Sunday October 5th 2003

Tuam’s first industrial family remembered

A connection between Tuam and Yorkshire that goes back 150 years was revived last month when descendants of the Rishworth family visited the town.

In the early 1850s Thomas Rishworth arrived in Tuam from Thwaites House, Keighley, Yorkshire. His sons John and Thomas came with him and initially they settled at Carnane, just off the Milltown road, about four miles from Tuam. A branch of the family later lived at Massmore House nearby.

John and Thomas Rishworth established themselves in houses closer to Tuam, at Ballymote and the Curragh. Although their main avocation was that of wool merchants, selling to the Yorkshire mills, they were men of enterprise.

They set up a sawmill and later, in the 1880s, a match factory at the Curragh to use the waste wood from the sawmill.

The last Rishworth to live in Tuam was Herbert, son of John, who operated the wool stores at Ballygaddy which are now occupied by Glynns Hardware. He died in 1969.

As well as the local trade and employment generated by the family, one of their progeny, Professor Frank Rishworth, had a distinguished career as Professor of Engineering at UCG and was an early proponent of the Shannon hydro-electric scheme.

Descendants of the earlier Rishworths, Dr. Hannah Marks and her nephew David Marks, visited Tuam on August 29 and met with some people who remembered Herbert and the wool store.

One of the people at the gathering in Gilligan’s of High Street was Noel Maguire, a Dubliner who managed the store under Herbert Rishworth from 1942 to 1962, when he returned to Dublin to work with Irish Wools.

One of the main staff members remembered by Noel was Paddy Naughton of Galway Road, who was represented at the gathering by his son, also Paddy. Paddy senior, who was poached from Hessions where he had run the travelling shop, graded the wool and also bought and sold cattle for the Rishworths. He was highly regarded by the farming community who knew him well after his years with the travelling shop.

Michael McGough was there too. He worked for Rishworths for 20 years until the business closed in 1962. He remembered big variations in the price of wool, with a top price of £1 per lb, and the lowest 2/6 (12.5 p).

Paddy Naughton died in 1958 aged only 54, and after that his brother Michael, now living in Manchester, bought and sold the cattle.

Frank Harte from Birmingham had an even earlier memory: his father told him of working at the age of 12 in the match factory. His job was dipping the matchsticks into the sulphur mixture. His first week’s wages was nine pence (five cents) but the second week he got 2/6 (16 cents) so his work rate must have improved dramatically.

All agreed that the Rishworths were fair employers and good to work for. “They were gentlemen,” was the consensus.

Willie Kelly, the stonecutter, remembered Herbert’s thoughtfulness in providing him with raw material when things were scarce during the war.

A surprise visitor was John Rishworth from Keighley, Yorkshire, and his wife Christina. They retired to live in Ballinrobe, with no prior knowledge of any Rishworth connection with this area. They are researching their roots now, and can be contacted at 092-41806 if anyone has any leads.

The group was led on a tour of St. Mary’s Cathedral by Jarlath Canney of the Mill Museum, but there was little point in visiting the match factory site at the Curragh. Very little trace remains, and the site is not even designated on the recent archaeological constraint survey and map of the county.

David Marks, the family historian, visited the Rishworth house at Ballymote as a child in the early 1950s. He will return to Tuam to give a detailed account of the Rishworths of Tuam and Keighley to a meeting of the Old Tuam Society in the New Year.

Thanks to Anne Tierney for bringing this article to our attention.

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