In 1903 Michael Governey proprietor of Corcoran and Co. opened a boot
and shoe manufacturing factory opposite his mineral water works at
Castle Hill Carlow. The factory was built by Thomas Thompson of Carlow
and had a beautiful red brick frontage (a very small portion of this
still exists). The trade mark of the Company called the Catherlough
Castle Boot Factory Ltd. was a picture of Carlow Castle.
Michael Governey’s eldest son also Michael went abroad to train for
the business. He unfortunately died at the age of 28. His brothers Hugh
and Des also worked in the company. Governey’s boots and shoes over the
years were renowned for top quality
By Dan Carbery
The following article appeared in the magazine
“Carlow Past and Present" in 1996 and was compiled by my uncle William
(Sam) Fitzpatrick, he now resides in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
- Sections of the article are also based on
conversations I had with my late grandfather William Fitzpatrick Snr.
Shortly after the turn of the century Michael Governey
Snr. attended an Exhibition in Cork City. It was at this exhibition that
Michael got the idea to establish a Boot Factory in Carlow town. The
factory opened in 1903 and created much needed employment for local
people. Michael Governey was a very enterprising man full of vision and
foresight; he contributed much to the welfare and prosperity of the town.
manager of Carlow Boot Factory pictured with Managing Director Hugh
Initially the factory was situated in a room in Castle Street but it
quickly developed and progressed into one of the most modern and efficient
manufacturers of Boots in the British Isles. The craft of boot making was
taught to the locals by two brothers with the surname of Dodge, they came
from England. Within a short time the factory acquired a reputation for
the production of high quality boots.
It was with the appointment of
Samuel Bassford as manager that the production line was extended to
include the manufacture of stylish light laced boots for all age groups.
Mr. Bassford possessed a great knowledge of the trade, he further extended
the system to include costing for the first time and promoted advertising
in the form of a catalogue which included information on the factory
combined with pictures and prices of the type of goods produced. There are
still a few copies of this catalogue in the Carlow area.
Mr Bassford spent
some years in Carlow; it was in 1912 that my own father Mr. William
Fitzpatrick entered the firm as a clerk to Mr. Bassford. He had just
finished school in the local CBS (Christian Brothers School), and attained
a Kings University Scholarship; his mother being a widow was unable to
He learned a great deal from Mr. Bassford including costing,
factory costs, buying and selling, pattern cutting and designing and shoe
making in every respect. Mr. Bassford possessed a theoretical knowledge as
well as a practical knowledge of the trade as he had been a lecturer in
shoe making at the Leicester school of Technology. A quick glance at two
manufacturing account returns for the years 1906 and 1922 give proof of
the rapid growth of the factory.
Wages paid in 1906 amounted to
£705.1s.1d., and in 1922 was £4472.16s.4d. The figure for sales in 1906
was £3266.9s.8d and in 1922 had grown to £16,523.l6s.10d. The gross profit
had increased from £20.14s.4d to £600.0s.8d. After Mr. Bassford’s
departure my father the late William Fitzpatrick was appointed General
Manager, I think this was around 1924. The factory continued to expand and
became well known throughout Ireland and England and began to make its
mark and its brand was well known and recognised, for Governey’s were then
manufacturing Gents Goodyear Welred shoes, men’s heavy agricultural boots,
youths boys and women’s yard shoes.
I joined the factory in 1937 after leaving school and soon afterwards
Michael Governey Jnr. died at a young age of 28 years. It was at around
this time that adjoining property was bought and a new extension was built
by Dan Carbery and Sons, this gave much wanted extra space and
accommodation and it accounted for some good improvements in the factory.
The factory at this time was employing some 300/400 workers all local
people from the Carlow/Graiguecullen area. There were 8 people in the
office including the Managing Director and the manager.
The factory at its
peak manufactured some 3,500 pairs per week. Half of the production
figures were welted and half heavy, sometimes this figure rose to 4,000
Images of the employees at the factory
There was a saying throughout Ireland at the time:
'North, South, East and West
Governey's shoes are the best'.
In fact this appeared on posters all over the country. The factory had
two power engines running the factory and overhead shafting which powered
all the machines in each department. However as new machines were
installed which were all self motorised they did away with overhead drive.
Most of the machines were supplied by the British United Shoe Co. Ltd. of
Leicester on a lease/rent basis. At this time there were about 26 shoe
factories in operation. Governey’s had to compete against first class
competition from firms such as Padmore and Barnes Kilkenny, Rawsons and
Sons Dundalk, Winstanlys of Dublin and Lees of Cork. I remember one
leather salesman telling me that the two best Boot Factories in Ireland
(in his opinion) were Governey’s of Carlow and “The Reliable Shoe Co.” of
Westport Co. Mayo.
In the manufacture of Boots and Shoes there are many operations,
machinery and departments depending on types of trade and due to
breakdowns in machinery, absenteeism from work etc. movement always has to
be in one direction, always heading for the finishing, shoe and packing
department. I often remember my father in one of these hold ups. In his
habitual form and manner, gesticulation with hands and shaking his head
and then stepping in to work the machine himself and get things moving
again. The directors were well supported by management, factory staff and
workers. In the late forties Michael J. Doyle of Potato Market was in
charge of the office and became Secretary of the company. The
foremen/women were all local people namely:
Mickie Donoghue - Graiguecullen - Clicking room Foreman: Annie Rogers -
Castle Street - Closing and Machine room Forelady: Frank Hutton -
Staplestown Road - Pullover and Lasting Foreman: Dick Toole - Staplestown
Road - Making room Foreman: Joe Brennan - Burrin Street - Welting room:
Martin Hogan – Graiguecullen - Press room: Dick Rogers - Castle Street -
Finishing room: John, ”Cracker”, Hayden- Staplestown Road - Shoe room and
Governey’s Boot Factory housed some famous workers, Pim Quinlan, Carlow
G.A.A. Gaelic Footballer of the 1940’s. Mick Haughney, (Cutchie), famous
Graiguecullen and Laois footballer of the 1930’s/40’s. The Hogan brothers,
Martin and Willie (Red), famous Graiguecullen and Laois G.A.A. players.
During the war years the Factory (which was now called Catherlogh
Castle Boot Factory) introduced a quota system of rationing and saw to it
that all of the firms customers in Ballon, Tullow, Bagenalstown, Athy and
throughout the country were all looked after. In the early 1940’s Desmond
Governey joined the firm as Assistant Managing Director to his brother
Hugh. During the year 1948, I decided to go further afield and seek a
career for myself elsewhere. In Governey’s I had acquired much knowledge
and experience of the trade. I went to London to work for a factory, which
manufactured ladies footwear.
In Governey’s of Carlow, in the early 1940’s the final price fixing and
saleable price of the shoes were taken out of the Managers hands and left
up to the Directors. This decision was later reversed and full costing and
pricing given back to the Manager. After spending two years in London I
returned to Governey’s at the request of Hugh Governey to assist my father
in the factory.
I remained there until 1954 and I then moved to Westport to manage “The
Reliable Shoe Co.”. My father retired from the factory in April 1952 and
was presented with a silver tea service; he had previously been presented
with a Mantle Clock in 1945 to mark 21 years as manager, and in 1952 was
presented with a semi-hunter pocket watch for forty years service to the
factory. He then purchased No. 13 Castle Street and set up a shoe repair
shop with his son Jack and the late Peter Norris. Subsequently the
business moved to Potato Market where Jack repaired shoes up to his death
In conclusion I have to say I enjoyed my time working for the
Catherlogh Castle Boot Factory and I gained valuable experience there both
of the shoe trade and of life and made many friends.
During the lifetime of the Carlow Factory all of the upper and sole
materials as well as all purchases and accessories required in
manufacturing were all Irish made. Example: Upper leathers were obtained
from: - Gorey Leather Co., Dickem Leather Co., Dungarvan, Plunder and
Pollock Ltd. Carrick-on Suir. Those were the three main tanneries in
Ireland. Bottom sole leather was obtained from Irish Tanners Ltd., Portlaw,
Ballybay Tanneries Ltd. and Kennedy O’Brien, Dublin.
All of the workers were locals and I believe were the best in the
trade. Many of them have now passed away and gone to their eternal reward.
Ar Dheis De go raibh a n-anam.