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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Leo O'Brien

Clonegal Wollen Mills by Leo O'Brien.

Framed piece in the PPP.

The Irish Press. Saturday 12th October 1935.

By Leo O'Brien. (with picture of Mill, proprietor, his assistant, Father Swayne and Father Campion)

"Have you ever taken photographs in Clonegal"

"No I can't say I have ever visited that district, Father," I replied.

It was the curate of Graiguecullen who had addressed me, the Rev. Fr. Campion, an enthusiastic champion of the old and forgotten industries of the country.

"Well come along and see the place" he said, I can promise you more than beautiful scenery; there is a very ancient woollen mill there which is still working, and you'll find that your camera won't be idle."

My interest aroused, I procured my apparatus, and after we had picked up the Rector of Knockbeg College, Fr. Peader Swayne, we started out for the spot, some fourteen miles to the South-East of Carlow.

I must confess at the outset I was a little sceptical as to Clonegal living up to the picturesque description I had received.

Nevertheless, I was not very long in doubt, for the mellow October sunlight seemed to add more enchantment to the view of hills and woodlands on all sides.

We eventually alighted from our car and wended our way down the banks of the Slaney --"There", said Father Campion pointing down the valley," are the woollen mills."

"This is certainly a picture," I exclaimed, for there, tucked away amid the hills, was a forgotten or at least an unknown industry working quietly for centuries aided by the waters of the Slaney which flowed down the valley past the little grey old shack.

In this time-worn mill I found the sixty-years old proprietor and his only assistant, equally as old as himself, working away at one of the looms.

The kindly old man told me his people were in possession of the place for over three hundred years, making rugs and blankets. I made an inspection of these products and found them equally as fine as those manufactured in the more up-to-date establishments.

"Do you get a good trade" I enquired.

"Indeed", he said, "we don't.

You see nobody in the outside world knows we are here, for we haven't any money to advertise. You see", he added, "have to turn our hands to a bit of farming and fishing on the Slaney to make ends meet".

"Have you any family", I asked, "I'm afraid I'm an ould bachelor" at the same time looking away down the river.

I subsequently found out that he had built his own house adjacent to the mill and had lived for many years with his bachelor assistant, both running the home and mill accordingly.

"I could make butter again anyhow," said he to me, and I've only an ould dash churn at that," "What about the bread", I further questioned -- "Oh, I can see to that too," he laughed.

The sun by this time was low on the western horizon, the valley was now in a deep shadow which made this little homestead and industries look all the more silent and forgotten.

Yet there dwell two men almost away from the world's hum quite hopeful and content with their lot, eking out a livelihood thus amid the hills of Clonegal and carrying on an old Irish industry that was born three long centuries ago. I leave them to their world and you.


Nationalist and Leinster Times.

June 1938.

Carlow On The Silver Screen.

Well- known local's praiseworthy show.

Further Developments.

What I consider as a very interesting and praiseworthy movie show was screened in Carlow Town Hall on Monday and Tuesday night by Leo O' Brien, of Carlow.

No amateur matter of slides and lantern was this, but a full blooded programme consisting of a fine talking feature film and, what is of much more interest to Carlovians , a scenic documentation of life and sport in the district.

Mr. O'Brien had told me a long time ago his hope of launching from his career as a first class photographer, which he is, into the realm of movies, and this is no mean task when the Tremendous Expense involved is considered.

He is confident that in going fully into this motion picture business on his own that he will capture the imagination of and the support of those who already know him and his excellent work.

Having first had refusals from film renters who are virtually vested-interests in England and over here, Mr. O'Brien has finally made a composite film of his "shots" and during the week he gave what might be termed a one man performance, which entirely surpassed the expectations of the numerous people who attended.

The Town Hall is not admirably suited for sound projection, but in the circumstances everybody enjoyed the show tremendously and look forward eagerly to the next one.

The Carlow film was received with great applause.

It pictured the daily round of life in the streets and left them to tell their own stories.

It also portrayed the sport of the county including football played at the Dr. Cullen Memorial Park, hurling, tennis (with shots in slow motion).

The Carlow Golf Club, Links and players were Presented In Colour-Film as were also other scenes, which captivated the audience.

Indeed, people who had never before seen a motion picture before came to see Carlow on the silver screen.

As to the documentary film, I would  say that there is a great future for such entertainment.

This is evidenced by the large number of "News Theatres" all over the continent which show nothing but nature pictures, sport and news items.

The programmes last about an hour or two and draw a large number of clients who never go to other motion pictures.

I trust that people in the district will give this new venture of Leo O'Brien a good "break".

The missing "talkies" movies / pictures of Leo O'Brien from Carlow.

Among the events he filmed on movie film in 1937 - 39 were:

Ladies Camogie Match ,Carlow vs Westmeath.
Leinster Junior Championship GAA , Carlow vs Kilkenny.
Tinryland vs Milford in the O' Derrig Cup.
Cinderella Dance in the Town Hall.
Grand Variety Entertainment in Parochial Hall, Graiguecullen includes interview with Mary White and Tommy Meighan.
Meeting of Carlow Agriculture Committee.
Meeting of Carlow Voc. Committee.
Meeting of Carlow Health Board.
Carlow Boxing Club.
Carlow Choir singing in C.B.S. Hall.
C.B.S gymnastic display.
St. Leos and Presentation schools.
Graiguecullen schools.

Streets of Carlow and Graiguecullen, Tullow St. Dublin St. Browne St. Bridewell Lane, Burrin St. Church St. Maryborugh St. new houses in Pollerton, Carlow Castle.

1937 National Ploughing Championships held in Oak Park, includes interview with Mr. Bruen of Oak Park, and presentation of trophies by Mr. Ed. Duggan.

The Drawing of Tickets in the Mansion House for the Irish Sweep in 1937 plus a short tour of Dublin.
Carlow Farrier Contest.
Corcoran's Mineral and Boot factory.
Carlow's Sugar Industry and Beet growers.
Slater's and Kehoe's Poultry Yards.

The films were said to be "in part colour with some scenes filmed in a wonderful pageant of colour".

There was one can of O'Brien film in the PPP containing eroded film, I brought it to the Film Institute in Dublin but it was beyond repair.

There were at least 30 other cans, have any of them survived?

Leo held several viewings of his films throughout Carlow, I have never being able to find out much about him, any information on Leo or his brother "Laz" would be welcome.

Source: Michael Purcell c.2011


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