Fáilte Romhat

  Closure of Deasy's Clonakilty

Closure of Deasy's marks end of an era in Clon's history

Friday last, May 11, 2001, marked the end of an era in the history of Clonakilty, as Deasy and Co. closed its doors for the last time, bringing to an end a 233-year association with the town.

Founded in 1768 by the famous family who had a name for smuggling along the West Cork coastline, and in particular into Clonakilty, the Deasy Brewery of old, gave its name to 'The Brewery Town' in GAA jargon and song. The tall brick chimneys of the old brewery off Emmet Square are noted landmarks and the building as used as the logo by the company on its products.  

But it was in Pearse St., at the rear of the present O'Donovan's Hotel, that the company first started. In its heyday, Deasy's were considered the largest employers in Clonakilty, often with two and sometimes three generations in families working there. The Clonakilty Wrastler and Amber Ale were among its most famous products.

In 1948, the company moved from Emmet Square to the plant at Lamb St. and the production of alcoholic beverages discontinued, but the popular Deasy Minerals continued to be made. Guinness was bottled there, however, and it was many the gallon of the porter that was brought by bulk tank from the famous St. James' Gate Brewery in Dublin to be bottled at the Clonakilty plant, and distributed throughout Cork and Kerry by Clonakilty men. Just a few years ago, the company developed a new product, Orange Juice, which won an award at the British Bottlers' Institute shortly afterwards.

Then, United Beverages, a Guinness subsidiary, took over the plant in 1999, and one of its first actions was to close down the production lines. The famous Deasy's minerals were no more as a number of men took voluntary redundancy, while the remaining 16 who had worked for years producing DC Orange and lemonade went out on the trucks, to deliver for the first time products that were not made at the plant.

Many at the time correctly predicted that this was an indication of what was coming down the track. One man, who worked at Deasy's since 1967, said that they had hoped to have at least five to six years, but the decision-makers in Dublin had other ideas.

The announcement of impending closure was made in March. The final day was last Friday. In between, workers engaged in a work to rule, angered that the masters in Dublin were now trying to renege on written agreements made two years ago when others took voluntary redundancy. One man told 'The Clonakilty Notes' that at the time, workers were guaranteed that they would at the very minimum qualify for the same redundancy arrangements as those who took voluntary redundancy in 1999.

Eventually, the issue was resolved to their satisfaction, but not without a fight. He thanked the publicans of West Cork who supported them in their final weeks of employment at Deasy and Co., and paid tribute to SIPTU officials who fought on their behalf.

Last Friday was a sad day for all 16 employees concerned. Most of the 14 general workers and 2 secretarial staff have been at the plant since they left school. At least eight who walked out of the Lamb St. premises for the last time on Friday had over 30 years service each with the company. Michael McCarthy had an incredible 46 years, Tim Joe Coakley 39, Pat Joe Harrington 34, and Denis O'Riordan 32, with P.J. O'Brien, Jim O'Connor, Neil O'Gorman and Michael O'Donovan, general manager, also having three decades or more there.

The closure will affect some households harder than others as there were two Deasy salaries there every week. Included were fathers and sons, Denis and Sen O'Riordan, Michael and Finbarr McCarthy, brothers Anthony and Michael Flynn, and Declan Coleman and partner Debbie Cowhig. Some of these have young children.

When United Beverages announced the closure of Deasy's two months ago, they offered workers the opportunity of two positions at their Cork plant on the Kinsale Road - subject to interview. Also, two lorries and the West Cork distribution routes were available for purchase and this offer was taken up by Michael McCarthy.

His son, Finbarr and two other ex-Deasy workers - Michael Flynn and Patrick Hurley have decided to stay on the road distributing beverages to the publicans of West Cork. Meanwhile, a number of other former workers have secured or have been offered jobs locally, and they expressed their thanks to the community for this support and interest. 

However, for some, not getting up in the morning and going to work at Deasy's will take some time to adjust to. One man with a long service at the company said at the weekend that he would be "lost" for a while until he got used to the idleness. Management and sales reps of the Clonakilty Deasy and Co. plant will be redeployed to the Cork centre.

While the closure of the plant is a loss for the workers personally, last Friday was also a bad day for Clonakilty town generally. For generations, Deasy's provided good and secure employment for many, and scores of young people worked there during school holidays.

Working at Deasy's during summer holidays put many a local third level student through college. As well as that, Deasy's was always a generous sponsor of local festivals and sporting clubs and events.

Based in the community, managed and worked by local people, they were willing to contribute back to the local economy any time they were asked. That is something that outside companies will never have, and something that will be missed in the town of Clonakilty.

Outside of all that, it's the end of an institution that has been associated with Clonakilty town for over two centuries. Not every town has an industry like that.

The closure of the plant by United Beverages was, according to those that made the decision, because the products were not being supported, and, therefore, the operation was no longer economically viable. We can only take their word on that, but it should bring home to us all the importance of supporting local business and produce both at a parochial and national level whenever we can.

In conclusion, Clonakilty says 'Thank You' to Deasy's and their staff over the last 233 years for everything positive that they contributed to our town. "Nbheidh a leithid ann ars".

Source Southern Star