Galway in the nineteenth century was a place that was almost devoid of industry. Agriculture was the main bisiness of the people and, in the latter part of the century, tourism was beginning to be a factor in the economic life of the city. There were a certain number of flour mills, corn mills and breweries powered by the river and waterways, and Galway Port was only partially navigable, and therefore not doing much business. The fishing industry was not in the best of shape, as Claddagh fishermen were quite resistant to new techniques, and unwilling to change. Some of the lack of morale can obviously be attributed to the Famine and it's aftermath.
One of the few industrial successes was Perrsse's Distillery on Nun's Island. Another was the Iodine Factory on Long Walk which was owned by McArdle and Bullock. They were the only factory in the County in the period after the Famine to harvest seaweed.
The Long Walk factory consisted of a number of sheds, floored with perforated flags, under which were situated large tanks. Raw seaweed was stored in the sheds, and as it decomposed, liquid matter flowed into the tanks. This was then distilled into something resembling charcoal from which was extracted a number of substances including iodine.
The decomposed seaweed was then taken by barge up the canal and river to an auxiliary factory at Terryland, where it was rendered into fertiliser. This was quite an extensive operation as we can see from today's photograph, which dates from about 1865, and was given us by the National Library. This building has been known to generations of oarsmen going up and down the Corrib simply as "The Iodine".
People living close to the Long Walk operation had complained about emissions from the plant, which were regarded as poisonous, so the company erected a depot on the Aran Islands for the collection of seaweed. Eventually much of the processing was done on Aran, which meant less raw material having to be transported to Galway. In 1866, the Long Walk factory was extended, and, for a number of years, thrived. Sadly, however, by 1876, it had become uncompetitive, and closed down. The premises was eventually taken over by a Mr. Irvine, and he manufactured sulphuric acid there.
The above information and photograph are extracted from a new publication being launched tomorrow. It is entitled "Galway, A Town Tormented By The Sea", and is written by John Cunningham. It documents patterns of social change from c.1800 to 1914, and is very well researched, very readable, well illustrated, and highly recommended: an ideal Christmas for that awkward old Galwegian. Available for €45, and worth every cent.