Ballinasloe in 1920 saw many people still paying ground rent to the Clancarty Estate heirs, which continued right up to the 60’s. The large majority of employers of commercial establishments were either owned or run by Protestants or Presbyterians, whose main purpose was to support the Local Landlords and the remaining Anglo-Irish Settlers. With World War 1 just over, people were looking with optimism to the future. A Longford family had purchased a huge shop in Society Street from Moffet Reynolds and Moffet. It was one of a chain of stores bought by Charles and Catherine Cullen, who put their eldest son, James. L. (Jim) Cullen in charge of the Ballinasloe outfit. The three-and-half storey building which specialised in drapery and footwear, was gradually becoming a significant employer in the town and attracting business from a wide area. The top level which where the “live-in” staff resided could accommodate up to twelve people. Some of the original staff included the late Annie Egan, Nellie Jenkins, Annie Doran, Paul Kelly and Joe McGuinness, among others.
Later, another premises was purchased by the Cullens in Main Street, which specialised in ladies’ and gent’s footwear. This was sold in the mid-eighties while the Society Street premises went under the hammer a few years later. Jim Cullen quickly endeared himself to the local people. His parents had committed to providing credit and small loans to the less well off members of the community. They later engaged with some of the more prosperous members of the community, to come up with a solution that would provide work and good wages for the people of the town. According to Jim Cullen’s youngest son, Leo, “in September 1928, the town fathers and the Cullen family began a series of informal talks with regards the possibilities of setting up an industry or business that would create good paying jobs. These talks lasted about six years before the official committee (The Chamber of Commerce), settled on a proposal to look into the possibility of establishing a Shoe Factory.
Early in 1934, just as things were falling into place, the investors announced they were reconsidering the project. They thought that the best thing to do was leave it for another day. “The Cullens were committed to the project, so it was decided at committee level, to allow them continue and raise the necessary capital. At that stage, no one realised how committed the Cullens were, as there were many hurdles to overcome” added Leo. Charles Cullen, Jim Cullen’s father, had many contacts in both Ireland and England, where he had been doing business for many years. With the addition of his new outlet in Ballinasloe, the Cullens now had a network of six premises within a 40 mile radius of Athlone. Charles used his contacts to achieve the impossible. “With the help of John Rawson of Rawson Shoes, Dundalk, the necessary equipment was purchased.
His support to the venture was the most important commitment to the establishment of Dubarry. He sought out experts in the shoe trade in England, such as Bert Boswell and Albert Headd, and more skilled leather workers, to join them in Ballinasloe. Bert Boswell’s contribution to Dubarry is the unsung story of the company’s success. In those early years and very difficult times, his attention and commitment to detail, and the passing on the knowledge of the business can never be truly appreciated. “In 1927, my grandparents consolidated their investments into a trust for the benefit of their children. My father was the Executor of the trust and it was from this source that the money came for the initial investment and support for Dubarry. My father continued to give support to the shoe company down through the years, a promise he made to his mother on the day of the incorporation of Dubarry, which she said was ‘her proudest moment’ stated Leo.
Dubarry Shoe Factory was founded in 1936 but did not go into full production until 1938. The initial two years were spent installing machinery, training personnel and restructuring the Old Workhouse on Station Road. It was to become the town’s biggest employer where entire families became synonymous in the workforce. So many school-leavers got employment there-many of whom remained there until their retirement. It proved a huge boost to the town’s economy and was quickly making its name nationwide. Leo Cullen recalls “Some years later, Mr. Rawson recommended Mr. Jim Scott as Managing Director and the Englishman, with his family, moved to Ballinasloe. The following twenty five years proved to be tough going for the firm. Several times the Cullen Trust were called on to help out. Then in the 50’s, Norvic Shoes became shareholders and agents for Dubarry, in Ireland and England. “At this time, the Cullen Trust was the majority shareholder, Norvic Shoes held 20% and Mr. Jim Scott held the remaining shares. Jim Cullen was chairman of Dubarry Shoes, from its inception, right up to his death in 1982. Jim Scott served as joint Chairman and Managing Director from January1983 up to the time the Cullen and Scott families agreed to a buyout. Ironically, Bert Boswell’s son Philip, and Eamonn Fagan, were involved in the management buy-out of the Company, nearly fifty years after Philip’s father came from Northampton to help launch the factory.”
The new management continued to operate in Sarsfield Road before moving to a purpose-built premises on the Athlone Road, in 1988. However, production ceased there in 2004 but the designing, engineering, marketing and sales still operate from there. Staff numbers were reduced considerably but the name Dubarry still remains one of the town’s flagships. Jim Cullen, as he was affectionately known, was 24 years of age when he came to Ballinasloe to manage the Society Street outlet. He purchased a home in Mountpleasant in 1934, married local girl, Anne Kelly, and had a family of seven. He became a member of Ballinasloe Urban District Council for over twenty years and fought consistently to see a local person elected a TD “to fight at the Government table for more for Ballinasloe.”
In 1977, Mr. Cullen predicted “Because of the lack of political savvy on behalf of both major parties and the people of the Postal District of Ballinasloe, the town will pay a huge price for not having a local resident TD. Ballinasloe will slip back to rural obscurity and become a bedroom community, serving Athlone and to a lesser extent Galway; while Athlone would become the next Boomtown.” Not far off the mark! Leo Cullen is the youngest member of Jim and Anne. He was involved in both the Society Street and Main Street operations before emigrating to California in 1983.
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