A company that became synonymous with New Ross

David Looby

Published 04/02/2014 | 05:38

Workers at Irish Driver-Harris in bygone days
Workers at Irish Driver-Harris in bygone days

IRISH DRIVER-Harris (IDH) would have been 80 years in New Ross this September.

The electric cable manufacturer – which was named after two American men with the last names, Driver and Harris – brought employment to the town in 1934 when Sean Lemass opened the factory, which was then located at 34 North Street.

New Ross man Harry L Laullor convinced American industrialist Frank Driver to open a cabling factory in Ireland and he chose the Barrowside town for his latest venture. The New Jersey man had a tool and dye company in his home city and the Driver family eventually had nine companies dotted across England, Europe, Australia and America.

The Irish factory was located in North Street and the distribution centre was in Dublin. At the time the cabling was shipped to Dublin from New Ross and then distributed across Ireland.

By the early 1950s IDH employed 146 staff.

The company shot to national prominence during the postal strike of the 1960s when a local pigeon man, John Kelly from The Bullawn, trained carrier pigeons to bring orders from the company's Dublin office to New Ross, thereby beating the strike.

The electrical cable was made from compressed sheets of rubber up until 1969 when Frank Driver bought a PVC extruder to make the cable using plastics through injection moulding.

IDH was one of three cable companies in Ireland at the time, Wessel and Athlone Cable & Wire being the others.

It was one of the main employers in New Ross, along with Graves, Albatros and Ross Company.

Thirty-five years ago the Drivers bought the company outright from the Harris family and kept the name.

Up until 1983 IDH was open from 8 am to 5 pm five days a week. When Tony Harford got involved he transformed the business through developing contacts with businesspeople in Qatar and Jedda.

IDH went to 24/7 production, five days a week during this time and eventually the plant was running round the clock week in week out at its Millbanks location (which it moved into in 1991) such was the demand for its cables.

During this time tonnes of the cables were exported from New Ross port to the Middle East each week.

In 2001 there were 100 people working at IDH but disaster struck in 2003 when 51 people were made redundant. Due to the ever changing and cyclical nature of the business, the following few years lead to some of the staff being taken back on and in leaner times staff were intermittently put on three day weeks in Springtime.

Despite the straightened times in the industry Mr Driver brought his staff and their families on a family day out to Davitt's pub every summer, where entertainment, food and beverages were provided for everyone.

In July 2009 29 staff were let go as owner Frank Driver (who is the fourth Frank Driver involved in the business here), had to downsize and work on one production line ground to a halt completely.

In recent times domestic sales only accounted for 5 per cent of IDH business, while the key market was the UK (80 per cent), followed by the Middle East. IDH is still listed on the American Stock Exchange but the company has seen its business shrink in recent times.

Competition from cabling companies in Poland and the Middle East and a lack of credit spelled the end of IDH in New Ross. As one senior staff member said, in the end a few million euro would have saved the business but the New Ross factory's owner wasn't able to wrestle it from the banks.

The remaining 49 staff picked up their P45s on Wednesday and management finished up on Friday bringing to an end one of the area's oldest manufacturing companies.

New Ross Standard

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