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Many readers are familiar with the history of Hills Woollen Mill which was established in Lucan on the site of a former iron works in the early 1860's.The business survived through thick and through thin – wars and fires – and only closed in 1988.
Generations of Lucan families worked in the industry. When Hills arrived in Lucan, the population of Lucan Town was 552. By 1966 it had risen to 2,100, and in 1988 when the business ended, the population of Lucan Town and the surrounding area was in the order of 14,000. Changing times indeed!
The mill imported raw materials from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa (The Colonial Wools), and used along with our own Irish wool, Hills made a name for themselves on the worldwide stage, with their blankets, rug wool, knitting wool, tweeds, worsteds and gaberdine.
I have had Hills Blankets in my own home, but had never seen a suit made from Hills Tweed – until three weeks ago when I received an email query from Margaret Blundell in Australia.
Margaret had inherited from her mother "a lovely suit (jacket and skirt) made of Irish Tweed cloth from Hills of Lucan." Her curiosity got the better of her and she wished to find out about Hills of Lucan.
I sent her some photos and an account of the industry, and she in turn sent a photo of this suit, which was made for her mother in 1984 by Mr Longhitano, a Sydney tailor, who would also have organised the purchase of the cloth. His label is sewn inside the jacket along with that of Hills, and when Margaret had the jacket relined, she had both labels sewn back in place.
The tweed is of various shades of green and brown with the overall effect being that of a light 'sage' green. Margaret points out that as their winters are relatively mild, she now wears the suit as winter day wear.
The Labels – The Tara Brooch headed by 'Irish Tweed' at centre, and below it 'Hills of Lucan', and the crests of the four provinces around it, along with the Tailor's label Longhitano Sydney.
Only this week there was a discussion on radio about Irish wool, and sad to say that apart from one small industry in Donegal, there is no wool which is washed and entirely processed in Ireland these days.
Sheep have been bred for their meat rather than wool in the past few decades, but apparently that's about to change again. Sheep farmers may find wool profitable in the future.
One way or another isn't it great to find something like a Hill's Tweed Suit on the other side of the world.
Many thanks to Margaret for the pictures.