where we paid sixpence a week in. Everybody gave sixpence so you had a free doctor and a free dentist. That was very good, you know. Then every year we had our shoe factory dinner dance which was held in the local Vincent de Paul Hall and sometimes in the old courthouse at the start. And as well as that we had a childrens party with Santa and every child got a very good present. So all in all it was a decent firm to work for.
DC: Sounds as though there was a very good social life.
PS: Yes, there was.
MS: And the camaraderie between us in the factory was brilliant.
DC: So your experience here was generally happy.
PS: Yes, yes.
DC: You mentioned there your role as a trade unionist. Would you talk a little bit more about the role of the trade union in the workplace and perhaps your own role?
We were in what was called the Irish Shoe and Leather
Workers Union. The head office was in
DC: Later a TD
PS: Yes. There wasnt a big role in the union because it never reached the stage where we went on strike. But there was little items Some of us used be on what was called piecework where you get so much for each item of the job done per dozen shoes at the time. And of course the management always wanted cut a little bit here and there and everywhere, same what goes on nowadays. This is where the union stepped in, to protect our wages. But I was a stop steward for a few years we never had a strike. We always managed to settle our differences eventually. It might take a while but eventually it was settled.
DC: So industrial relations were generally fairly harmonious and employers fairly cooperative with the trade unions.
PS: Yes, we were all in the trade union; it was part of the employment that you joined the union. You didnt have strikes.
DC: Do you remember any significant changes in work practices over the year, perhaps involving new technology and so on? Was there big changes?
MS: One of the biggest changes was when the girls were put into the closing room.
In the ladies room. It was a bit higgledy piggledy. You
used to have girls running up and down with stuff that
this lady and that lady could sew but eventually then
they spent some money on a conveyor system. So the
conveyor system ran the full length of the room with the
machines each side of it so that if this lady down here
wanted something she put up her hand and the lady at the
far end would put it in the conveyor belt and take it
down to her. That was about the biggest thing really.
Things changed a lot down the years. Now for instance in
what we used to call the press room which was where the
soles used to be put together for your shoe. It came in
as massive big piece of leather and the press room had
the biggest machines. They were the size of this room
here. Big presses: And the leather was out together
Youd be cutting maybe that depth of leather,
maybe half a foot of leather in the same piece. And the
soles would be cut out of that and the heels would be cut
out of that. And theyd all be put together then as
one unit and then sent up to the room where I worked.
Later on in years all that practice was stopped and we
were buying in stuff from
DC: What type of shoes was manufactured?
PS: Well, we made ladies fashion shoes and we made ladies summer sandals, ladies high boots, mens sandals, ladies sholes.. They were made for another crowd, Sholes, youve heard of em? We made for them. Plus we made ladies fashion shoes for another company called Norvic Shoes. All in all now we were quite busy you know.
DC: You manufactured a big variety of shoes.
A big variety, yes. And of course the ladies fashion
shoes were made in the summer for the winter. So as the
seasons went on
in the winter we made summer
sandals so that when the summer came along the stuff was
ready for the market. Now when I talk about the market we
had two salesmen that used go around all the shops and
theyd have our samples with them. And thats
where our main products came from
all the shops:
DC: So the market was much wider than Kells, it was all over the country
PS: Yes, yes
MS: If we were depending on Kells we wouldnt have got anywhere!
Sure with the small population. And overseas:
PS: Well, the stuff we made for Sholes, they certainly went overseas.
DC: You mentioned the railway in terms of the little incident. How important was the railway overall for the business and the local economy in Kells.
Absolutely nothing at all. It was never used. All our
stuff went out in vans. We had two vans. And all the
shoes were put in the back of a van. A local man, a chap
named Joe Keyes, was the van driver. He went all over
DC: So the railway didnt come into the picture much. Not in that regard anyway. I read somewhere that at its height the shoe factory employed 240 people, perhaps even more at one stage, so obviously it was vital to the whole economy and people
MS: It was the biggest employer in the town.
PS I dont know how many names I have here : referring to a handwritten list:
MS: But they were all different years you know
But it was a thriving industry. Unfortunately we fell
Well, there was decline in shoe factories all over
DC: So you sort of helped one another out in that respect
How did the economic ups and downs of those years impact on your own life? Were there peaks and troughs? Or was there certain constancy?
PS: Well the only trough was when three days a week came. We were quite busy I mean one year when there was a very warm summer we decided to start work at six in the morning because in 1964 that was it was too hot the shoe factory wasnt made for there was no fans, nothing like that you know and we were working under glass in the main room. So to get away from that the unions and the management came to agreement that we would start work at six in the morning and finish at four, which was the warmest part of the day. But that went on for quite a while do you know. So that didnt last for too long because the weather changed
MS: We were just after moving into this house and some of our workers came up to help us clean the house and get it ready for us to move in.
PS: We got married in the shoe factory. Now both of us were working there. My mother and father were working in it and sisters were working in it, so everybody knew everybody else. Because we all neighbours more or less do you know? And wed head off say for the eight oclock start in the morning at that time in the morning if you were a stranger youd be asking: where are all those people going? Because we were all heading in the one direction. So we all headed for the shoe factory. We had an hours break at one oclock. So obviously people didnt have cars. You either walked or you had a bicycle. And you had to be back in time
MS: And you had to be in on time or your pay would be docked
PS: That was very strict. We had a bell in the factory and Micky Daly that was the manager well if you had your break in the morning say for ten minutes - but if the bell went off on time for you to finish, you darent you had to start whether you d had your break or not, you started. They were very very strict about timing. But I suppose all in all it was a decent wage at the time. There was nothing better
MS: And when we left when it closed we got redundancy. Paddy got around £300 and I got around £200 and we put in the central heating with it at the time!
DC: That was a bonus
MS: That was a big lot of money to get in your hand. But when we came into this house first Paddys wages were around £15 and he finished on a Friday,
and went into Wellmans of a Wednesday and he doubled his wages. So there was that bit of a gap.
PS: When the shoe factory closed my wages were £19/23s.
MS: And when I went into the factory in 1954 my wages was 14s/11d. From eight oclock to six oclock. That was a lot of hours for 14s/11d and I thought I was made up. And I gave it to mother and she gave me back half a crown.
PS: But at the time now it was decent money because, remember, there as nothing much those years.
DC: People werent living extravagantly but frugally. And what year did you get married.
PS: We got married in 1961.
MS: And we moved in here 1964.
PS: Now I was very lucky at the time because there was a lot of people when this redundancy came up being in the union we were hoping to there was a lot of men in the factory at the time and their jobs were dependent on the shoe factory for their wages and we could see nothing else at the end of the tunnel. So we all got together and we decided maybe wed hang on and form a coop and put all our redundancy money into it. Now there were a lot of people for it but when it came to the crunch a lot of women wouldnt bother because they were going to be out of work anyway. So they could see the redundancy money but they couldnt see further than that. So at the end of the day the whole thing fell through.
MS: It was a blessing in disguise though.
It was a blessing in disguise because this factory opened
down the road Wellman International. And they came
to the shoe factory before it closed actually and they
said that any man there would have a job in Wellmans
if they wanted it. Some of us took that up because
I went in there the next week, so I was only out for a
week. I spent thirty years in Wellmans. And some of the
men went to the buildings in
DC: It had some ups and downs in that that time. I talked to Willie Carr extensively about his time in Wellmans. Willie did a long stint there.
PS: I worked with Willie in it.
DC: Just staying with Tara Shoes for a minute, do you have any other outstanding memories; perhaps amusing incidents or even sad incidents down through those years that might sort of capture the flavour of the place ?
PS: Well, we had a very sad incident in one of the young women in the closing room, Mary Tormay was her name now she got cancer at the time and this went on for quite a while. So eventually when she did die people were very down. It was one of the saddest moments in the shoe factory. Because she was only a young girl starting her life.
MS: And as well we all gave some money each week to buy a cross for the chapel. Now that cross is still in the chapel. When they renovated the chapel they were going to do away with the cross, but we said: No that was bought. Now that cost us money we couldnt afford but then that was done. Then we had an argument one time over windows, opening windows . [To husband] Do you remember; something happened to the window, it broke and the frost was let in or something And we all wanted to wear our coats and gloves and we all stood in the room and Sam, came in and he said: No, we couldnt. We had to get on and do the work. And we were all standing together and one woman stood up and said: I dont mind, its not anymore cold than usual. So that was it!
DC: End of story
MS: End of story. We were all but back and made work
PS: Another union matter another union matter. But
MS: But mostly we stuck together
its got a long history now
DC: I can check that, it was soon after the war ended
PS: It was soon after he war ended yeh
MS: Dolly would know that she worked in the factory
PS: Dolly would know that. I remember me father telling me that the owners or the managers at he time were people called Fentons. Now they were the first people to start the shoe factory. Yes, its been going for a long time but unfortunately fortunately for me it shut at the right time. But at the time it was good employment for us. It was beside us, we were inside and we were dry, so it as good employment.
DC: And it does seem to have been like one big happy family
PS: Oh, it was one big happy family. I mean OK there were arguments. You have arguments with neighbours and everyone else. You have people fighting over I say this and I did say hat and I didnt say that. But it was one happy family and we all got together at the dance once a year. I mean it was fabulous fabulous
DC: It sounds like a happy experience overall.
PS: It was a happy experience
MS: And we missed he factory when it closed.
DC: It was good to the town
PS: It was good to the town, yes
MS: And it brought a lot of friends, those that are still alive, including ourselves
DC: And were there ever any reunions or things like that?
MS: There was one time but it was mostly girls in the office that organised it.
PS: There was the thing that Liam organised Liam Mulvany for the Heritage Festival. Yes, we had a thing for the shoe factory and all the shoe factory members were there and we had some photographs taken of us.
DC: Liam promised to dig those out and show them
PS: Well, I have actually photographs going back to 1930; one particular one of the room we worked in because the room where we worked, you had men down one side and men down the other side and ladies up the top but everything was electric. But in the photo I have of the 1930s everything is belt-driven so you have these big belts coming up to the ceiling and down. And thats the way it was in those days.
MS: We have some photographs of the day we were all were closed some of the women
DC: We might come back to that at some stage, take a copy and put them on the computer
PS: But for people who wouldnt understand what went on in the shoe factory, do you know we had five rooms in it. We had the clicking room. Now the clicking room was for these fellows who worked with very sharp knives. And they worked with patterns and patterns for the shoes would be made beforehand and they would put the pattern on the leather and cut it and shape it. They would go then to the ladies room which was all ladies in it. It was called the closing room. Now those pieces were all put together in leather and sewed together. So this is where your shoe came from. Now it was only a flat piece, no shape, no nothing on it, just the size and then it came to the room where I worked which we called the lasting room. Now the flat piece of the shoe was called an upper; its still an upper if you talk to anyone in a shoe factory part of the shoe. Now that came to our room and that was put on wooden lasts like a wooden foot
MS: You can still see them in a shop
DC: Yes, Ive seen them.
PS: But this was done on sheets. They were put on little trays in dozens and pushed on. And everyone done their little piece and shoved it on to the next guy, so by the time it got to the end of our room you had a shoe with a sole and a heel on it. Maybe a bit grotty, but thats the way it was, with stuff ticking out of it and all that. It went to the finishing room then. The finishing room was there the shoe was cleaned and buffed up and polished and made ready for the market. And then it was boxed and labelled. And then the press room was where the soles and heels were made. That was one side on its own. They had their own little piece to add to it So that was the whole shoe factory, you know.
DC: Thanks for explaining the whole process. I wouldnt have been aware of it myself all the stages in it
PS: Well, you know, if you work in a shoe factory you never forget those things. They are always in you head because we used to go into a local man in the town Jacksie Kiernan and if you going to buy a pair of shoes the first thing is Jacksie was sitting on the chair and hed say: Heres the sods coming. You cant sell them this or you cant sell them that or you cant sell them the other, he says, because they know about shoes. And this was Jacksies laugh, do you know, Jacksies little funny bit because every one wed pick up wed examine it in detail and if there was something wrong we didnt buy it, that was it because we knew it, do you know. It was our trade at the time.
MS: We still do look at them when were buying them
PS: But when me father was in the shoe factory he was in the finishing room and they had machines for shaping the heels machines with knives on them. But those years before we were married when we were young kids our father, when he nothing to do, hed make our toys for Christmas. Hed make little Lorries and little vans and hed shape then on the wheels in the shoe factory then hed take them home and put them altogether, you know. So it was a nice place to work. I have no regrets. The only thing I would regret is that it didnt carry on but then I went to a better job and a better paid job until I retired, so
DC: A lot of other men did too
PS: A lot did
MS: Well, it made an awful difference because when we came into the house the rent was £2/2s. And out of Paddys wages in the factory would have been I was sixteen and I gave up work in 1962. When we came in here the wages were only £8 something; so we were paying £2/2s. out of £8. And I was pregnant so I had to stop work in August for a while but only for a while and for a while we found it very hard to pay nowadays people are saying the rents are so high and the mortgages are so high but when we look back on ours, £2/2 out of eight would be the equivalent of what they are paying in mortgages now. You know, by the time we paid electricity and light fires we had damn all left out of it to live on. The wages werent terrific but it was constant. Everybody enjoyed the women in the closing room, we had great laughs it wasnt just all working.
DC: Great craic
MS: Oh, it was great craic
DC: Anything else there that we should know about?
PS: No, I think Ive covered it all Danny. I can give you all this stuff [written material] here if you want to use it.