Limerick's most famous food industries

  • Ranks

On the banks of the River Shannon & situated in the heart of the Golden Vale, which is one of Europe’s most noted grassland and dairy land areas, Limerick has for centuries harvested it's ample natural resources to produce only the finest food & drink. From such resources grew three of Limerick's most famous industries.

Limerick Ham

Limerick got its nickname ‘Pigtown’ from the great bacon industry that used to operate in the city. Spanning 180 years from the early 1800s to the late 1980s, the Limerick bacon industry was famous world-wide. At the height of production, Limerick ham was extremely popular in the United Kingdom and was exported as far away as Russia, Romania and Jamaica. While the upper classes indulged in succulent pork products, the lower classes were also fed by this humble creature.

Pork production was not just confined to the city as a steady supply of pigs came from the fertile land of the Golden Vale and West Limerick. O’Mara’s, Matterson’s, Denny’s and Shaw’s were the four main bacon factories in the city each employing generations of locals highlighting the economic importance of pigs to the people and the economy.

The city’s nickname was celebrated and cemented through an award-winning play, Pigtown, written by Mike Finn in 1999 that has been performed many times throughout Limerick and beyond. The play charts the history of 20th century Limerick through the eyes of one man. Today, you may not find as many bacon factories as there once was, but the city’s pork heritage is still celebrated with the Pigtown Food Series in September and October.

Cleeves

The eight-acre Cleeves factory site was once home to the Condensed Milk Company of Ireland that manufactured dairy products as well as confectionary. Its famed condensed milk and toffee was exported all over the world. Constructed originally in the 1850s as a flax mill, Thomas Cleeve started dairy manufacturing here in 1883.

Currently, the main tower and building on the site are protected structures and are on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. The iconic Cleeve’s tower is a noted part of Limerick’s cityscape and was included in the city’s celebration as the national City of Culture in 2014; the large building is also used as an exhibition space for the EV+A International Bienniale art exhibition.

Ranks Mills

Milling was one of Limerick’s oldest industries and Ranks Mills was as important to the economic and social survival of the city as the bacon factories. One of the most fondly-remembered businesses in Limerick, Ranks took over milling operations in Limerick in 1930 and continued until 1970.

A world-class milling operation, Ranks Mills was located on the Dock Road in Limerick and one of the silos is still standing today. As a supplier of a staple food, Ranks helped feed the region and beyond throughout World War II.

Should you wish to read more about Ranks Mills please see Ranks Mills: The Industrial Heart of Limerick City by Dr Edward Whelan, edited by Jacqui Hayes.

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