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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Thompson Engineering,

Hanover Works, Carlow

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Thompson Engineering, Hanover Works, Carlow
Donated by "Carloman"

Thomas Thompson 1877-1914 founder of Thompson and Sons engineering.

Before the shopping Mall was built the Gaol housed Thomas Thompson and Sons engineering works. When Thompson's were there all the old cellblocks were still there and on occasion when putting in foundations for machines the bodies of several persons executed there would be discovered.

The Gaol was last extended in 1853. An account of this work was found written on a door taken down on October 18th, 1955 (102 years later) at Hanover Works.

The Gaol was closed in 1897 and then sold to Thomas Thompson. He was a member of the Society of Friends who came from England in 1870.  He founded an engineering firm which specialised in repairing and the manufacturing of machinery, chiefly threshing sets, portable and later steam.

He named the Gaol “Hanover Works”, which operated well into the early 1990’s.

During the first world war the Hanover Works became a munitions factory, making ammunition cases and Bristol Fighter Wings. After the war Thompson's reverted to building work. The Bishop Foley Schools (built with the cut stone from Duckett's Grove Mansion), Carlow Sugar Beet Factory, St. Clare's, Church Graiguecullen, to mention only three of their contributions to Carlow town.

Note: St Clare's, Graiguecullen was originally A Church of Ireland Church on the Athy road. Thompson's got the contract to dismantle it and re erect it Graiguecullen. But that's another story.

During the Great War of 1914-18 Thompson's of Carlow manufactured the wings for the famous Bristol Fighter of the Royal Air Force. A couple of sets of these wings, which were timber-framed and covered in linen, still exist in the Thompson works, another can be seen in the Aviation Museum at Shannon Airport and yet another in Carlow’s own county museum. One of these vintage flying machines has been rebuilt, using a set of the original wings supplied by the Carlow firm, Thompson’s also made a contribution to the growth of peace-time aviation by building the first control tower and hangar at Foynes, Shannon’s predecessor, where the flying boats of Imperial Airways and the American Clippers came winging in during the late 1930’s.

During World War II Thompson's built armoured cars for the Irish Army, as well as a fleet of canal barges for the government, to cope with the wartime fuel emergency by carrying turf to Dublin. These “G Boats”, as they were classed by the Grand Canal Company, were built on bogies in the Thompson shops and launched on the Barrow river. Of timber construction without engines, they brought back, for the duration, the era of the horse-drawn barge.

Plodding up and down between Dublin and the great midland bogs, they built up that large stockpile of fuel which those of use who are over forty can remember seeing in the Phoenix Park. Those were the days when you went visiting with your sod of turf under your oxter. But the end of the “Emergency” did not bring the end of the association of Thompson's with the bogs, for they also pioneered the manufacture of those remarkable machines used for harvesting turf by Bord na Mona, who now produce four million tones of industrial pear every year and make a valuable contribution to our supplies of electric power.

Those armoured cars built for the army by Thompson's were marvels of do-it-yourself ingenuity. Patterned generally after the Rolls Royce armoured car, they consisted of plated superstructure mounted on an ordinary Ford or Dodge lorry chassis, which had to be shortened. Because proper armour plate was not obtainable at the time, Thompson's used commercial half-inch mild steel plate. The most interesting part of the car was the rotating turret with its slung seat for the gunner and its heavy Vickers gun, ball-mounted to swivel in all directions, including upwards against air attack and steeply downwards to repel boarders. This ball-mounting was subsequently adopted by the British for their Ferret scout car.

Thompson's turned out 46 of these vehicles, and during the war they had a quiet time of it. In my own recollection I see them filing sedately past the G.P.P. in Dublin at military parades in the post-war years. But some of them saw action during the battle of Elizabethville and in other parts of the Congo in 1961, when they formed part of the equipment of the United Nations force. Never designed with an African war in mind, their cramped cabins became ovens under the tropical sun, despite the installation of an air-blower; and their high silhouette, reminiscent of an elderly lady on an upstairs bicycle, must have presented an excellent target to the snipers of the Katangese gendarmerie.

Even when the Katangese did not possess the means to penetrate Thompson's mild steel plate, the smack of a high-velocity bullet on the outside released a lacerating shower of tiny steel splinters within the cab, But despite these drawbacks the cars gave noble service, and when the Irish U.N. contingent left the Congo they were taken over by the U.N. and ended their days in General Mobutu’s army. After the Congo affair a legend spread among gullible non-military types that these products of County Carlow’s Ruhr had no reverse gear, because it had never been contemplated that the Irish army might have to retreat!

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© 2001 County Carlow IGP TM