A D. E. Williams Limited Tullamore maltster for fifty years tells his story. By the late Michael Power of Marian Place, Tullamore

057262 Williams Traditional floor malting
The old floor malting process for hundreds of years ceased in Tullamore in 1969. Cover pic is of Water Lane now entrance to Main Street, Tullamore. Courtesy of Fergal MacCabe.

The Williams company of Tullamore (1884–1996) was in the malting business from 1892. Other Tullamore firms included Egan, Tarleton and B. Daly, the Tullamore distillery. In this article Michael Power tells his story. This piece was first published in Jip-cat, pig’s head, petticoats and combinations: our lives, our times in Tullamore and surrounding districts; editor Feargal Kenny. Tullamore: Tullamore Active Retirement Association, 2002 (available from Offaly History Centre).

064723 Williams brochure picture
Modernisation of agriculture in the 1970s

As a seasonal worker in the Maltings, you started in September when the harvest came in and wound up in May when the malting was over. I became a permanent worker [at Williams/B Daly/Tullamore Distillery [in 1932 and remained there for fifty years. The work was hard, labouring work, carrying sacks, working in the malthouse, screening malt and barley and carrying sacks of grain.

I remember one day myself and Mick Keogh of O’ Molloy St. loading a boat for Guinness with barley – 500 bags of barley, two hundredweight in each bag and after dinner we loaded a boat for Odlums in Portarlington. We got 7s -6d. [37p]. You were paid €2-5s a week with one penny stopped for unemployment. That was 1927 or 1928. I worked there because the wage was good and there was plenty of overtime. I often had a fiver a week but I started at five o’clock in the morning. There had to be a fire kept going and I often went down in the snow with no shirt on me and threw a load of coal through the window, poke up the fire, put coal on, then go back and start finishing the trapping with the lads, throwing out the steam and one thing and another.

A cylinder malt bin at what is now the Tullamore DEW Vistor Centre in 1957-8 before the present Offaly History Centre was built. The bonded warehouse was built in 1897 and the bins about 1911 – near the canal barge for transfer to Guinness and others.

The barely was brought in by the farmers. It was dried in a kiln down to 12% (moisture) and then you rested it for six weeks. Then it was put into a steamer, you put water in it, you wet it to 40% moisture. You took it out and put it in a combs or a heap across the floor to start it germinating and as it germinated you brought it along the floor. You kept on stretching and turning it. You ploughed with a plough you dragged behind you. It had three prongs on it, same as you would plough a field. You would leave ridges in it. It would be germinating. This took about seven days. You grew five rootlets out of it about three-quarters the length of the grain but you never let it (the shoot) come out. If you did you’d damage the sugars. You converted the sugars from the starch in the grain, and when you did of course, that was the alcohol. It also gave you a nicer taste. Then it was dried down again to 2.5% moisture and you stripped it off, screened it, took the rootlets, or cullems as we called it, off and any other offal that might be in it. This was all collected, put into bags and the farmers bought it. It was supposed to be good for milch cows. I learned malting from Mr. Griffith. He was an Englishman and a qualified maltster. Every morning and evening, you collected temperatures off the floor. There was a thermometer in every place down along. There was an internal temperature taken and an external temperature taken and that’s how you tried to control the temperature in the house. Windows had half shutters on them. You had to open and close these as necessary at particular times. I was often in the laboratory at midnight. I would have a lot of samples of malt or barley in jars malting at certain temperatures and for certain hours, some more, some less until I found a sample suitable. I remember getting a sample one time that was acceptable and I think we sent 11,000 barrels to Holland. It was the first export of malt out of the country. There was great excitement. We were loading it out of the bond-store down the Distillery Lane and everywhere into lorries going to the North Wall [Dublin port]. That would have been after the war in 1950.

057202 Williams- First Malt ever exported from Ireland
The first malt exported in 1957 from D E Williams to Germany – seen here at Distillery Lane, now Main Street, Tullamore.

There were 580 people working in the maltings in the midlands that time and then, when the mechanical pulley arrived, sixty people could do the work of the 580. I made the last floor malting in the 1970s [or late 1960s]. Malting became more scientific from then on. I started as a labourer and ending up managing the place.

[The floor maltings finished in Tullamore in 1969 and the work was moved to the new plant at Banagher under Williams Waller. This was sold to Greencore about 1996 and the plant was closed in the early 2000s. This ended a tradition of three hundred years or more.

Michael Power died c. 28 March1998 aged 88. Originally from Patrick Street, Tullamore. He also resided in Henry Street before moving to Marian Place. He had been employed in the old Williams Distillery for forty nine years – all his working life in the capacity of malster. He was a member of the Irish National Foresters for over sixty years and was in the old brass and reed band which was disbanded some years ago. He was married to his wife Anne for 59 years. He had great memories of Tullamore and he was a member of OHAS.]

032672 Mr & Mrs Power with M Byrne at launch a walk through Tullamore - Copy (2)
The late Michael Power at a book launch in December 1979.