-> Updates at the bottom of the post! <-
In the mid-nineteenth century, most of the uniforms that were worn by British soldiers in the Crimean War, and Confederate soliders in the American Civil War, were made in Peter Tait’s factory in Edward St, Limerick City, Ireland. They were not generic uniforms – they had a specific design, and the tunics in particular were known as ‘Tait jackets’, carrying brass buttons stamped with ‘Tait’ and ‘Limerick’. The tale is made even more dramatic when you learn that Tait had to buy shares in a steamship blockade runner, in order to get the Limerick-sewn uniforms through the Union blockades that were stopping all deliveries into the southern states during the Civil War. This story is absolutely remarkable.
See more photos of the site, along with this one, here.
The site of the factory on which all this international activity was centred is in Edward St., Limerick. It still stands, the outer front especially looking similar to how it did in its heyday. You can see the red-brick carriage arch, through which horses pulled heavy shipments of uniforms, on their way to Foynes, Co. Limerick, to board the steamship ‘Evelyn’.
It stands on the site of the old auxiliary workhouse for the city. The National Architectural Heritage inventory entry is here. The 1865 Ordinance Survey map marks it as ‘Tait’s Army Clothing Factory’. After the clothing factory was closed down in the twentieth century, it was bought by Eircom and the back area used as a machinery yard.
I visited the site just a few days ago, and found this nailed to the wall (click to make bigger/read). It’s horrific bad luck to have just missed out on the objection deadline. From above (RPS = Record of Protected Structures):
The proposed development consists of the carrying out of works which would materially affect the character of a protected structure, namely the former Tait Clothing Factory Buildings, RPS Ref: 335.
Earlier Attempts to Develop The Site:
In 2006, Limerick City Council sold the site for ‘in excess of three million euro’. Councillors advocated a community utility, such as a health centre or creche, or more housing. Locals said that for many years, the derelict site had been a centre for antisocial activity. One or two councillors pointed out that the original building structures, so important for their historical significance, should not be interfered with. The 2006 planning application was for 144 dwelling units of duplex, townhouse, and maisonette style. Apparently the Senior City Planner, Richard Tobin, replied that this application “is not going anywhere”. Rumours were that there were problems finding private investment in the scheme.
The current building plans seem to be part of the Limerick Regeneration Project, and will offer replacement social housing to families who are currently living in areas with anti-social behaviour problems, particularly Ballinacurra Weston (itself built in the 1950s as a ‘solution’ to the city slums!). Whether this latest scheme will suffer the funding setbacks that previous ones have, remains to be seen. There are already 25,000 empty housing units in Limerick, 18,000 of them in the city environs, and this has led one Fine Gael Councillor (Diarmuid Scully) to say that “there is simply no reality to this happening”. Even if it does end up delayed, it is important for the City Council to register just how vital a heritage site they would be destroying if they keep going ahead with these plans. Developing the site instead as a tourist attraction (particularly to Americans with a Civil-War interest – a group proven to travel to their sites of interest) could bring employment and dollars to the area, but I don’t think this has ever been proposed by the Council.
Why this site deserves to be saved:
Tait’s Army Clothing Factory is hugely important and should not be demolished. It was once one of the biggest clothing factories in the world, and supplied uniforms for absolutely key historical events. It’s a valuable part of the history of the American Civil War, and has huge potential as a stopping-point in a tourist trail devoted to that. The factory was also a massive part of the lives of ordinary Limerick people for a very long time; it was a huge source of employment for Limerick women, and it even featured in the award-winning play ‘Pigtown’ by Mike Finn (here‘s the New York Times review of that).
What you can do:
Write (by post or email, or ring!). The address is Limerick City Council, Planning & Development Department, City Hall, Limerick. The phone number is 00 353 61 407210. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find individual contacts at this link. The ex-director of housing services, Kieran Lehane (named in the poster above), is now the City Manager. If you’re not sure what to say to them, try just giving your name, and that you object to the plans in the poster above, on the grounds that this is a heritage site, which should be protected and developed as such.
Leave a message at the Irish American Civil War Trail website - the four guys involved in this are going to try and raise a fuss about the plans for the Tait Limerick site, so let them know if you’d like to help in any way. They were featured in the Irish Times here, if you want to read more about them!
If you have any ideas on what more we could do to help stop this happening, please leave a comment on this entry, or email me email@example.com.
PS: the local historian group at Limerick City Library have tweeted me these links, in case anyone would like to do further research on this topic. There are two pages of newspaper articles that will help you – here, and here.
PPS: responses to some emails already have been signed by a Gerard O’Donoghue, who can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 00353 61 407392. He has replied saying that viewing the planning files might alleviate our concerns, and that the factory site is “integrated into the design in a major way”. I’ve emailed asking him how, and whether it is possible to make the proposal/plans digital so that anyone who is not immediately local might see them; I’ll let you know if/how he responds :)
PPPS: If you haven’t emailed yet, and are considering doing so, please ask them to a. put the proposal/ plans online so that we can see them, and b. treat the factory as a heritage site and not as a folly in the grounds of a housing estate. Thank you!
More Updates: Some planner-types have tweeted the following at me, which adds more information -> the planning application is a Part 8, which isn’t required to be digitised/online (though sometimes is), but which would have been circulated among councillors, so there should be a PDF copy of it in existence. The site is not going to be demolished – the notice would have had to have clearly said this if it were the case. In the notice, the factory has an ‘RPS’ number, which means it (or part of it) is protected, and so An Taisce may have been notified about the plans. I haven’t been able to find a list of protected structures for Limerick City online (have now found this – see below!), and I am about to email An Taisce now. Will keep you posted!
Even More Updates: I’ve been tweeted more info… This is the link to the current Limerick City Council development plan – a six year plan that every council has that lists RPSs. The factory is number 335, listed on page 277; I screen captured it below. If you go to page 84/85 of that document you can see the Council’s policies for how they treat RPSs.
Important Update 28 March 2012!
Assistant archivist in the Limerick City Library, Emma Gilleece, has viewed the plans, and says that the architect did a great job, that two buildings and a boiler house belonging to the original factory are being kept, and that the red brick archway will be opened up for people to walk through.
This is excellent news! It still does not mean that the Council are going to do anything about recognizing the place as a heritage site, or that they plan on marketing it as such, but it is hopefully a good resassurance to everyone (like me!) who worried for this important relic of Irish-American history.
We will see how things pan out, and keep campaigning to get the site recognized for what it is, and get it on the tourist trail.
UPDATE 7 JUNE 2012:
The Councillors have voted their approval, and been granted funding from the Dept. of the Enviroment, and it looks like building will start on the site ‘as early as September‘.