Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 1 March 2018
Stories from 1918: Tales from Lyons Clothing Factory
The 28 February 1918 coincided with the forty-sixth ordinary general meeting at T Lyons Clothing Factory on South Main street. The directors of the company were present with the chairman Sir Stanley Harrington, J P, presiding. Mr John Kelleher, managing director, was also present.
The Chairman highlighted that the business over the previous year had exceeded expectations. Sales had soared to three times the increase of the previous year. This was due to placing orders early in the year, which enabled them to supply certain classes of goods at times when most of the traders throughout the country found it difficult. The total profit for the year amounted to £50,225. The staff got either a bonus or an advance in salary, and many of them got both.
Circa 1799 Thomas Lyons opened a woollen draper’s shop in Tuckey Street. The shop moved to South Main Street in the early 1800s. Thomas was active in local politics, became an Alderman in Cork Corporation and became the first Roman Catholic mayor of Cork since 1688 after the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act of 1840 reformed the system of local government. He took a dynamic role in the early 1840s in promoting campaigns by Daniel O’Connell’s on the ongoing repeal movement of the Act of Union and Fr Mathew’s Temperance campaign.
An article in the Cork Examiner on 26 April 1850 describes his funeral cortege of Thomas Lyons through the city to St Joseph’s Cemetery and in particular the vast respect for him. The business establishments on the route of the funeral procession were completely shut up and business suspended. For hours before the procession moved from the residence of Thomas’s house at Sunville, Glanmire, the Upper, Middle, and Lower Roads were thronged by dense masses of people. The steam vessels belonging to the Cork and Dublin companies, with the other vessels in port, has their flags suspended half-mast. The workmen employed in the Lyons factory at Riverstown, wore white hat-bands and scarfs. Assistants at the South Main Street factory attended along the cortege. The orphans turned out (male and female) of the St Patrick’s schools, who were clothed yearly by the charity of the deceased. The boys of the Christian Brothers’ Schools, to the number of several hundreds, also attended – to which institutions Thomas Lyons had always been a generous contributor.
Lyons was one of three large warehouses in Cork City for selling clothes. Mr William Fitzgibbon established the Queens Old Castle Company in the 1840s (following the site being used as the city’s courthouse before the one on Washington Street was constructed in the 1830s). Messrs. Alexander & Co, of St Patrick Street was inaugurated in the 1850s under the auspices of Sir John Arnott, who was the pioneer in Ireland of what is designated the “Monster Warehouse” system of trading. After some years Sir John Arnott was joined by Mr Alexander Grant, the title being then altered to Arnott & Co, with Sir John as the managing director.
In 1873 Mr Victor Beare Fitzgibbon of Queen’s Old Castle, Messrs. Alexander Grant and T Lyons, merged the three business into a limited liability company under the title of T Lyons and Co, Limited. The three businesses formed the principal members of the directorate. They established a trade, which in point of magnitude and volume had never before been equalled in the annals of commercial enterprise in the South of Ireland. All three firms though continued their respective operations.
By 1892, the firm T Lyons and Co had become a major commercial enterprise. Its frontage on South Main Street, was on the western part of the site of the present-day Bishop Lucey Park, where arched windows still survive. A number of illustrations survive of the factory in late nineteenth century street directories. The company worked over an extensive and conveniently arranged block of buildings, which included an immense warehouse having a total floorage area of 200,000 square feet.
The warehouse was divided into the various departments, the ground floor being utilised for store, packing, and receiving and despatch rooms. The large sized showrooms on the upper floor provided every accommodation for the large stock held. According to Stratten and Stratten’s commercial review in 1892, these included “muslins, silks, velvets, ribbons, woollens, fancy dresses, merinos, grey and white calicoes, flannels and cords, waterproof clothing, blankets, linens, &c., prints, ginghams, shawls and handkerchiefs, shoe findings, ready-made clothing, trimmings, knittings and fingerings, stationery, flowers, bonnets, hats, furs, feathers, vests and pants, shirts and collars, hosiery, umbrellas, gloves, laces and edgings, felt hats, boys’ and men’s caps,’ haberdashery, Dick’s gutta percha boots, leather boots and shoes and materials”.
The manufacturing departments adjoining included the Cork Clothing Factory. This was a large building replete with all the most improved machinery and appliances for the production on a very extensive scale of the highest quality of gents’ and youths’ ready-made clothing. The services of numerous staff of skilled hands were employed – the total force numbering 200 workpeople. Lyons continued their business until March 1966, when the warehouse was sold on South Main Street.
935a. Advertisement for T Lyons, South Main Street, 1919, from Cork: Its Chamber and Commerce (source: Cork City Library)
935b. Sketch of T Lyons, South Main Street, 1892 from Stratten and Stratten Commercial Review (source: Cork City Library)
935c. Remains of front wall of T Lyons, South Main Street, adjoining Bishop Lucey Park, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)