Rathduff Cheese Factory

By J.J. Duggan

 jj-dugganGrenagh is a rural parish with agriculture as its major industry. The great majority of the non-farming workforce have to travel outside the area for employment, mainly to Cork or Mallow. A small number of people are employed locally in shops, garages, haulage concerns, road maintenance, at Rathduff Creamery, and at a concrete works in Courtbrack.

The first major industry with a significant employment potential began at Rathduff in May 1961. Early that year, a cheese-making company in Douglas, Isle of Man, was having problems in obtaining sufficient supplies of milk. The local Milk Marketing Board was also keen to take over the company, Richoll Ltd.

Mrs. Phil Bucknall-Smith (née Donovan), formerly of Rockhill, Grenagh, was a personal friend of the Richoll Managing-director, Mr. Richmond. She was aware that a milk surplus existed in her native County Cork and was influential in arranging a Dublin meeting between executives of both Ballyclough Co-Op and Richoll Ltd. Many potential factory sites were looked at but the final decision was in favour of Rathduff. It could ensure a more than adequate supply of milk from the surrounding Ballyclough catchment area.

The increase in cow herds was continuing and would allow for future expansion and production at the Cheese Factory if the export market demanded. A decisive factor in favour of the Rathduff site was its proximity to the Port of Cork for despatch and shipping out of the finished product. Negotiations and plans were quickly completed, and by May 1962, Richoll Ltd., had made the transfer of key personnel and machinery to Rathduff. Cheese production began in temporary premises adjacent to the creamery and made available by Ballyclough Co-Op Society. The cheese company was privately owned, with a minority shareholding by Ballyclough and Cow & Gate Ltd.

During the nest eighteen months a modern cheese factory was planned and built on a new site located between the creamery and the River Martin.

Operations were transferred to the new plant during the early part of December 1963. The cheese manufacture changed from a mainly manual process to a mechanical system. Later, an even more sophisticated process, the Cheddarmaster-Blockformer, was installed. Milk intake increased from 15,000 gallons per day to 170,000 gallons per day in the mid 1980’s.

The official opening of the new Rathduff Cheese Factory took place on Monday, January 20th 1964. The then Taoiseach, the late Sean Lemass, T.D., Tony O’Reilly of Bord Bainne and Patrick Power, Chairman of Ballyclough Co-Op Society Ltd., were present for the important occasion. As the convoy of official cars passed by the 103-year-old schoolhouse on their way to the creamery, the pupils and their teachers lined the roadway to wave a welcome to the visitors.

The new buildings were blessed by the Grenagh clergy, Rev. Andrew O’Keeffe, P.P. and Rev. Michael O’Connell, C.C. Mr Lemass cut the tape and declared the new plant formally opened. Afterwards, a reception and lunch was held at the Imperial Hotel, Cork. Most of the chief guests made speeches. That made by Mr. Tony O’Reilly is especially remembered. He, of course, went on to become a multi-millionaire and Chairman of the great American company, Heinz.

It is worth noting that the early 1960’s was a time when national morale was increasing. Emigration was falling as more jobs became available in newly established industries. The future looked better for the first time in many years. Now, sadly, over twenty years later, the national scene seems as bleak as the 1950’s.

The varieties of cheeses produced at Rathduff were: Caerphilly, Wensleydale, Red Leicester, Double Glouster, Chesire and Cheddar. Forty people were employed and of these, twenty-eight were men. It was expected that this number would increase to seventy in a short time. The workforce, in fact, increased to a high of one hundred and fifty, temporaries included, during the late 1970’s. During 1979-80, the figure was one hundred and forty-five, but by 1986 this had fallen to seventy-five, including seasonal staff.

The falling numbers employed resulted from the installation of newer labour-saving machinery, reflected generally throughout business and industry during the 1980’s. Several additions were made to the factory in 1966/67, 1972/72 and 1980/81. During late 1964, most the private ownership was bought out and Rathduff Cheese Company Ltd. was registered. The last of the private shareholding was bought out in 1973. At the present time, the shareholding is: Ballyclough Co-Op Creameries Ltd. – 100%.

The process of whey evaporation was added in 1972 and whey butter manufacture in 1978.

The original management was under Mr. Harold Richmond and Mr. Manderson. Production was handled by Miss L. Franklin and Mr. Barber. Miss Franklin had the title ‘Queen of Cheese’ for her expertise in cheese production. After she left Rathduff she eventually met and married a Bristol man, who was involved in the Cheese business. Sadly, however, during her honeymoon in Spain she became ill from some local infection and died on the fifth day there. Mr. Richmond is now also deceased.

During the twenty-five years since its establishment, Rathduff Cheese Factory, generally referred to as ‘The Cheese’, has played a very important part in the local economy, and has won major International awards for its cheese. People go to work there from a fairly wide radius. Requests for sponsorship and other forms of assistance have been responded to generously. May it long continue to thrive and prosper.

The original 1962 workforce consisted of the following people:

Martin Coleman, Mrs. Eileen Dolan, Sean Dolan, Mary and Eily Foley, Nellie Murphy, Kathleen O’Sullivan, John McDonnell (all Rathduff). Mary and Jerry Coleman (Glencaum), Christy Heelan (Lyredane), Connie Humphreys (Shanlyre), Donal Hegarty (Garrignavar), Kathleen Murphy, Denis and Dave O’Brien (Mourneabbey), Billy Walsh, Michael O’Sullivan (Rockhill), Karl McCarthy (Birch Hill), Neilus Murphy, Frances Ring, Mary Desmond (Grenagh), Mrs. Mary Horgan (Commons), Lilian Buckley (Ahadillane), Mary Cashin (Bartlemy), John Cahill (Bottlehill), Denis O’Donovan (Dromahane).

The above article was written by Mr. J.J. Duggan and originally published in GRENCOURT Magazine in 1987


P.S. 2016 J.J. Duggan: The workforce of one hundred and fifty was reduced to 75 during the 1980’s. New machinery was installed but the plant was still not viable because of a poor market for Cheddar cheese. In the 1980’s, Ballyclough and Mitchelstown became one company, called Dairygold. Mitchelstown already had a larger modernized cheese factory so Rathduff had to close in December 1991. However, during 1992, there were high hopes that Rathduff might re-open to produce Mozzarella cheese for the Pizza market. The negotiations ended in failure. Three staff were retained to work in the warehouse to store milk powder for export. Some of the plant and machinery was removed for use elsewhere. Twenty-six years later Rathduff Cheese Factory lies silent, except for the comings and goings of large trucks.

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: wbriangabriel@gmail.com Tel: 087-2153216