Wexford’s Economy

Published in 1913, 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Artefacts, Features, Issue 4 (July-August 2013), Volume 21

Scab labour being escorted to work in Pierce’s foundry by RIC constables in King Street, Wexford. (Alice White)

Scab labour being escorted to work in Pierce’s foundry by RIC constables in King Street, Wexford. (Alice White)

A provincial coastal town, Wexford had a strong seafaring tradition, its quayside having established trade links with Britain and a railway that connected the town to Dublin. Besides having its own distillery and flour mills, it was a busy trade town with regular agricultural markets, thus ensuring a high level of commercial activity. But the principal industry in Wexford in 1911 was engineering and the town proudly boasted three steel foundries—the Selskar Ironworks, Wexford Engineering (otherwise known locally as the Star Ironworks on account of the star motif imprinted onto its finished products) and Pierce’s, which was the largest and most influential. Together these three foundries employed over 700 men and contributed to a large number of tertiary jobs in the environs. Agricultural machinery and edged tools were designed, forged and sprayed. Bicycles, bedsteads and fire bellows were manufactured for the domestic and foreign markets. As in many industries of this era, however, the conditions of labour were difficult for the workers. Long hours were the norm, rewarded with modest pay. Job security was never guaranteed, with many skilled tradesmen being replaced by apprentices to keep wage costs down.

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