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Irish: Móinteach Mílic
County Laois
The southern approach to Mountmellick
Grid reference: N449076
Location: 53°6’59"N, 7°19’27"W
Population: 4,735  (2011)
Post town: Mountmellick
Postcode: R32
Local Government
Council: Laois

Mountmellick is a town in the north of County Laois, on the N80 national secondary road and the R422 and R423 regional roads.


Mountmellick, sometimes spelt Montmellick or Montmellic, is an anglicisation of the Irish name Móinteach Mílic, which means "(the) bog of/by (the) land bordering a river".[1] Older anglicisations include Mointaghmeelick, Montaghmelick, Montiaghmeelick and Monteaghmilick.[1]

Mountmellick's Coat of Arms

The motto translates as "friendship through partnership." The fretted design represents Mountmellick Work, an embroidery craft unique to the town. The bend wavy represents the Owenass river, which embraces much of the town. The crosses reflect the foundation of the town by the Society of Friends or Quakers. These heraldic elements are crosses moline, and derive from the mill-rind, the iron centre of a millstone. They reflect an important Mountmellick industry. The sprigs of andromeda portifolia, or bog rosemary, remind us of the name place, Mointech Milic. Mointeach means "mooreland," reclaimed bogland, and Milic means wetland.

The chief herald of Ireland assigned a coat of arms to Mountmellick Town Commission on 16 December 1998.


Mountmellick was a 15th-century settlement on the narrow Owenass River (River of the Falls in Irish) with an encampment on its banks at Irishtown. Overlooking this valley with its trees and wildlife was a small church called Kilmongan (Ivy Chapel) which was closed by the Penal Laws in 1640.

The Quakers came to the area in 1657 led by William Edmundson. They saw a future for this settlement and built it into a town, which was to grow to eight thousand people, with twenty-seven industries which included breweries, a distillery, woollen mills, cotton, tanneries and glass. It was a boom town in the late 19th century.

One of its earliest Quaker settlers (ca. 1680) was Richard Jackson, who, with his brother Anthony, had been convinced of Quakerism in Eccleston, Lancashire by the missionaries George Fox and Edmundson. Jackson's older brother Anthony settled in Oldcastle in Meath at about the same time that Jackson and his wife, Margaret Keete, came to Mountmellick. A possible son of Jackson's named Nicholas, who had been born in Lancashire, married an Anne Mann in Mountmellick in about 1702. (Descendants of Nicholas and Anne came to New Garden Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 1710s. Nicholas' uncle, Anthony's son Isaac, also emigrated late in life to New Garden township in 1725, and settled in an area the family later called Harmony Grove, just outside present-day New Garden.[2] The house his grandson built still stands there, and is a Pennsylvania Historical site as it was used as a way station on the Underground Railroad during the civil war[3] by Jackson descendants. Isaac sired a long line of Quaker families down to William Miller Jones (b. Philadelphia, 1852)[4] who converted to Catholicism and hyphenated his middle and last names as Miller-Jones. His heirs continue to the present day with the Miller-Jones surname.

The Jackson family had originated in the village of Eske in the East Riding of Yorkshire in the early 16th century. The family prospered, in part due to fortuitous 16th- and 17th-century marriages into the prominent Todd, Frobisher and Hildyard families in Yorkshire. One son of the Jackson marriage to Ursula Hildyard was an earlier Anthony, who was in service to both Charles I and Charles II, and who was imprisoned for a time in the Tower of London during the Cromwellian era. He became Sir Anthony when, escaping, he went to the Netherlands to the court-in-exile of Charles II, and was knighted there by the king just before the Restoration. His sons included the above-mentioned Richard and Anthony, who had sided with Cromwell. Sir Anthony died in about 1666 and is entombed under the floor of the round tower of the Temple Church in the Inner Temple in London.

There is still a Quaker population in the town, and a Friends meeting house. The town has numerous examples of Georgian architecture and one of the finest examples of a Georgian square in Ireland.

The Manchester of Ireland

Such was the level of industrial activity in Mountmellick in the late 18th century that Mountmellick became known as "The Manchester of Ireland". Its role as a leading textile producer during the industrial revolution of the mid-1700s brought favourable comparisons to Manchester, the industrial centre of Britain at the time.

Deciduous woodlands, which once covered Laois, provided a ready source of bark for a tanning industry, which converted animal hides into leather. William Edmundson (1627–1712), the first Quaker to settle in Mountmellick, owned a tannery, and the Goodbodys and Pim families also owned tanneries in the 19th century. Towards the end of the 18th Century, the textile industry grew significantly. A number of large mills were opened in the 1780s. These produced the necessary raw materials to develop weaving as an important cottage industry, providing many households with a secondary source of income to supplement agricultural incomes. By 1837 it was estimated that 4,000 persons were employed in the cotton and woollen business, in the Mountmellick area.

The three main centres of this industry were established at New Mills in Drinagh, Barkmills, near Ballyfin and Anngrove in Irishtown. Initially these mills were powered by water, but steam engines were gradually introduced during the 19th Century.

In 1801, there were five breweries in Mountmellick and these supplied beer to towns within a 25-mile radius. These breweries declined as larger breweries elsewhere developed their distribution on the railways and canals. As abstinence became popular in the second half of the 19th century, there was a shift from brewing to malting. Two malting enterprises in Irishtown were developed by the Codd family in the early 20th century and malt production still takes place in Mountmellick today.

The first bank in the town was opened 1824 and the first modern sugar factory in Ireland was opened in Mountmellick in 1852. It was situated behind the present MDA building in Irishtown. Despite its huge aspirations, economic factors dictated its closure in 1862.

The Great Famine

The population of the town declined by 35% from 4,800 to 3,120 between 1845 and 1850. A further 3,000 people lived in close proximity to the town in 1841, and many of these were also affected. Up to this time, Mountmellick had been an extensive manufacturing town, but as the famine took grip, employment plummeted and money became very scarce. Food prices increased by 300%. People caught in a poverty trap became hungry and destitute. Diseases such as typhus and cholera appeared and more people in Mountmellick died from a fever epidemic at the time than from the famine itself.

Aid relief was sent from various parts of the world to help the starving Irish. The Quakers were among the most active in famine relief initiatives and they opened soup kitchens throughout the country. The Poor Law Union built a workhouse in Mountmellick in 1839. The workhouse was situated on the site where St Vincent's Hospital now stands. It was built to feed and accommodate 800 paupers, but at the height of famine in 1847 (known as "Black '47") there were 1,500 people there. To deter people, the workhouses were designed to be as unattractive as possible. Husbands, wives and children were separated on entry and often never saw each other again.

Mass burial sites were dug to bury the victims. A cart of famine victims was brought daily from the workhouse to pit graves in the townland of Derryguile, one mile outside Mountmellick. A field, now known as "Reilig" (Gaelic for grave) in the townland of Graigue is also known to have been a famine burial site.

Famous families who left during this time, or earlier, during the late 17th century, include the Newlins (who went to Chester County, Pennsylvania), Pims, Bewleys, and Dennys. Many of the earlier Quakers emigrated from Mountmellick to Pennsylvania.

Mountmellick lace

According to tradition, in 1825 a Quaker named Joanna Carter introduced what later became known as Mountmellick embroidery. This became one of the most popular forms of needlework during the 19th century. The first known sale of the product was to the Earl of Dunraven (Lord Adare) of Limerick in 1847.

Although Carter is credited with its introduction little is known about her. It has been traditionally assumed that she had been a Quaker. However an educational report of 1824, describes her as a Protestant, which may have meant that she belonged to the Church of Ireland. She ran a small school in a thatched house and had fifteen girls, eight of whom were members of the Church of Ireland and seven Catholics. Her annual income was £9 per year. Although the precise location of her home is not known, we know from the 'Primary Valuation of Tenements' that a John Carter lived in a house in Pond Street, Mountmellick in 1850. This is the only recorded Carter for the town at this period. In the report on the Irish Industrial Exhibition of 1853, she was referred to as, 'Carter, J Mountmellick, Queen's County, Designer and Manufacturer, embroidered quilt, toilet cover and doileys.' The report also stated that Mrs Carter was responsible for the design and execution of a richly embroidered quilt exhibited by the Countess of Eglinton. It is not clear that she was a native of Mountmellick. Another woman associated with its early development was Margaret Beale (1809–1877), an accomplished lacemaker, originally from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. She was married to Joseph Beale, a prominent manufacturer in the town.

Mountmellick was a significant industrial town before the Famine of the mid-19th century, when it was known as 'little Manchester'. This was partly thanks to the Grand Canal, the Mountmellick branch of which is now filled in. Mountmellick embroidery, also known as Mountmellick Lace, became one of the most popular forms of needlework during the 19th century, and early examples fetch high prices on the international market. The local museum displays original pieces of this craftwork.

Christmas tree

The town is known for its artificial Christmas tree, locally claimed to be the biggest year-round Christmas tree in Europe and the second biggest in the world – although it is, in fact, a metal structure and not a real tree. The lighting of the tree has in the past garnered extensive coverage from RTÉ the national television broadcaster.

Mountmellick has had a Christmas tree located in O'Connell Square since 1956. An indication of the size of the first Christmas tree can be judged by the fact that it was transported by ass and cart into O'Connell Square. In the ensuing years larger trees were erected until 1961, when it was necessary to put a manhole in the square to take these larger trees. In 1969 a pole structure was used instead of the original live tree.

In 1983 a permanent steel structure was put in place with a skeleton framework, which enabled the wiring to be standardized, and it is this structure that is in use to the present day. It is necessary every year to dress the tree with branches to give an authentic look. A switching arrangement was later introduced for the lights, which became more intricate over the years. In 1963 the switching arrangements were finalised and are the same today, other than changed designs introduced in 1968.[5]

Economic activity

The town's main industries are agriculture, light manufacturing and brewing. It serves as a dormitory town for nearby Portlaoise and for Dublin, with easy access to the M7 motorway and Dublin-Cork railway line. This has led to the population of Mountmellick expanding rapidly in the years between 2004 and 2012 and also to an unprecedented increase in new houses and several new housing estates during the Celtic Tiger era and beyond until the financial crisis.


Mountmellick is a town rich in sporting activity. Mountmellick GAA is the town's club for Gaelic football and hurling. Other nearby Gaelic games clubs are The Rock GAA and Kilcavan.



Mountmellick is served by bus routes between Athlone and Waterford, with three daily services in each direction. It is also on the local Townlink route, with daily connections to Portlaoise and Tullamore.


Mountmellick railway station opened on 2 March 1885, at the end of a short branch from Portlaoise. It closed to passengers on 27 January 1947, but the branch remained open for sugar beet and special trains until 1 January 1963.[6] The station building is now a private residence.[7]

Notable people

  • Michael Mills – Political Editor of The Irish Press and Ombudsman of Ireland, grew up in Mountmellick.
  • James Jeffrey Roche – 19th-century Irish-American poet and diplomat, born in Mountmellick.
  • Anne Jellicoe - Founder of Alexandra College, born in Mountmellick in 1823.
  • James Sheane - Architect and designer of St Cronan's Church, Roscrea (Church of Ireland), lived in the Manor House, Mountmellick

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Mountmellick)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Placenames Database of Ireland (see archival records)
  2. Proceedings of the Sesqui-Centennial Gathering of the Descendants of Isacc and Ann Jackson at Harmony Grove, Chester County, Pennsylvania August 25, 1875. Together with the Family Genealogy., Jackson, Halliday (1878) obtainable from: (item J39)
  4. Proceedings of the Sesqui-Centennial Gathering op. cit.
  5. Mountmellick Christmas Tree
  6. Ayres, Bob (2003). "Irish Railway Stations". Railscot. Retrieved 18 November 2007. 
  7. "Mountmellick". Retrieved 19 September 2016.